PHOENIX — A May 3 trial date has been set for the owners of a Gilbert kennel where 21 dogs died of heat exhaustion in June 2014.
Charges originally filed against owners Jesse and Maleisa Hughes were dropped in late December 2014, then refiled in May 2015 after deeper investigations.
The couple pleaded not guilty to 29 counts of animal cruelty and fraud at a status conference Tuesday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
The dogs were in the temporary care of Austin Flake, son of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and his wife, Logan, while the Hugheses were out of town. Authorities said the air conditioning unit in the room went out after one of the dogs managed to chew through the wall and then an electrical cord.
According to Phoenix area veterinarian Dr. Bernard Mangone, the dogs died from hyperthermia with little to no food in their stomach.
“We have evidence that suggests that there were efforts to provide particular care, and the caretakers (the Flakes) were given specific direction on what to do,” Montgomery said at a press conference. “What they were directed to do fell far short of what the business owners held themselves out as what should be provided, and what should have been done.”
County Sheriff’s investigators said in July no evidence was found that a chewed-up electrical wire had cut power to the cooling unit.
The Hugheses originally told their customers the dogs had run away. Maleisa told KTAR News’ Mac & Gaydos that was the “one mistake we’ve made” and later called the deaths a “freak accident.”
The dog owners filed a civil suit against the facility in September 2014. They claimed they were promised a “Doggy Disneyland” during a tour and were shown a large yard where the dogs would be kept, not the room the dogs died in.
“No one was ever shown this back room the dogs were in,” attorney for the dog owners John Schill told KTAR News’ Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.