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KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
August 2, 2021
By Natalie Cook Clark
A Katy family mourns the loss of their four-year-old golden retriever, who was found dead outside at Katy Dog Suites, a local guesthouse. This is now the third dog to die at the facility and the business owner wants to learn and make changes.
Duke Aasmyr. Courtesy photo: Julie Aasmyr.
Dog died the day he arrived at Katy Dog Suites
The Aasmyr family dropped their four-year-old golden retriever, Duke, on July 17 at 8:00 a.m. at Katy Dog Suites, 28785 Clay Road.
“He was in good health and behaved completely normally when he was given it,” says Duke’s owner Julie Aasmyr.
This was the first time Duke boarded Katy Dog Suites. Usually he was looked after by friends when the family left town, but this time they were also on vacation, which led the family to look for a boarding house.
Like many Katy families, the Asmyrs liked the uniqueness of the Katy Dog Suites. The dogs have access to an outdoor run around the clock. Every dog has a dog door through which they can enter (to the air conditioning) and have full access to water at will. The outside area for the dogs is also made of grass with a small cobblestone. Katy Dog Suites advertises itself as a non-specific facility and offers dogs 24/7 access to the outdoors.
“We developed this for dogs out of our love for dogs,” says Robert Sherlock, owner of Katy Dog Suites. The facility is unique in the US and modeled on popular boarding facilities in Australia.
According to Katy Dog Suites, Duke seemed to blend in well with his facility and greeted the staff around 2:30 PM. When they checked in to him at 4:30 pm, he was found dead outside.
There are no cameras and no logs in the facility.
Sherlock called both Aasmyr cell phones and left messages. They flew to California to visit their family.
“We were at my sister’s house and were greeted by the family when my husband (Harry) got a call from All Pets Animal Hospital asking what to do with Duke’s body,” says Aasmyr. “He was completely shocked and I could tell that something was terribly wrong.”
After that call, they noticed Sherlock’s voice messages.
Katy Vet publishes inconclusive report
All Pets Animal Hospital performed an autopsy on Duke and the results were inconclusive in finding the cause of his death. The vet spoke to Harry Aasmyr on the phone that Saturday night and emailed the family.
The vet’s email stated: “Overall, there were no significant anomalies in either the chest or abdomen. His stomach was in a normal position and no foreign bodies were found in the gastrointestinal tract. Although I can’t say for sure because he was as young and otherwise healthy as you report, and the fact that he was found outside at the facility, a heated, associated death is still seen as a possibility. “
The Aasmyrs had liked the freedom Katy Dog Suites gave Duke and that he would not be locked in a kennel. However, this freedom can prove to be a risk.
“I have a feeling when he went outside he didn’t know he could go back in,” says Aasmyr. “He’s been waiting for someone to call him back. I don’t think he would have chosen to stay outside and die. “
Julie Aasmyr describes Duke as a gentle, happy, and personable lover. The family says he was never overheated.
“He spent a lot of time outside with us – in our home and on our land in West Texas – where he had full freedom to roam and roam freely,” says Aasmyr.
Not the first external death
“I’m glad they want to make improvements, but I don’t think I can trust them,” says Aasmyr. “We’re not the first person this happened to.”
In 2018, two Great Danes died from exposure to heat. According to Robert Sherlock, the facility admitted the dogs in separate runs at the owner’s request.
The dogs, which were very connected, could only see each other outside of their run. If they had gone in with air conditioning, they would not have been able to see each other.
The dogs died outside, in close proximity to each other. As with Duke, this happened less than 8 hours after they were stopped.
Katy Dog Suites wants to make changes
The owner and staff of Katy Dog Suites are devastated by the deaths.
“We are not saying that we are not responsible, but his (Duke) cause of death is unclear. It’s hard to know how to respond, ”says Sherlock. “We don’t leave dogs there in the sun for hours without water.”
Sherlock reviews their guidelines and looks at the lessons that can be learned from them.
“We’re trying to find the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” says Sherlock.
Katy families need to know risks, ask questions
The Aasmyrs want other Katy families to understand the risks of boarding. They believe Katy Dog Suites had insufficient staff at the time of Duke’s death, and say families should question the staff-to-dog ratio when taking in pets.
“The Katy Dog Suites facility is very large and spread out, with at least 32 kennel buildings each equipped for 12 dogs. According to the manager, there will be at least 70 dogs at any given time, but based on the number of buildings the facility can accommodate almost 400 animals, ”says Aasmyr.
Harry Aasmyr toured the facility when dropping Duke off and then again on July 27 after the family returned from California. During these visits he noticed no more than 4-5 employees.
“For such a large facility, this doesn’t seem enough, which can help keep staff from noticing any signs of stress in individual dogs,” says Aasmyr.
Sherlock and his staff want to require owners to house their dogs for a day (not overnight) before a family leaves town.
“We encourage you to come ahead of time to make sure you can handle this,” says Sherlock. “Stress can really be added to anything.”
Such a test run would enable the staff to get to know the dog and assess possible risks. Sherlock noted that some dogs are also not outside of dogs and are not used to heat. If the family dog is not used to heating, he says that staff should be made aware of this, or that this type of housing is not a good fit.
“A short try and drop would help reduce the stress on the dog,” says Sherlock.
Such possible changes come too late for Duke, although the Aasmyrs hope that something can be learned from his death.
“Places like Katy Dog Suites need to have initial questionnaires in which dogs are profiled and labeled as high-risk,” says Aasmyr. “If they have never been there or have never used a dog door, extra time should be devoted to these dogs.”
Duke and Julia.
Julie Aasmyr says they would have been okay paying the extra cash if Katy had told Dog Suites that they needed to devote more time to Duke as a first-time customer and first-time user of dog doors.
“There should also be something that customers have to sign about risks with the freedom to get on and off so that customers know the risks,” says Aasmyr. “Personally, I think they should change their business model so that dogs are not allowed to stay outside if the heat index exceeds a certain level (unless the owner announces it).”
Katy Dog Suites helped out during Harvey
Katy Dog Suites opened their Katy location in September 2017 shortly after Hurricane Harvey. They were even recognized for their efforts to help pets during this disaster.
Even before the air conditioning was set up in the Katy facility, Katy Dog Suites were accepting 300 dogs stranded by the hurricane. Sherlock points out that this was done under the supervision of veterinarians as the dogs came in with the staff knowing there was no air conditioning.
“We were happy to help during this time, even if we weren’t quite ready for it,” says Sherlock.
Not a single dog died while she was being cared for after Hurricane Harvey. Katy Dog Suites has screened thousands of dogs since it opened in 2017.
“We had a tough six months, like so many other Katy companies,” says Sherlock. “We felt like we were getting back on our feet and then Duke died.”
Since Duke’s death, the business has been attacked online and received many threatening emails and phone calls. The owner stresses that it is well advertised, that dogs have 24/7 access to the outside and that they are very forward-looking with their facility.
Sherlock also emphasizes that someone is always on hand at the facility. The manager lives on site with her husband and three children.
The Aasmyr family will not take legal action against Katy Dog Suites.
“We want change,” says Julie Aasmyr. “We want better service and better care for our fur babies. We want the facility to have a lot more trained staff on the premises in order to be able to properly look after the number of dogs there. “
Accepting that no boarding school will be “foolproof”, the Aasmyrs want Katy families to know and understand that heat exposure can and does happen. Families should inquire about measures being taken to prevent heat exposure in boarding school facilities before deciding whether to use the facility.
“I want people to know that while this place is great for many dogs, it is not for every dog,” says Aasmyr. “It wasn’t for Duke. We know that now, too little too late, and now nothing can bring him back to us. “
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