A late-night fire at a pet care center in Texas killed all of the approximately 75 dogs being boarded there — including two that belonged to a cop who recently died of complications from COVID-19, according to a report Sunday.
The blaze that ripped through the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, north of Austin, was reported shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday and firefighters were at the scene in about four and a half minutes, Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan said.
But the first responders were unable to save any of the poor pooches trapped inside without human supervision, Sullivan said.
“It was a quick response. Unfortunately, they were met with conditions that are our worst possible scenario and that was heavy smoke and fire involvement,” he said during a news conference posted on YouTube by KVUE-TV.
Sullivan said he saw several of the dead dogs, some of which weren’t burned and appeared to have succumbed to smoke inhalation.
He called the death toll “extremely heart-wrenching” and said it wasn’t “any less tragic” because the victims were animals.
“My heart just dropped when I got the address and knew exactly what location we were going to because, quite frankly, I view my personal pet as my closest confidant, friend and the one who doesn’t judge,” he said.
“My heart just breaks for the people today.”
Sullivan appeared to struggle with his emotions when he said, “This is big deal…I just wish I could go back in time and make it better.”
“It was unfair that I could go home last night and give my dog, Rockford, the biggest hug possible,” he said.
Several city workers had boarded their dogs at the center, Sullivan said, “so, it is also a loss that hits close to home for some of our employees, as well.”
Sullivan later confirmed two of the dogs belonged to Georgetown Police Officer Michelle Gattey, 44, who died Thursday of complications from COVID-19, KVUE said.
Gattey, a 23-year Air Force veteran, joined the police department in January and was set to become its next victim services coordinator.
A police spokesman declined to say whether she’d been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the Austin American-Statesmen.
Officials are working with the Ponderosa Pet Resort’s owner to identify the dogs and return the remains to their owners, Sullivan said.
“We have no reason to believe he was trying to compromise the care of any of the family members who were left in his care,” Sullivan said.
“Quite frankly, this weighs heavy on his heart, as well.”
The Ponderosa Pet Resort’s website notes that it isn’t staffed 24 hours a day, saying: “We believe that pets sleep better at night when everything is dark, peaceful and quiet.”
“We do however, have security systems and closed circuit video monitoring systems in place as added security,” the site says.
Sullivan declined to say if there was a fire alarm or sprinklers installed in the one-story, all-metal building but said sprinklers weren’t required because of its age and the way it was being used.
Investigators will likely determine the cause and origin of the fire within a week, Sullivan said.
Several possibilities have been ruled out, he said without elaborating.
The Ponderosa Pet Resort’s website identifies its owner and head trainer as Philip Paris.
Neither he nor other employees immediately responded to emails seeking comment.