ARNOLD, Mo. — Seven high-priced show dogs, including one of the top Akitas in the country, are dead after being left by their handler for several hours in a hot van in Jefferson County.
Police say Mary Wild, 24, left the dogs in a cargo van early Monday and went to bed after returning from a dog show in Iowa.
"I've never seen such a horrific act in my lifetime," said Dr. Laura Ivan, the veterinarian in House Springs whose office Wild brought the dogs to on Monday. Ivan is now caring for the lone surviving dog. "This was not intentional, but a horrible, tragic accident," Ivan added.
The dogs likely died of heat stroke, Ivan said, although autopsies are pending. The purebreds included three golden retrievers, a dalmation, a Siberian Husky, a Malamute and the top-ranked Akita named Jersey.
Wild, who is paid to handle the dogs at shows, did not return repeated phone and e-mail messages Wednesday from the Post-Dispatch requesting comment.
She told police that, after returning from her road trip about 1 a.m. Monday, she started to transfer the dogs into the garage of a home on Kroeck Drive in Arnold. But it was so hot she instead decided to leave them in their portable kennels in the van.
She told police she put six electric fans in the van to keep the dogs cool. She also left a door open to the van and the van's windows partly open, said Capt. Ralph Brown of the Jefferson County sheriff's office. The van was apparently parked in the driveway, Brown said.
She told police that, three hours later, she went outside to check on the dogs. They were fine, she said. Then, about 6:30 a.m., all eight dogs were in distress. She found five of the dogs breathing, but not responsive. The other three were clearly in distress, but could at least raise their heads.
She tried reviving the dogs, by hosing them down, then took them to Ivan's office.
The veterinarian, Ivan, said there is a discrepancy about the times Wild gave police. Ivan said Wild’s first call to her cell phone was at 9:08 a.m., followed by a 9:20 a.m. call to Ivan’s office. Wild arrived at the vet’s office at 9:30 a.m., and Ivan got to the office fifteen minutes later. Rigor mortis had already set in on some of the dead dogs, Ivan said. Jersey and another dog were still alive. The Akita dies about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Ivan said the Akita died of brain damage. When the blood cells heat up, the body rejects them.
The National Weather Service said the outside temperature at about 1 a.m. Monday was 83 degrees. At 6 a.m., it was 80 degrees. Investigators are trying to determine how hot the inside of the van could have gotten.
"It can get to be 120 degrees inside a van," Ivan said. "With the humidity, it’s certainly a suffocating effect. Dogs aren’t able to sweat. They pant, but not enough to release the heat in the brain."
Their body temperature could have exceeded 108 degrees.
"It only takes five minutes for heat stroke to happen," Ivan said. "If the brain heats up to about 108 degrees, you only have a few minutes to lower the temperature and restore oxygen to the brain. The blood, essentially, is boiling."
James Taylor, the county’s animal control manager, said his investigation should be completed this week. About Ivan’s statement on the temperatures of the dogs’ bodies and inside the van, Taylor said: "I agree with the vet on that assessment."
Taylor said he could not comment on his investigation beyond that point.
Ivan said the crates were stacked on top of each other inside the cargo van. The cages had water dishes, but the dishes were empty by the time the vet’s staff saw them.
"There was not an intent, obviously, to kill," Ivan said. "There was an error in judgment, a lack of common sense. In hindsight, she should’ve brought the dogs out or left the van running."
Monica Colvin of Lebanon, Ill., owner of the Akita, was still shaken Wednesday when she recounted how she learned about the death of her dog, Jersey. She was traveling to California and got a phone call late Monday afternoon from Wild.
"She did not give me the full story," Colvin said. "She said she (Jersey) got hot and she'll be okay."
The next day, Jersey died. And only Wednesday did Colvin find out about the other dogs' deaths.
"She should've gotten those dogs into a cool location, in her kitchen, her own bedroom ... " Colvin said. "The dogs’ safety should be paramount."
In the first six months of this year, Jersey had won enough points at dog shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club to be considered the top-ranked female Akita and the fourth-ranked Akita in the country, her owner said. Such purebred dogs are worth thousands, possibly tens of thousands of dollars, Ivan said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Glenn Boyer's office and the county's animal control division are investigating. Their report will be turned over to the county prosecutor.
Brown said Wild is a reputable dog handler. "This is a very sad case," Brown said. "The lady probably thought, in her mind, heck it's hot in the garage, and some of the dogs were probably already asleep."
Brown cautioned others with dogs: "Take every precaution during this high heat and humidity. If at all possible, take them inside."By Kim Bell -
UPDATED, 6 a.m. Thursday, in final paragraphs, to include the latest condition on the lone surviving dog.
The lone surviving dog is a Siberian Husky named Cinder. Ivan, the veterinarian, said late Wednesday that Cinder's condition was "day-to-day."
"She's still disoriented, and she's in kidney failure," Ivan said. "Her brain seems to be okay."
Ivan is monitoring the Husky's blood, testing for values related to kidney function. Those values could determine, by the end of the week, if Cinder would have to be euthanized, Ivan said.