A look into the owners of a Houston dog boarding facility where one dog died and another disappeared the same week reveals questionable credentials and dubious decision-making.
KHOU first reported the sad news from City Canine in northwest Houston, where an English bulldog died in early July and where a German shepherd supposedly ran away. The owners of that dog told the news station they believe the dog died in the kennel's care.
Because of decomposition, a necropsy of the bulldog, conducted by a Texas A&M veterinarian, did not reveal a cause of death.
But City Canine co-owner Dan Davis said the dog, named Phil, was "massively obese" — which may have led to heart failure. Which would be understandable, because Davis told us that, with the owners' approval, he was attempting to help the dog lose weight. By exercising outdoors. In July. In Houston.
Using the sort of technical language one would expect from a veteran dog trainer, Davis said it was obvious that, at 66 pounds, Phil was "a huge couch potato. They didn't exercise him for shit." Davis said he and co-owner Jeffrey Ryan did their best to make sure the dog got plenty of exercise.
"He was kept active, and in retrospect, now I'm seeing that probably put too much of a strain on his heart," Davis told us. "The night before he passed away...I put him in his crate and gave him his dinner, and when I came out the next morning, he was dead. I think his heart gave out overnight."
Phil's owner, Ryan Ciarrocchi, said his wife dropped the dog off, and said she and Davis only discussed the dog's weight in passing.
"That doesn't mean...you care for him any differently or run him outside or anything like that," he said. "They're still a dog [breed] prone to heat exhaustion, especially in the Texas summer."
We asked Davis about the air conditioning in the kennel, and he told us that one of two window units gave out the afternoon after Phil was discovered dead. Davis said he replaced the unit within several hours.
Nothing weird there.
City Canine's website suggests that Ryan is certified by, or is a member of, three national organizations for canine instruction or training: The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
Ryan was not available for an interview, but Davis said that Ryan was not currently certified by the Certification Council, which requires continual certification, because neither of them thought the "piece of paper" was worth the money. (A spokesperson for the Council said Ryan's certification expired in 2009.)
When asked if some people might interpret the online statement as saying that Ryan was currently certified, Davis said, "Generally, in the English language, when you put 'e-d,' that is a past tense word, isn't it?" He certainly had us there. But what about the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors? The site lists Ryan as an "endorsed member."
"They have several different levels of membership," Davis said. "....One of those is an endorsed membership. You can call them and ask them specifically what it means."
We did, and past president Helen Cariotis, who still volunteers for the organization, told us that Ryan is not a current member, and that the organization stopped using the word "endorsed" at least ten years ago. (She said they now use "certified.")
Cariotis told us, "Obviously, we will be contacting him to get him to stop" indicating that he's a member.
And while the site also lists Ryan as a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a representative of that organization said that he has not been a member since at least 2013. The site also states that Ryan spent "several years as owner of Canine Connections in Washington, D.C.," but we couldn't find any state records for a business by that name. Davis told us that Ryan ran the business from 1989 to 1994, and he never incorporated or registered the business.
"I think he was just running it as a sole proprietorship...You are aware that there is a form of business called a sole proprietorship, correct?" Davis told us.
Understanding that our ignorance was grating on Davis's nerves, we also asked about Ryan's being listed as an "associate" of a guy named Job Michael Evans, who published books about dog-training, and who died in 1994. We weren't quite sure of the significance of a vague connection to a dude who died 22 years ago, so we told Davis we didn't know, in this instance, what the word "associate" meant.
"You need to get a new job, then, if you work in the word business and you don't know what that word means," Davis said. "I mean, God! He knew Job, he worked with Job, they did seminars together. Job would refer clients over to him. That's kind of what an associate is. I'm sure you actually have associates in your work."
We also asked Davis about Luxor, the German shepherd who Davis said escaped. The dog's owners placed Luxor at City Canine while they went to Colorado for a week. When they returned July 9, according to the KHOU story, they were told Luxor had absconded. One of Luxor's owners, Carissa Wojehowski, declined to comment for this story, but she and her husband told KHOU they had received distressing news from a caller who claimed to be a former City Canine employee.
Robert Wojehowski told KHOU: “The person who called us said he had seen our dog dead in a crate a few days before and let us know that the owner went out after and tore up the fence to fabricate a story that our dog had gotten out."
Davis told us that the caller could have been a day-laborer he found on the street.
"The only person it could be that might fit that description...is a day-laborer that I hired to mow the yard," Davis told us. "And the reason that he's claiming that, if I have to go into it, is the fact of the matter is, as he was messing with the landscaping and the yard, he left open a gate..."
He continued: "When I discovered that Luxor had escaped, I sent that guy packing. I was not happy, needless to say...So he has a bone to pick with me now because I kind of humiliated him. I was not nice when I sent him down the road....But I can't find him; I don't know who he is. Because like I say, I picked him up off the corner to mow."
Unfortunately, Davis couldn't remember the man's name. He said he didn't want to be "stereotypical," but he hinted at "what the names usually are, these people...that you pick up to do landscaping."
When we asked the 57-year-old Davis what sort of education and experience he had in canine instruction, he cited 16 years of "hands-on" experience and "a minor in psychology from U of H, class of '93, magna." When we asked how college courses in human psychology relate to training a dog, Davis seemed to grow frustrated with our abject stupidity.
"If you had a good dog trainer, you would know what psychology has to do with dog training," he said, followed by, "Do you know who B.F. Skinner was?" followed by a pop quiz wherein he asked us if we knew what a Skinner Box was. He then mentioned the fact that he had studied Pavlov as well, adding finally, "...I do have training in psychology that relates to animals."
Davis appears to have done more at UH than just study. Harris County District Clerk records show that he was charged with theft by a public servant — a third-degree felony — by university police in 1997. He received ten years' probation in 1998. No further information was available.
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Davis declined to comment on the charge, other than to say "shame on you" for reporting it. He stated that it has no bearing on the dog situation, and that it's "borderline ridiculous" to even bring it up. Davis said that only one other dog has died at City Canine.
"Last year, we had a — what's the name of that breed, Hungarian Kervaz? Something like that," Davis said, unsure how to pronounce "kuvasz." He said that a necropsy ruled out any wrongdoing on City Canine's part.
"They found a genetic defect," Davis said. "It was not us."
Genetic defect, indeed.