GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — There are still a lot of questions after a fire at a Georgetown pet resort killed at least 75 animals. All in all, 59 families lost their pets.
As the community and pet owners mourn, there’s a memorial outside of the Ponderosa Pet Resort’s fence that keeps growing. Photos of dogs, flowers, notes and even toys were placed in the holes of the fence.
The deadly fire happened at around 11:05 p.m. Saturday at Ponderosa Pet Resort, Georgetown Fire Department Chief John Sullivan confirmed Sunday.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office was at the pet resort Monday to investigate the cause of the fire. The animals are going to be taken to an undisclosed location, and their owners will be notified where that’s going to be so they can pick up their pets, according to GFD.
When crews arrived, they found significant fire and smoke. The animals are believed to have died from smoke inhalation.
“Yeah, we never thought this would happen,” Don Richard said. “That’s for sure.”
Richard and his wife Pam Richard just got married on Friday, boarding their two puppies Bunny and Clyde.
“They were buddies, they would play and run,” Richard said.
The couple was set to pick their puppies up on Sunday.
A close friend of Georgetown Police Officer Michelle Gattey told KXAN that Gattey’s dogs were also inside the resort at the time of the fire and lost their lives. Officer Gattey herself lost her life after a lengthy battle with COVID-19 just three days ago.
“The building was not occupied by humans, but by no indication do I want to lead anyone to believe that that is any less tragic,” Sullivan said Sunday. “It is extremely heart-wrenching for us as first responders. My heart just dropped when I got the address and knew exactly what location we were going to.”
Ponderosa’s does make it clear in its boarding polices that staff feel pets sleep better at night when no one is there, and it’s quiet, which is why staff leaves.
“There’s no reason this place shouldn’t have had someone here all the time,” Richard said.
The Richard family said they wouldn’t have left Bunny and Clyde if they knew the resort was caring for as many animals as they were. They feel leaving that many animals without a staff member on-site overnight was negligent.
“Hopefully they were already asleep so they didn’t panic,” Pam said.
The couple said they’ve started a petition to try to create change in Georgetown, preventing animals who are in professional care from being left unattended.
KXAN has reached out to the owner, but has not heard back at last report.
It’s not clear how the fire started, or if there were sprinklers inside, but the City of Georgetown said Monday that neither federal, state or local fire codes require sprinkler systems in these types of facilities, based on use and size. Georgetown said the use of the facility is considered “low fire risk.”
The Richard family said their puppies were a duo from the very beginning. And though they’re still in shock — there’s comfort in knowing they were together.
“They were meant for each other, no question about that,” Richard said.
Ponderosa offers training, grooming and boarding and was founded over 10 years ago by owner Phillip Paris, a dog trainer and former City of Georgetown police officer. GFD said Sunday that Paris is cooperating with the department and expresses condolences to families of the pets.
Paris released a statement on Monday, saying:
“I am emotionally overwhelmed by the accidental fire on Saturday night at our business, Ponderosa Pet Resort, LLC. Fifty-nine families are affected, and their best friends won’t be coming home. As a dog owner, I feel their heartbreak intensely… My staff and I have been busy since Sunday morning contacting each family, and we have now done so. We are working through the fog of our own grief, but we know each family is pained more than we are. It is soul-wrenching to lose a friend suddenly and without warning. I realize this, and grieve for each life lost, and the families disrupted by this tragedy.”Phillip Paris, Ponderosa Pet Resort owner
Paris added that Ponderosa is working in tandem with a Georgetown veterinarian to help families receive their pet’s remains however they want to.
Fatal fires at pet stay facilities have happened across the country before. Back in 2019, 31 dogs died in a Chicago kennel fire, leading Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign a law requiring kennels remain constantly staffed and are equipped with sprinklers and fire alarms. Earlier this year, a blaze at a dog kennel in Bardstown, Kentucky, claimed the lives of about 50 dogs except for one female, who’d recently birthed six puppies who also died.
A 2017 court case in Washington D.C. centered on one pet owner who sued a boarding facility after her teacup Yorkie was killed by another dog inside. The dog’s owner claimed the facility was negligent. The business denied the claims of negligence, however, calling the death a “freak accident.”
GFD says it’s too early to pinpoint the cause of the fire, but crews have established its point of origin. The department says it’s actively working to determine the cause as quickly as possible. The City of Georgetown said preliminary investigations give no indication that the fire was intentionally set.
Paris said he’s “100% certain” the fire was accidental.
“We encourage people not to minimize this,” Sullivan concluded on Sunday. “It’s a big deal when you lose an extension of your family. My heart goes out — because it was unfair that I could go home last night and give my dog Rockford the biggest hug possible. He’s my comfort, he’s my confidante. And many of these family members have had that ripped out from them now.”
Chief Sullivan also said they are working to reunite families with their pets hopefully in the next 24 hours.