HOUSTON (CN) - A dog-training company claims an animal transport service killed 14 of its bomb-sniffing dogs who "were en route to Afghanistan to support U.S. military operations," by leaving them overnight in an unventilated, sealed truck.
American K-9 Detection Services sued Indian Creek Enterprises dba Animal Port Houston and its successor company, Live Animal Transportation Services dba Animal Port Houston, in Harris County Court.
American K-9 says its dogs' deaths led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate Animal Port Houston "for alleged violation of USDA regulations for the safe transport of animals."
The Lake Mary, Florida-based American K-9, called AMK9 in the complaint, says it "leases, on fixed-term bases canine and handler teams trained in narcotics and explosives detection to government agencies, non-governmental organizations, law enforcement agencies, and private entities domestically and worldwide."
AMK9 says its "canine/handler teams" have been working with U.S., Canadian and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2005 providing checkpoint security, vehicle sweeps and roving patrols.
"Searches by AMK9 canine teams have led to numerous discoveries of explosives, weapons caches, and narcotics resulting in the arrest of criminals and terrorists in the Middle East," American K-9 says.
Under a contract with the U.S. government, AMK9 began getting canine/handler teams ready for deployment to Afghanistan in late 2010.
AMK9's Texas agent, Hill Country Dog Center, contracted with Animal Port Houston to get the dogs on a Royal Dutch Airlines cargo flight scheduled to depart Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Dec. 20, 2010, according to the complaint.
AMK9 says its dogs were taken to Royal Dutch Airlines receiving terminal at the airport, put in transport kennels and placed on pallets, and dropped off with Animal Port Houston's manager Christopher Hay.
While at the airport, Hill Country Dog Center employee Jason Dill got a call from his employer asking that he bring one of the dogs back with him, which Dill did, according to the complaint.
"However, before he departed, Dill confirmed that each of the fourteen canines that remained - Tiny, Rex, Rocky, Crock, Dork, Harrie, Stress, Sigo, Rex, Jago, Kimbo, Kilo, Albert and Bak (collectively, the 'canines') - were alive and in good health," AMK9 says.
AMK9 says Hays called Hill Country's employee later that afternoon and said "through a series of events allegedly beyond his control, the canines had been unable to catch the originally scheduled KLM flight and were in his custody."
"Hay also stated that the canines would not be boarded on another flight departing the same day, but that he would try to have the canines re-manifested on the first KLM flight the next day," AMK9 says.
Hay offered to board the dogs overnight and said he did not have enough kennel space for all the dogs "but that he would board as many of the canines as possible in APH's kennels while the remaining canines would be left in their transport kennels inside of APH's warehouse," according to the complaint.
AMK9 says Hay later spoke with Hill Country Dog Center's owner Mike Clemenson, and assured him that Animal Port Houston would get the dogs on the scheduled flight.
"At the end of the call, Clemenson agreed to send drivers to APH early the next morning who would pick up the canines in the event that that the canines could not be boarded on the next departing flight," AMK9 says.
AMK9 says early the next morning Hill Country's employees arrived at APH's office and found the dogs unattended in the back of a refrigerated box truck, rather than inside APH's kennels and warehouses, where Hay said they would be.
Hill Country's employee got into the truck and "immediately was struck by the rancid odor," AMK9 says.
"He observed that there was blood on the floor of the truck and in several of the crates, and he noted that transport kennels for two of the canines (Stress and Kimbo) had been damaged - in an apparent attempt by the canines to escape their situation. Nevertheless, all fourteen canines were dead," according to the complaint. (Parentheses in original.)
AMK9 says Hay told Hill Country's he had found the dogs dead earlier that morning.
"Hay acknowledged that he had left the canines in the truck overnight and, in statements made to AMK9 representatives following the incident, stated that the canines were alive and well at the time he observed them the previous evening.
"Hay also stated (in subsequent conversations with AMK9) that when he discovered the canines, he noticed the truck's climate control unit (which he had allegedly set to 68 degrees Fahrenheit the night before) was not blowing cool air.
"Further, Hay stated that the truck's cooling unit temperature gauge showed a reading of 77 degrees Fahrenheit," according to the complaint. (Parentheses in original.)
AMK9 says in subsequent conversations it had with Hay and with APH's president, it learned that "it had been a common practice at APH to leave animals overnight in its transport."
AMK9 says that in the wake of its dogs' deaths APH was taken over by a new company called Live Animal Transportation Services, and APH's website was revised to reflect the ownership change.
AMK9 says that during a recent conversation between Hay, and Hill Country's owner Mike Clemenson, "Hay advised Clemenson that he (presumably via LATS) had acquired all of APH's stock and is now in charge of 'running' APH's former business." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Hay is not a party to the lawsuit.
AMK9 seeks damages for breach of contract/bailment, negligence, negligence per se, deceptive trade practices and negligent misrepresentation.
It is represented by Christopher Popov with Vinson & Elkins in Houston.