KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
August 2, 2021
By Natalie Cook Clark
A Katy family is mourning the loss of their 4-year-old golden retriever after he was found dead outside at Katy Dog Suites, a local boarding facility. This is now the third dog to have died at the facility and the business owner is looking to learn and make changes.
Duke Aasmyr. Photo courtesy: Julie Aasmyr.
Dog Died the Day He Arrived at Katy Dog Suites
The Aasmyr family dropped Duke, their 4-year-old golden retriever off at Katy Dog Suites (28785 Clay Road) at 8:00 a.m. on July 17.
“He was in good health and acted completely normal when dropped off,” says Duke’s owner Julie Aasmyr.
This was Duke’s first time boarding at Katy Dog Suites. He normally was looked after by friends when the family left town, but this time they were also on vacation prompting the family to look for a boarding facility.
Like many Katy families, the Asmyrs liked the uniqueness of Katy Dog Suites. The dogs have 24-hour access to an outside run. Each dog has a doggy door that lets them inside (to air-conditioning) when they want and full access to water. The outside section for the dogs is also grass with a small paver. Katy Dog Suites advertises themselves as a non-concrete facility and giving dogs 24-hour access to the outdoors.
“We designed this for dogs out of our love for dogs,” says Katy Dog Suites owner, Robert Sherlock. The facility is one-of-a-kind in the U.S. and modeled after popular boarding facilities in Australia.
According to Katy Dog Suites, Duke appeared to adjust fine to his set up and greeted the staff around 2:30 p.m. When they checked in on him at 4:30 p.m. he was found dead outside.
There are no cameras and no logs kept at the facility.
Sherlock called both of the Aasmyr’s cell phones and left messages. They were flying to California to visit family.
“We were at my sister's house getting welcomed by family when my husband (Harry) received a call from All Pets Animal Hospital asking what we wanted them to do with Duke's body,” says Aasmyr. “He was in complete shock, and I could tell something was horribly wrong.”
It was after that call that they noticed the voice messages from Sherlock.
Katy Vet Releases Inconclusive Report
All Pets Animal Hospital performed a necropsy 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 evening and sent the family an email.
The vet’s email states: “Overall, there were no significant abnormalities present within either the chest or abdomen. His stomach was in the normal position and no foreign material was noted in the gastrointestinal tract. Though I can't say for sure, because he was so young and otherwise healthy, as you report, plus the fact that he was found outside at the facility, a heated related death is still considered a possibility."
The Aasmyrs had liked the freedom that Katy Dog Suites gave Duke and how he wouldn’t be confined in a kennel. Such freedom though can prove to be a risk.
“I feel like once he went outside, he didn't realize he could go back inside,” says Aasmyr. “He was waiting for someone to call him back in. I don't believe that he would have chosen to stay outside and die.”
Julie Aasmyr describes Duke as a mellow, happy, and a congenial lover. The family says that he’s never been overheated.
“He spent a lot of time outside with us - at our home and at our land in West Texas - where he had full freedom to roam and run free,” says Aasmyr.
Not the First Outside Death
“I am happy that they want to make improvements, but I do not feel I can trust them,” says Aasmyr. “We are not the first person this has happened to.”
In 2018 two dogs, a mastiff and a boxer from the same family died of heat exposure. According to Robert Sherlock, the facility boarded the dogs in separate runs as per the owner’s request.
The dogs, who were bonded (according to Sherlock,) could only see each other when in the outside section of their run. Had they gone inside, in airconditioned, they wouldn’t have been able to see each other.
The dogs died outside, within short sight of each other. Like Duke, this happened less than 8 hours after they were dropped off.
Katy Dog Suites Looks to Make Changes
The owner and staff at Katy Dog Suites are devastated by the deaths.
“We aren’t saying we aren’t responsible but his (Duke) cause of death in undetermined. It’s hard to know how to respond,” says Sherlock. “We don’t leave dogs there in the sun for hours without water.”
Sherlock is reviewing their policies and looking at lessons to be learned.
“We’re trying to work out the best way moving forward to make sure it 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 feel that Katy Dog Suites lacked enough staff at the time of Duke’s death and say that families should question staff to dog ratio when boarding pets.
“The Katy Dog Suites facility is very large and spread out, with at least 32 kennel buildings, each set up to house 12 dogs. Per the manager they will at any point in time have at least 70 dogs there, but based on the number of buildings the facility is capable of housing almost 400 animals,” says Aasmyr.
Harry Aasmyr toured the facility when dropping Duke off and then again on July 27 after the family had returned from California. During those visits he noticed no more than 4-5 staff members.
“For a facility this large, this does not seem sufficient, which may be a contributing factor to staff members not observing signs of distress with individual dogs,” says Aasmyr.
Sherlock and his staff are looking at requiring owners to board their dogs for a day (not overnight) leading up to a family going out of town.
“We advise that you come ahead of time to make sure they can handle it,” says Sherlock. “Stress can really be added to anything.”
Such a trial run would allow the staff to get to know the dog and assess for potential risks. Sherlock noted that some dogs are also not outside dogs and not accustomed to heat. If a family’s dog isn’t used to heat then he says that should be clearly stated to the staff or maybe this style of boarding isn’t a good fit.
“A try and drop for a short time would help to reduce stress on the dog,” says Sherlock.
Such potential changes are too late for Duke, though the Aasmyrs hope something can be learned from his death.
“Places like Katy Dog Suites need to have initial questionnaires where dogs are profiled and tagged as high risk,” says Aasmyr. “If they have never been there before or have never used a doggy door - there should be extra time devoted to those dogs.”
Duke and Julie.
Julie Aasmyr says they would have been fine paying extra money if Katy Dog Suites said they needed to devote more time to Duke as a first-time client and a first time doggy door user.
“There should also be something they have clients sign about risks with freedom of going in/out so that clients know the risks,” says Aasmyr. “Personally, I think they should change their business model so that if the heat index is over a certain level, dogs aren't allowed outside to stay (Unless the owner signs off on it).”
Katy Dog Suites Helped During Harvey
Katy Dog Suites opened their Katy location in September 2017, just after Hurricane Harvey. They were even recognized for their efforts in helping pets during that disaster.
Before their air conditioning was even set up at the Katy facility, Katy Dog Suites took in 300 dogs stranded from the hurricane. Sherlock stresses that this was done with the supervision of vets since the dogs came in with the staff knowing there was no AC.
“We were happy to help during that time, even though we weren’t fully set up for it,” says Sherlock.
Not a single dog died during their care in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Katy Dog Suites has looked over thousands of dogs since their 2017 opening.
“We’ve had a tough year a half, like so many other Katy businesses,” says Sherlock. “We felt like we were just 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 calls. The owner stresses that it is well advertised that dogs have 24-access to outside and that they are very upfront with their set up.
Sherlock also stresses that there is always someone onsite at the facility. The manager lives onsite with her husband and three children.
The Aasmyr family will not be taking any legal action against Katy Dog Suites.
“We want changes,” says Julie Aasmyr. “We want better service and care for our fur babies. We want the facility to be required to have a significantly larger number of trained staff on the premises to be able to properly care for the number of dogs there.”
The Aasmyrs accept that no boarding facility will be “foolproof” they want Katy families to know and understand that heat exposure can happen and does happen. Families should ask what measures are taken to prevent heat exposure at boarding facilities before deciding to use that facility.
“I want people to know that while this place might be wonderful for many dogs, it is not for every dog,” says Aasmyr. “It wasn't for Duke. We know this now, too little too late, and now nothing can bring him back to us.”