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Upset dog owners speak out after four die during or shortly after stay at Leavenworth kennel

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- Sharon Dumlao said her 6-year-old lab Boston was healthy when she dropped him off at Deb's Riverview Kennel in Leavenworth, but not when she picked him up four days later.

"I could tell immediately there was something very wrong with him," Dumlao said. "He was the type of dog that when I dropped him off could jump a six-foot fence and when I saw him coming up the stairs, his head was hanging down and he was not looking at me."

A Leavenworth Police Department report states that Dumlao rushed Boston to an emergency animal hospital where he died, about an hour after leaving the kennel. The cause? Bloat.

Bloat isn't contagious and happens in large-breed, older dogs when the stomach detaches and flips. A veterinarian told FOX 4 that about 80 percent of dogs can survive bloat if the symptoms are caught early and emergency surgery is performed. Dumlao said she doesn't blame the kennel for causing Boston's bloat.

"That's not something that I can prove," Dumlao said. "What I could prove is that he was very, very sick and it wasn't identified."

The kennel's owner claims there was no sign Boston was ever in distress -- even at pick up. But Dumlao said Boston's condition was so alarming that she even pointed it out to the kennel employee.

A FOX 4 Problem Solver investigation reviewed police reports, court records, and state inspections, plus interviewed multiple pet owners and former employees of Deb's Riverview Kennel where from 2013 to 2016, four dogs died either at the kennel or soon after leaving it.

Kennel owner Deb Monahan said she runs a great operation. But pet owners believe the kennel could have done more to save their pets, including 10-year-old Ike. A lawsuit claimed Ike lost 20 pounds in the 13 days he stayed at Deb's Riverview Kennel.

"He lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short period of time," said attorney Jerry Jeserich. Jeserich represented Ike's owner who was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. Jeserich said the kennel never called a veterinarian and failed to tell the owner of the weight loss until he picked Ike up.

"At that point, Ike was so far gone there was nothing that could be done for him," said Jeserich. Ike was euthanized 11 days later.

Deb Monahan denied any lack of care or blame for Ike's death.

"If he had stopped eating altogether, we would have called the vet," Monahan said. "No questions asked. But he was still drinking and still eating, he was still going out and playing."

The judge found Monahan's business was not to blame for Ike's death, but admonished Monahan for not notifying Ike's owner about the dramatic weight loss.

"The judge was very clear about this. She had a duty to contact somebody," Jeserich said.

Duncan's owner also sued the kennel, claiming she also wasn't notified when Duncan started throwing up and losing weight. Court records show Duncan was euthanized three days after leaving the kennel when even a blood transfusion failed to save him. A judge again ruled in favor of the kennel, finding no proof the kennel caused the dog's death.

Monahan had no explanation for the death of Bentley, a bull dog owned by Joe Pisani, who also was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. According to a police report, Bentley dropped dead at the kennel on a day when temperatures reached 99 degrees.

"When Hannah came back in to do the feeding, Bentley looked like he had just fallen over," Monahan said. "So this is the first time I had something like this happen, so of course, and he's young. He's three years old. So I called Joe and reached out to him and I told him what we had and I said 'I couldn't really tell you what happened.'"

Joe Pisani, Bentley's upset owner, reported the death to police. Among those interviewed by Leavenworth Police were multiple former kennel employees who reported incidences of other dogs who had died while in the kennel's care. Some deaths happened years earlier.

"That's a bald-faced untruth," said Monahan when we asked her about the claims of other dogs dying.

Monahan also claims failing grades she got on state inspections were invalid. A 2012 inspection ordered immediate veterinary care for two dogs who appeared injured.

A 2016 inspection cited safety concerns, including jagged and broken fencing, excrement on drain covers and dog houses in such poor condition they could cause injury. Monahan said a vindictive former state inspector wrote all those inspections.

"They were not true and were completely out of proportion," she said.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture told us it stands by its inspections. A different inspector gave the kennel a passing grade last December, but noted the business still needed to fix maintenance issues. The report also warned Monahan against letting two to seven unfamiliar dogs sleep together in a large kennel. That's a practice that both inspectors and former employees insist can lead to fights.

"We've done that for years, dear. And they do great," Monahan said. "It's just like kids and a slumber party."

Monahan said she runs a solid business with hundreds of happy clients. She claims she's the victim of an internet campaign by disgruntled former employees to destroy the business she has operated for 30 years.

But those we spoke to for this report said their only motive is to be a voice for pets who don't have one.

Dumlao said, "I wanted to make sure this didn't happen to any other dog."