The tactics of Off Leash K9 Training have been called into question in other states.
The nationwide franchise’s Johnson City location is being investigated for aggravated animal cruelty after a dog reportedly died in their care.
Local Off Leash Owner Randi LaFerney said all of the locations are independently owned and operated.
LaFerney said she doesn’t own the other locations that dog owners and investigators spoke to News Channel 11 about Friday.
Danelle Haag’s Great Dane Bruno was boarded at Off Leash K9 Training in Sarasota, Florida in July of 2018.
Haag said her dog went in weighing 140 pounds but was just 117 pounds when she picked him up from the trainer two weeks later.
“The vet said a couple more days and he may not have come home. I think we were very close to losing him,” said Haag.
Haag said the trainer sent her pictures during boarding. Four days before pick up, she noticed he looked skinnier than usual but she said the trainer was not transparent about how much weight he’d lost.
“I mean he just looked bad. He had sores on his elbows. You could see every rib in his body. He was completely out of it,” said Haag.
Haag believes Bruno got the sores from being in a cage too small for him.
She also fears the facility used excessive shock training and starvation to get her dog to obey orders.
Haag said Bruno collapsed from exhaustion the day she brought him home.
She said she reached back out to Off Leash about her concerns but they fell on deaf ears. “I felt like they were protecting themselves and that they were refusing to accept any accountability,” said Haag.
In a statement, Dan Wallen of the Sarasota facility said,
“It is our goal for every client and every dog to have a great experience with our training services. In the unusual instance when a client is not pleased, we try to see what we can do to improve the experience. In our opinion, Ms. Haag is providing one side of a story. For example, she sent text messages to us remarking on how she was pleased with the training after it was completed and how her dog was doing fine. It wasn’t until later that she decided she wasn’t happy and suddenly demanded a refund. We, of course, keep records of client communications. My guess is she did not provide those positive post training messages to you.”
When asked to provide past communications, Wallen said they didn’t want to revisit the issue since legal counsel was involved.
Haag said she reached out to police about the incident, originally intending to sue for damages. She said she decided against it because her attorney advised her that the money she stood to gain would not be worth the expense of the lawsuit.
Haag’s alleged problems with the Off Leash franchise are not unprecedented.
“Circumstantially, we believed that something happened to this dog that was trying to be covered up,” said Earl Newman, a special agent in the humane law enforcement division of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Newman said the trainer was never charged with animal cruelty.
He said they were never able to determine the dog’s cause of death due to the advanced decomposition of the body. He said the dog was likely dead for two months by the time they found its remains.
He said the trainer was charged with a false report for allegedly misleading law enforcement officials in Massachusetts about the dog’s whereabouts.
Newman said cases like this point to a bigger problem in the dog training industry. “At least in Rhode Island, there is no professional qualifications required. Anybody can essentially say that they’re a trainer so its very difficult to hold them to a certain standard,” said Newman.
Newman said he believes the employee responsible the dog’s care is still training in the area.
The Off Leash K9 Training facility in Providence, Rhode Island declined News Channel 11’s request for comment.
Will Freeman, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said they don’t license, inspect or regulate dog training facilities in the state.