Jun 23, 2014 3:20 PM by NBC News
(KPNX) Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is investigating an incident in which 17 dogs died while in the care of a Gilbert pet-boarding service.
Officials are calling the deaths a "tragic accident" that happened after one of the dogs chewed through a power cord attached to an air-conditioning unit at the Green Acre boarding business.
MCSO said the dogs died of heat exhaustion, though more details are expected to come as the investigation continues.
"There is going to be a follow-up investigation," said MCSO spokesman Chris Hegstrom. "It doesn't end here."
MCSO provided more details about the deaths Saturday night. Hegstrom said the dogs were last checked Thursday night at about 11 p.m. by people working at the facility. The workers returned Friday morning, at about 5:30 a.m., to find a large number of dogs dead and others on the brink of death, Hegstrom said.
It appears at least one of the dogs managed to chew or somehow pierce the home's wall and cut cords that run electricity to that portion of the home, which has multiple AC units. Hegstrom said that also cut the air-conditioning.
Hegstrom said the workers called the business owners, who returned from Florida on Friday night and started calling dog owners Saturday morning. He said many of the dogs were piled up inside a shed.
The Arizona Republic contacted the business early in the day after receiving reports of a police presence at the boarding service. A person who responded said it was a "family emergency." Later attempts to reach the business were unsuccessful as phone calls were not returned and no one answered the door at the facility.
The business operates on a county island, and investigators are working to check on if it has the proper accreditation, Hegstrom said.
Some dog owners who arrived at the scene Saturday said they were initially told their pets had escaped.
Doug Hart arrived to find his sister's dogs and said he was told the air-conditioning went out at 9 a.m. and that the dogs had run away.
"My mom and all these people have been driving around looking for their dogs for two hours to find out the dogs are dead in the shed," he said.
Both the dogs he went to pick up had died.
Valerie Collins and her husband weren't allowed inside the property, but she demanded that her dogs' bodies be returned.
Collins said the business owner eventually relented and brought the dogs, Carson and Daisy, out and laid them on the ground covered with a blanket outside the yard. Collins said she and her husband called the police.
Collins said dog owners who were present were told different stories, including that the dogs escaped and that they died from heat exhaustion.
"Our dogs have been dead for two days," she said. "They're rotten."
Zack and Heather Wicker said they dropped their two dogs off at Green Acre on Wednesday. They arrived to find out about the deaths, which include their Labrador retriever, Remington. They said Valor, a German shepherd, is still unaccounted for.
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