GEORGETOWN — The fence in front of the Ponderosa Pet Resort on North Austin Avenue has been adorned with photographs of dogs, their toys, flowers, and signs and cards offering condolences to the owners.
Community members and pet owners were mourning the loss of at least 75 dogs who died in a fire at the Georgetown pet resort Saturday night. The cause of the fire, which happened around 11 p.m., is still unclear.
“(We) were met with conditions that are our worst possible scenario, and that was heavy smoke and fire involvement,” Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the dogs probably died of smoke inhalation.
The Ponderosa Pet Resort guidelines state that the resort does not have staff on-site 24/7.
“We believe that pets sleep better at night when everything is dark, peaceful and quiet,” the guidelines state.
Emily Jaeger’s 2-year-old dogs, Shoes and Coaster, were staying at the resort for their training. Jaeger said she didn’t receive a phone call from the resort about the loss of her dogs until after reading a news article.
“I was scrolling Facebook in the morning and I saw a news article about 75 dogs killed in a fire at the place my dogs happened to be at,” Jaeger said. “And then I texted frantically the trainer and only somebody called me back after that. And they could tell me absolutely nothing.”
Jaeger said she didn’t get a message from the owner of the resort until Monday morning.
Owner Phillip Paris sent two emails to grieving pet owners, including one acknowledging that “this has been an incredibly challenging time for you all. Our hearts go out to you and we share in your grief.
“I know that you have questions about how this could happen and how may it be prevented in the future, not only for our facility, but many others,” he wrote. “We share those questions as well and will be diligent about finding solutions moving forward.”
Jonathan Gilliam, a Georgetown deputy fire marshal, said firefighters are still investigating the fire and were working to bring the dogs out of the building Monday.
The family members have been notified about where the dogs are going, Gilliam said, and they will be brought to three veterinary clinics in the area. Family members will have the option to cremate the animals, come pick them up or have the dogs brought to them.
“The owners deserve to see this,” Jaeger said. “They deserve to know what their dogs went through.”
Ace, a fun-loving and cuddly miniature Australian shepherd from Killeen, loved nothing more than being around his human friends.
Jennie Signorelli, the 5-year-old dog’s owner, said he loved humans so much that he had separation anxiety, which is why she decided to send him to Georgetown to be trained by Ponderosa Pet Resort.
On Monday, Signorelli couldn’t stop thinking about how much Ace loved humans. She also couldn’t bear the thought that he died without someone there to comfort him.
“He just wants to be around people,” Signorelli said, still referring to Ace in the present tense. “And I just feel so bad that he was alone when this happened. He was probably really scared.”
Signorelli was supposed to visit Ace on Thursday, with Ponderosa Pet Resort employees saying he was responding very well to training. However, early Sunday morning Signorelli got a phone call from someone at the facility saying Ace had died.
“I knew something was wrong because of the time they were calling me,” she said. “I do not think this was going to be it. I thought maybe he got bit or broke his leg or something.”
Signorelli on Monday was still desperately trying to find out how to pick up Ace’s body from the facility. As she waited, she shared stories about her pup, especially his love for the types of toys that made way too much noise while his human tried to watch a movie.
“I hope he is peaceful now and didn’t have pain,” Signorelli said. “I’m sure he’s just dreaming of chasing squirrels and barking at everything.
“He’s my furbaby. He’s my family. And he’s gone now.”
Milanka Mastan works at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital and was visiting the makeshift memorial outside of the Ponderosa Pet Resort to pay her respects to some of the hospital’s patients.
“A lot of these were our patients, so I’m just coming to say goodbye,” Mastan said. “There aren’t words. Unfortunately, we’ve taken so many phone calls today, trying to provide comfort and answers that we don’t have.”
Alicia Martin, a Georgetown resident with four dogs, was visiting the memorial Monday afternoon. Martin said her dogs had stayed at the resort about a year ago when she was traveling.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” she said.
Martin said she was not aware that the facility is not staffed 24 hours a day and would not have had her dogs stay at Ponderosa if she had known. Martin’s dogs have been staying at another boarding facility in the past year.
Terri Mautz, a Georgetown dog owner, laid three bouquets of flowers with a couple of friends at the memorial after hearing about the fire Monday.
“For the pets, they can’t speak for themselves, so I wanted to honor them,” Mautz said. “But at the same time, I hope there’s some change so that this never happens again.”
Mautz said she hasn’t had her dogs stay at Ponderosa and usually prefers to have someone stay at her home to care for her dogs when she travels.
For some, the memorial brought solace in the wake of the tragedy.
“It brings a lot of comfort, and the amount of love is just amazing,” Mastan said.
Jaeger said she’s happy the community cares about the tragedy but wishes the owner cared more.
“I’m going to make damn sure this resort doesn’t reopen … this is absolutely insane.”
Statesman staff writer Heather Osbourne contributed to this report.
©2021 www.statesman.com. Visit statesman.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.