MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The Martin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Pawsitively Paradise, a pet training, grooming and grooming company in Palm City.
The investigation comes after a Palm City couple, Dan and Adele Chontos, told NewsChannel 5 that one of their flat-coated retrievers died while in the company’s care.
“There is no explanation for this healthy dog dying,” said Adele Chontos.
The couple said they left Mako, 2 1/2, and Marlin, 7, with Pawsitively Paradise’s owner for two days over the Thanksgiving holiday after receiving a referral from a friend and getting a tour of the facility.
“I certainly didn’t see anything that made me think twice,” Adele Chontos said.
The couple also said the owner communicated with them constantly via text message during the two days they were gone, assuring them the two dogs were fine, sometimes even sending pictures or videos. The only indication that something was wrong was a message from the owner shortly before Dan Xanthos picked up the dogs.
“We don’t know what happened in those 48 hours, but something happened,” Adele Chontosh said.
The Csontos showed an exchange of text messages to NewsChannel 5 that showed their owner saying Mako, the younger dog, was “having a hard time adjusting” and seemed “depressed,” but added that she believed the dog daycare at the facility would be a good idea for Mako in the future to help the dog adapt.
However, when Dan Chontos went to pick up the dogs, he found Mako unresponsive with yellow fluid coming from his mouth.
“I said, ‘What did you do to my dog?'” Dan Chontos told NewsChannel 5.
The couple rushed the dogs to Pet Emergency, where both dogs were admitted for evaluation. The Xanto family said a veterinarian gave Marlin fluids for severe dehydration and antibiotics for a bacterial infection on his paws.
“He had cuts on his paws and his back,” Adele Chontos said.
That wasn’t the worst news: The couple said the vet also told them Mako didn’t make it.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” Adele Xanthos said. “He was a happy, healthy dog.”
She said the veterinarian’s preliminary cause of death was attributed to excessive heat.
“They’re doing an autopsy, so we don’t know definitively,” Adele Chontos said.
The couple contacted the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Deputy John Budensiek told NewsChannel 5 the agency is investigating the business, adding that animal control followed up on the investigation by going to the location and trying to contact the owner.
“We have tried repeatedly to meet with her face to face, but that has not happened yet, our animal control is interviewing officers who were on the scene,” Budensiek said. “They did issue citations for other animals that were kept in crates that had no water in them.”
However, Budensiek also said other staff told deputies the animals were allowed in several times a day and had access to water. Budensiek said the investigation is not yet complete, pending the results of both the interview with the owner and the dog’s autopsy.
“For now, we can’t take any punitive action at this stage because we don’t know what actually caused the dog to pass,” Budensiek said.
As the investigation continues, Adele and Dan Chontos hope for answers.
“I can’t tell you how much I love that dog and … how responsible I feel that he could have been hurt at all,” Adele Chontos said with tears in her eyes. “That’s probably the thing that haunts me the most.”
Adele Chontos said the only thing that eases those haunting thoughts is the love for Marlin, still alive and well, and the hope that what happened to Mako won’t happen again.
“The only light in this is to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family,” Adele Chontos said.
NewsChannel 5 also reached out to the company’s owner multiple times via Facebook and by phone, but did not hear back.
WPTV will follow the results of the autopsy once it is complete.