Fifty-nine families are grieving the loss of furry family members after a fire at a Texas pet boarding facility killed at least 75 dogs. The fire swept through Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown around 11pm Saturday. Fire Chief John Sullivan said firefighters found "the worst possible scenario" and "were unable to save even one life," per the Austin American-Statesman. The dogs are thought to have died from smoke inhalation. There were no people inside the building "but by no indication do I want to lead anyone to believe that that is any less tragic," Sullivan added, per KXAN. "My heart just dropped when I got the address and knew exactly what location we were going to."
Crews have established the fire's point of origin, per KXAN, which separately reports that the facility did not have a kennel permit. Police say its owner, former Georgetown police officer Phillip Paris, is cooperating with the investigation. "Fifty-nine families are affected, and their best friends won't be coming home," Paris said in a statement, per KXAN. "As a dog owner, I feel their heartbreak intensely." Don Richard, a newlywed due to pick up his two dogs on Sunday, is among those questioning why there wasn't someone monitoring the dogs at night, per KXAN. But a FAQ section of the facility's website says "we believe that pets sleep better at night when everything is dark, peaceful and quiet."
It's a further tragedy for the family of Georgetown Police Officer Michelle Gattey. Her dogs died inside the facility just days after Gattey herself died of COVID-19, KXAN reports. It's unclear if the 7,500-square-foot metal building had a sprinkler system, but Sullivan said it wasn't a requirement under federal, state, or local fire codes. Until the families get answers, eight artists are consoling them with portraits of their beloved pets—some donated, others paid for with donations from a GoFundMe campaign, per KXAN. "It's more than I could ever ask for," says recipient Shay Hewa, who lost her 3-year-old dog, Cali. "Just the fact that someone's willing to do that out of the kindness of their hearts is so heartwarming." (Read more fire stories.)