It was two years ago last month when tragedy struck at the Green Acre boarding facility in Gilbert, Arizona.
Twenty-three dogs, now known as the Gilbert 23, lost their lives when they were all crammed into a small room with inadequate ventilation and no air conditioning on that Arizona summer night. The dogs were locked into the room around 11:00pm on July 19, 2014 and not checked on until the next morning, when several of the dogs were already dead and others were struggling to stay alive.
Instead of calling dog owners, authorities, or veterinarians for help, the deceased dogs were piled into a storage shed on the property while efforts to save some of the dogs still living by hosing them down outside were unsuccessful.
It wasn’t until a day later when Todd and Meleisa Hughes, owners of the Green Acre facility, began contacting the dogs’ families. But, instead of being truthful and accepting responsibility, they told owners their dogs had escaped and become lost. Several families searched frantically for their dogs, not knowing their bodies were piled up in a shed on Green Acre property.
When the truth came out about the dogs’ deaths, kennel owners insisted that one of the dogs had chewed through a cord that powered the room’s air conditioning unit. A claim that police later proved to be false.
Before boarding their dogs at Green Acre, pet owners were told that their dogs would be treated with the highest level of care, living in the home like family, sleeping in beds with the owner’s children. Instead, up to 28 dogs were packed into a single 9′ x 12′ room, with only one air vent and a door sealed with caulking to “prevent dog smell from getting into the rest of the house.”
Necropsies performed on 7 of the deceased dogs showed their deaths were consistent with suffocation, a result of too many dogs in a small room with inadequate ventilation.
The Hughes’ continued to deny responsibility until yesterday when the couple accepted a plea deal in the case. Both changed their pleas to guilty of fraud for misleading customers about the conditions inside their boarding facility and guilty of animal cruelty in the deaths of all 23 dogs left in a small room and found dead after a hot night without air-conditioning.
In exchange for their plea, Todd and Meleisa Hughes will each serve 23 days in jail.
One day for each dead dog.
Dog owners’ reactions to the plea deal are mixed.
“I feel good that they have admitted guilt. I feel good that Maleisa has finally realized that she will be punished for what they did cause it was gross animal cruelty and neglect and what they did to our dogs was horrific,” said Valerie Collins who lost two dogs in the incident.
“Ultimately we wanted this to go to trial and have a jury decide,” said Shannon Gillette, another victim who lost two dogs.
“We wanted them convicted of a felony. We wanted them to go to jail and we are getting some of that even though it’s just a little spit in the pan but it shows that we prevailed,” said Jacqueline Heath who lost three dogs in the incident.
In addition to 23 days in jail, the Hughes will complete 230 hours of community service and serve three years of probation. They are no longer allowed to accept any new animals for boarding. They must also present a written apology to the victims’ families.
An official sentence will be handed down on September 9.
Remember the Gilbert 23: