Sheriff: Sen. Jeff Flake’s son was in charge when 20 dogs died at Ariz. boarding house

Two Golden Retrievers Sherman and Parker were among the 20 dogs who died at a dog boarding house last week. (Courtesy Shannon Gillette)
Two Golden Retrievers Sherman and Parker were among the 20 dogs who died at a dog boarding house last week. (Courtesy Shannon Gillette)

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed that the son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), Austin Flake, and his wife Logan were in charge when 20 dogs died at an Arizona boarding house last week and pledged a "thorough investigation" into the incident.

"The caretakers were the Senator's son and his wife," Arpaio told reporters at a press conference Monday.

Flake and his wife were put in charge of the Green Acre facility while the owners, Todd and MaLeisa Hughes, were out of town in Florida.

“I learned of this tragic accident yesterday. I can't imagine the devastating loss these families are experiencing. My heart goes out to the owners who lost their beloved pet," the Senator said in a statement.

On Saturday morning, pet owners, who had initially been told by the Hughes that their pets had gone missing, arrived at the facility to find a horrific scene of as many as 20 dogs dead or dying in a small shed next to the Hughes' home.

"That was a lie," Arpaio said. "They didn't run away. The dogs are dead."

Arpaio pledged to launch a full investigation of possible animal cruelty or neglect, and include re-interviewing Flake and his wife.

"There will be no stone unturned," he added.

The high-profile connection has only added to the mystery for dog owners who have become increasingly suspicious of the shifting explanations for the deaths as the days passed.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s office initially said that one of the dogs chewed through the air conditioning unit cord which caused the unit to stop working. The dogs, which were among 28 that were believed to have been in the small shed, died of heat exhaustion they said, according to KSAZ.

But the families weren't buying it.

Shannon Gillette and her husband scoured the Internet to find a kennel-free boarding house where they could leave their two Golden Retrievers until they found Green Acre.

The boarding house owners boasted that no more than eight dogs are kept on the property at any one time, and the dogs are free to run and play in a home, rather than a cage. They promised a Disney World-like experience, Gillette said in an interview.

“We do not use kennels or cages and your dog will receive so much love, play time and attention they will want to return time after time after time,” according to the Green Acre’s Web site, which has since been taken down.

“We wanted to put them in an open boarding house that let the dogs run free," said Gillette, who was in Disneyland with her husband and two children while the dogs were in the care of Green Acre owners.

In a voicemail message to Gillette on Saturday, Todd Hughes said her dogs had run away.

“We had a dog that was a digger and we didn’t know about it. He dug a hole and somehow Sherman and Parker got out to the hole. Anyway we’re going looking for him right now, my wife and kids are out looking for him," Hughes said in the voicemail message, which Gillette posted on her Facebook page over the weekend.

Gillette's mother went to Green Acre on Saturday to help look for Sherman and Parker, but instead found their dead bodies; one had blood coming from his eyes.

Other pet owners connected over the weekend through a Facebook page and launched a Change.org to pressure the Sheriff's office to launch an investigation-- especially after initial report that deputies indicated to families on Saturday that they didn't believe a crime had been committed, according to KSAZ:

On Saturday, an MCSO deputy told dog owners, “that something stupid happened I totally agree with you. That it is a crime? I do not agree with you.”

After thinking they were leaving their pets in good care, the families are heartbroken.

"Little did we know our dogs are lying in the shed rotting away," Gillette said.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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