EAST GARFIELD PARK — Former staff members and clients are calling for changes at a West Side doggy day care after a dog there died from heat exhaustion.
The death of the dog — a Siberian husky named Georgia — has put renewed scrutiny on the day care, K9 University Chicago, 2945 W. Lake St. State and city agencies are now investigating the facility, and former workers and a client who spoke to Block Club said the issues there are widespread, leading to other dogs being injured or getting sick.
On June 10, Georgia was accidentally left unsupervised in a van for hours in the summer heat by a staff member at K9 University Chicago, said Jessica Morales, a former dog trainer at the center. Morales was meeting with company leaders when another staff member found the unconscious dog in the vehicle.
“She was gasping for air. She couldn’t breathe because she was so hot,” Morales said.
The dog was in dire need of medical attention, Morales said, but the company’s management delayed taking Georgia to see a vet until it was too late.
While the leaders scrambled to figure out what to do, Morales and another staff member “were trying to cool the dog off because I figured in that moment, they’re not going to take the dog to the vet,” she said. It wasn’t until the dog had taken her final breath that she was rushed to the vet, Morales said.
Morales quit working for K9 University afterward.
“It was traumatic. I still can’t sleep at night. I still have anxiety,” she said.
A representative for K9 University declined to comment for this story.
In a now-deleted Facebook post, K9 University committed to revamping its check-in procedures and improving employee training to include canine CPR, according to the Sun-Times.
People who previously left their jobs at K9 University said Georgia’s death is just the latest in a long series of mishaps that show how management issues at the facility are putting animals at risk.
“It’s really unfortunate … but it doesn’t surprise me, due to how everything’s run and the negligence there,” said Rachel Sample, a trainer who worked for K9 University for about six months before quitting in May due to the treatment of the animals.
K9 University is understaffed, which led to many things falling between the cracks, Sample said. During her time there, management struggled to properly keep track of the animals and keep records of things like vaccines, she said.
While she worked there, a dog was mauled nearly to death by two other dogs after they were improperly placed together, Sample said.
Dogs at the facility would regularly get sick with kennel cough, Bordetella and giardia due to unsanitary conditions and a lack of an adequate cleaning routine that left dogs in their kennels “sitting in their pee and poop,” Sample said.
When Sample and other staffers spoke to management about the issues, their concerns were ignored, she said.
“The full-time trainers, they were definitely afraid to say anything,” Sample said. “If they spoke up or said anything, they feared losing their job.”
When problems arose at the facility, staff members were stopped by management from telling pet owners about the issue unless the problem was too big to hide, Morales said.
“We weren’t allowed to contact the owners until the point where they were really sick … because management would get mad at us because they’d have to refund everybody their money,” Morales said.
A 10-year client of K9 University, Christie Wood, stopped taking her pet to the day care in December after her dog was injured.
Shortly after Wood’s dog was picked up from her home and taken to K9 University, they called to tell her they had noticed a gash on the side of his body, she said. Wood has not received any explanation for how the injury happened.
“When I showed up, they didn’t know where he was. When they finally found him … it was an 8-inch gash. It was huge. It’s location, to me, was super scary,” she said.
The vet told Wood the injury was “so serious that they had to take him in for surgery immediately,” she said, and the gash nearly punctured her dog’s lung.
“They have to know what happened. And if they don’t, that screams to me, neglect,” she said.
Wood filed an animal welfare complaint after the incident, she said.
Chicago Animal Care and Control sent an inspector to K9 University on Thursday following several complaints, including issues related to the dog who overheated and died, said spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter. The agency declined to comment further as it is investigating.
The state’s Department of Agriculture, which licenses the business, is also investigating K9 University, according to the Sun-Times.
The company needs to devote more care to the animals and “train the staff better and change the management,” Morales said. Families need to be informed when things go wrong at the facility, she said, and leaders of the company need to listen and make changes before it’s too late.
“People have spoken out. They have said things about the facility. But no one listens. It’s not until someone dies that people start to listen,” Morales said.
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