Grieving pet owners await next steps after deadly Central Texas boarding facility fire

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GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Pet owners in Georgetown who lost their animals in Saturday night’s boarding fire are in the process of reuniting with their pets’ remains.

Phillip Paris, Ponderosa Pet Resort’s owner, said in a statement that 59 families are affected and said a Georgetown veterinarian is overseeing the removal of remains, and that he and that vet are in contact with families.

Paris also contacted pet owners to tell them what’s next. That email said the business is closed under further notice, and while Paris says he plans to rebuild and reopen at some point in the future, he’s not sure when that will be.

“We know you have questions about how something like this may be prevented in the future, as do we. I assure you we will seek out those answers and eagerly await information from the Fire Marshal,” Paris wrote in the statement.

Why was no one there?

As families grieve the loss of more than 70 pets – KXAN looked into one question: why was no one there monitoring the pet boarding business overnight?

We found out at boarding places like Ponderosa Pet Resort, animals left alone overnight happens more often than not.

Zandra Anderson, a Texas attorney who focuses on animal law cases in Texas said clinics aren’t required to have staff on-site around the clock unless regulated by local city governments, which is not the case in Georgetown.

The City of Georgetown does regulate kennels – for things like food, water, health and sanitary conditions. A permit is required for kennels.

But Ponderosa Pet Resort does not have a kennel permit. The city said it’s working to increase enforcement about this requirement.

The state doesn’t regulate or license boarding facilities like Ponderosa, which is not part of a veterinary clinic.

“Similarly, vet clinics house pets overnight, and they are not required to have a person on staff overnight,” Anderson said.

Ponderosa’s website explains it’s not staffed overnight – saying peace and quiet helps the animals sleep better.

The website says it has closed-circuit video monitoring systems.

“There’s no better replacement than a human being on-site,” Anderson said. “[Cameras] too are going to require a human being, looking at them all night long.”

Helping the healing process

As everyone waits for answers, where the pen stroke ends, healing begins. At least that’s what graphic artist Sarah Wishing hopes to be able to provide.

“Losing a pet is like losing a family member. It’s devastating,” Wishing said. “I hope my artwork, in some way, is able to bring you love.”

Wishing is one of eight artists painting pet portraits for families. Some will be donated, and the rest will be paid for in donations from a GoFundMe.

Wishing has already finished at least two portraits, including one for Shay Hewa.

“It’s beautiful, it’s more than I could ever ask for,” Hewa said. “And just the fact that someone’s willing to do that out of the kindness of their hearts is so heartwarming.”

Hewa said she lost one dog in the fire.

“Cali was about three,” she said. “The other dog in the portrait was Juno and he died of kidney disease so we didn’t have much warning with his death either.”

Melanie Demi, a neighbor who wanted to offer some healing to families, organized the group of artists and the fundraising campaign.

She said she isn’t sure how much the portraits will cost right now, but plans on donating the remaining money raised to a local rescue on behalf of the dogs and their families. Families who want to sign up for a portrait can contact Demi through her Instagram page.

“It’s priceless,” Hewa said.

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