September 30, 2023

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Owners of dogs killed in District Dogs flood demand answers

7 min read

Wednesday night they sent a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking for a meeting to discuss concerns.

WASHINGTON — Wednesday night the families of the 10 dogs who were killed in the District Dogs flood, sent a letter to D.C. leaders. 

They want accountability and a joint meeting with Mayor Muriel Bowser, Heather McGaffin, the Director for the Office of Unified Communications and Brian Hanlon, the acting director of the Department of Buildings. 

“I want them to come up with plans — not blame people, not excuses,” said Colleen Costello, who lost her dog Maple. 

Dear Mayor Bowser, Director McGaffin, and Acting Director Hanlon: 

We write both as your constituents and as the caregivers to nine of the ten dogs killed in a horrific mass casualty at District Dogs (680 Rhode Island Avenue NE) on Monday, August 14, 2023. Mayor Bowser, in your press conference today, August 23, you said in response to a reporter’s question that you had reached out to Jacob Hensley, the owner of District Dogs, to “make sure they have everything they need.” Your comment echoes similar remarks you made at a press conference on August 16, less than two days after our dogs were killed, when you said you would reach out to the business owner to discuss “how [you] can be helpful.” 

While we appreciate your concern for Mr. Hensley’s (undoubtedly well-insured) financial interests, we are dismayed that since this tragedy occurred nine days ago, neither you nor any other official within your administration has reached out to us directly, let alone solicited a meeting to ascertain how you can “be helpful” to the constituents who lost something no insurance policy can replace—our family members. 

We have numerous concerns about the events that precipitated the untimely, gruesome, and preventable deaths of our animals, and which threatened the lives, health, and safety of 28 other souls inside District Dogs on August 14—six staff members, one client, and 21 dogs that survived. We respectfully request a joint meeting with you, Director McGaffin, and Director Hanlon to discuss our concerns and the steps we believe you must take to prevent another tragedy like this from ever occurring again. We look forward to your timely and favorable reply.

Wednesday night, Mayor Bowser was asked a number of questions about what happened at District Dogs. One of the questions: What would it take to get the city to admit that mistakes were made?

“My assessment is preliminary and important. I think knowledge of different places in the city make for better responses and some of those we can’t always we should never rely on one person’s memory. The tools should support that. So what I’m saying is last year we had several feet of flooding. We had call takers who were getting calls about a business that flooded last year. So that’s context,” said Mayor Bowser.

She told reporters “I see many opportunities for us to improve and make sure everybody who’s taking thousands of calls every single day can match context. We had a fast moving storm. Many inches of rain came down. The building failed the walls caved in. This was catastrophic incident that speaks to more opportunities for training and better tools for our team.”

She was also asked about the concern from the families who lost their dogs about her decision to publicly announce she’d been in contact with the owner of District Dogs. She was directly asked if she had spoken with any of the families yet.

“My office has been in contact with them, the business owner and we have endeavored to make sure that they have everything that they need,” said Mayor Bowser.

But that, Costello says is not true. She told WUSA9 none of the families have heard from Mayor Bowser, and that’s part of the reason they decided to write the letter.

“The fact that she’s reached out to the business owner and not the families shows me where her priorities are and it’s not with her constituents,” said Costello.

One of the dogs who was killed, was Zeni, a 2-year-old Corgi. Her parents, Luer Yin and Connor McCarty told WUSA9 they moved to the area about six months ago and had only left Zeni at District Dogs a few times. 

Before deciding on the facility, they say they did their research.

“We saw that they won a bunch of awards and were highly recommended. There was no mention of all the things we’re finding out now,” said Yin.

Initially they brought Zeni to the Shaw location, but when there wasn’t availability for the date they were hoping, the employees there recommended they take Zeni to the Northeast location. They only took her there a few times, but say their little pup seemed to love it there.

“They told us about these windows Zenni could look out and she loves looking out windows. Now, in retrospect I absolutely regret that decision,” said Yin.

On Aug. 14th, they were in Hawaii at a family reunion.

“Earlier that day I’d been sitting with Connor’s mom we were going somewhere. I had pulled up the web camera, she was just wiggling around playing with her friends and she looked so happy,” said Yin.

McCarty told WUSA9 about five hours after the flooding happened, they got a text from the owner of District Dogs.

“We were about to go to dinner and I get a text message saying please call me about your dog. I called the owner. The first words out of his mouth was, ‘She didn’t make it, she passed’,” said McCarty.

“He said your dog died, she drowned. He said something about flooding, something about six feet of water and that was it,” said Yin.

The two say they were confused and tried to follow up, but never heard back. They couldn’t comprehend how she could have drowned.

“When we lived in California, we went to the beach and ocean twice a week. This dog grew up at the beach, could swim, was a strong swimmer. She floats, corgis float. I thought for sure they had just gotten the wrong dog. Zeni knows how to swim, there’s no way it’s her,” said Yin.

It wasn’t until Tuesday, Aug. 22nd, more than a week later, that they found out how she drowned from the fire department.

“She was in a crate on the floor. Locked up. So, she didn’t have a chance,” said Yin.

The two told WUSA9 they didn’t understand why she was locked up at the time because they paid for her to be in a setting that didn’t include her being crated.

“I never thought she’d be in the crate there. We paid for this private suite They showed this picture where they all sleep together or in separate in a private suite,” said Yin.

“If he had just not locked her up, Zeni would have paddled out of there and saved herself. I am positive. Connor would take her when he would go surfing. There were waves. She wasn’t a stranger to that. Unfortunately after I heard it my stomach just dropped. It was the first time where it made sense,” said Yin through tears.

“I think that part, that’s been most heartbreaking for us, is that fact that she was caged and not given a chance to fight for herself,” said McCarty.

He explained that it made no sense to them that in an emergency situation the dogs would be locked up.

“It boggles my mind. You think it’s an emergency in a building, why would the instinct or protocol be to cage the dogs. Why wouldn’t you evacuate the building and get out of danger. Those questions make all the grieving even harder,” said McCarty.

Both said they want accountability, but said it’s not just one entity at fault.

“I don’t blame the dispatcher. If you weren’t trained to handle emergencies then you can’t handle emergencies. But I would think an entity whose sole job is to handle emergencies should train their employees to handle emergencies,” said Yin.

“It hasn’t been a single point of failure. It’s been a string of failures, one piece after the other did not do their job. This is the capital of the United States and this sort of thing should not happen here,” said McCarty.

2023-08-24 21:15:11

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