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August 2, 2013

‘Pops, Patriots and Fireworks’

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Dog owner claims kennel negligence after death of Akita


By EVE MARX
Patton was a Christmas gift in 2002 to his buddy, James.
 

It is every pet owner’s worst nightmare. You drop your pet off at a prestigious boarding facility and come home to hell and heartache. That is the experience told by Greg Gale of Cortlandt Manor, after his dog, Patton, a 10-year-old purebred Akita, was euthanized after a two-week boarding experience at Northwind Kennels in Bedford. 

Mr. Gale, who originally purchased the dog as a Christmas gift for his son James in 2002, said this week that he is suing the kennel in New York State Supreme Court, and has begun a campaign on Facebook called “Justice for Patton.”
Patton on July 3, after his first surgery after leaving Northwind Kennel, receiving treatment at the Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center in Bedford Hills. 
 

The kennel’s owner said she had yet to receive legal papers, and denied responsibility for the dog’s condition or death. 

“If I am sued, I am countersuing,” Northwind’s Penny Smith-Berk said on Monday night. “The dog was fine the day before we took him to the veterinary hospital. He was eating. He was going to the bathroom. There was no obvious way to tell anything was wrong.”

On July 5, Mr. Gale reported the problem with the kennel with the Bedford police. 

“Our sergeant contacted the SPCA to do a follow-up,” Lieutenant Dickan said on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, SPCA of Westchester enforcement officer Ernie Lungaro said that the SPCA did receive the complaint, and initiated an investigation. “We interviewed everybody that was involved including the dog’s owner, vets, personnel at the kennel, and the kennel’s owner,” he said. “It is still an ongoing investigation.”

To find culpability, he said, the SPCA will examine whether there was intent to harm the dog or neglect.


A family vacation

According to Mr. Gale, Patton, who spent his final days at the Katonah-Bedford Veterinary Center, was euthanized after being treated for several days for an infection Mr. Gale believes was contracted while the dog was kenneled that was ignored by the kennel until the day before the dog was scheduled to go home. The Gales, who were on vacation, delivered Patton to Northwind Kennels on June 21 with a scheduled pick up on July 3.

“The evening before we were supposed to pick Patton up I received a voice mail message call from an employee at Northwind saying that the dog wasn’t doing too good,” Mr. Gale said. “I called back immediately, but no one picked up and no one called me back. The message said that Patton had been taken to the emergency hospital, so I called them. I was told that the dog had been stabilized but that we shouldn’t visit him that evening. We had just arrived home from our vacation. I was told that treatment for what was wrong with him would run between $10,000 and $20,000. My wife immediately started crying. We’re not wealthy people.” 

The next morning the Gales went to the Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center in Bedford Hills to find out more about Patton and consult with a veterinarian. 

“I immediately authorized about $7,500 worth of treatment,” Mr. Gale said. “The dog is our family pet. He was a gift years ago to my son at Christmas. My son was 7 years old and all he wanted was a white Akita.” 

Mr. Gale said that after the meeting at the veterinary center, he drove directly to Northwind Kennels to retrieve Patton’s belongings, his toys, and his dog bed. “I was handed a bill for his boarding,” Mr. Gale said. “I said, ‘What? Are you kidding?’ and refused to pay.” 

He said that the kennel manager then “became aggressive.” 

Later that day he said he received a phone call from Ms. Smith-Berk. “She said ‘If you make a big deal out of this, I’m going to report the dog as biting someone a second time,’ which would mean it would have to be euthanized,” Mr. Gale said. “She said the dog had bitten a former employee of the kennel in 2008, but at the time I never received any written documentation of that. There was no follow up to that incident, and I never received any medical bill to pay.”

After that meeting, Mr. Gale said he felt threatened by Ms. Smith-Berk. “She never asked how the dog was,” he said. “She expressed no concern for him. All she wanted was my money. She implied my dog was vicious and suggested that I just pay my bill.” 

Despite continued treatment at the veterinary, Patton’s health continued to decline and he was euthanized on July 8. 

At that point, Mr. Gale said he contacted his attorney and prepared a lawsuit against the kennel.


Dog said to have mauled employee 

Late Monday, Northwind Kennels’ owner Penny Smith-Berk responded to several of Mr. Gale’s charges. She said she is “completely confident that once this gets to court we will be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”

“Mr. Gale boarded Patton here for years and he was always happy with our services,” Ms. Smith-Berk said. “Because of the unique layout of our facility, we are able to handle all kinds of dogs. I am very sorry that Patton is not with us anymore. I know there is nothing we did to cause his infection and the only reason we did not go into his enclosure was because of his biting history.”

Ms. Smith-Berk said that four years ago while under Northwind’s care, Patton mauled a former Northwind Kennel employee named Andrea Yates. “He ripped the skin off her right arm,” Ms. Smith-Berk said. 

At the time, Ms. Smith-Berk said that out of concern for the animal, legal action was averted; Ms. Yates did not press charges and her medical bills were paid by workman’s compensation. 

Ms. Smith-Berk said the reason she continued to board Patton at her facility after the mauling incident was “because the owner begged me.” She said she had an agreement with Mr. Gale that in order for the dog to be boarded, Mr. Gale had to personally walk Patton into his containment area and take him out when it was time for him to leave. 

“Mr. Gale agreed that Patton would not be handled by any of our staff,” Ms. Smith-Berk said. “I have a responsibility to every animal boarded here, but I also have a responsibility to my staff. There was a fear for human safety.” 

A laminated sign, she added, was hung by Patton’s containment area labeling him a “caution” dog. 

“Patton has a biting history and there have been several other biting incidents, and not just at our facility,” Ms. Smith-Berk said. “Patton was a caution dog before he mauled my employee. If Mr. Gale is trying to say the dog is friendly, that is a lie.” 

She said that during the recent boarding at the kennel, Patton seemed fine for two weeks. “He was eating, going to the bathroom, doing his usual growling. The day before he was supposed to go home, one of our employees who was in charge of cleaning Patton’s area and giving him his food and water reported that the dog seemed ‘off.’ He did not eat that morning. He looked down in the dumps.” 

She said that the kennel attempted to contact Patton’s regular veterinarian, but that it was after office hours. 

Ms. Smith-Berk said Patton was taken to the emergency hospital in an employee’s car without a muzzle or any other anti-biting restraint. She said Patton was loaded into the car and taken to the emergency hospital in Bedford Hills. “He tried to bite one of my employees,” Ms. Smith-Berk said. “And at the hospital, he bit one of their technicians.”

 

‘Shock and disbelief’ from dog owner

 One of the features at Northwind Kennels is a report card prepared by staff on every animal boarded at the kennel at the conclusion of the boarding. “All Patton’s report cards rated his disposition as ‘friendly,” Mr. Gale said. “The kennel manager said he often handled him and in the past we asked for Patton to have private play time.” 

“We are in shock and disbelief over what happened,” Mr. Gale said. “For her [Ms. Smith-Berk] to take the attitude she did is just upsetting. She said ‘What do you expect me to do? Check on a scratch on his leg?’” He wants to know why it took so long for anyone to notice Patton was poorly and to have been taken for treatment. 

Mr. Gale is not only seeking relief in court, but also on social media. A Facebook page called “Justice for Patton” has been mounted with explicit photographs depicting Patton's medical condition. 

“They killed my dog,” Mr. Gale said.


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