Officials investigating alleged animal neglect at Castleton pet hotel after pet owners locked out for hours

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iNDIANAPOLIS — A hotel for pets is currently under investigation by Indianapolis Animal Care Services (IACS) following allegations of animal neglect.

It comes after several owners alleged that when they went to pick up their dogs, left in the care of the Best Friends Pet Hotel at 8224 Bash St. in Indianapolis, there was nobody there and that it took hours to reunite with their pets.

Billy Brown said he left his dog Bella in the care of Best Friends Pet Hotel for four days while his family traveled to Kentucky for a funeral.

He said he’s never boarded Bella before, so he relied on recommendations from people who shared where they trusted sending their pets.

“We felt really comfortable at this place. They had a suite, paid a little extra. I had the camera inside so we could keep an eye on her the whole time we were gone,” said Brown.

He said it didn’t take long to realize that something appeared to be off while watching the camera in Bella’s dog room.

“There were several times during the four days where we noticed on the camera that the food had been spilled and not been picked up for quite some time,” said Brown. He also worried she wasn’t getting the breaks three times per day that she was supposed to have.

It was Saturday morning, where Brown and his family became increasingly concerned over the care Bella was receiving at the facility.

“Saturday morning, we noticed that no one had come in the room Saturday morning to let her out or give her food,” he said. “Her blankets were feces-covered, and her distress whining was getting a lot worse. It was something that we hadn’t heard before.”

After calls to the facility and area pet hotels owned by the same company that Brown claimed went unanswered, his family decided they were too concerned and cut their trip to Kentucky short.

“Her cries were different cries that we’ve never heard before,” he said.

When they arrived at the pet hotel on Saturday afternoon around 3 p.m., Brown said there were no cars in the parking lot. He said he rang the doorbell and received no answer.

After realizing there was nobody at the facility and seeing the distress they believed Bella was in, Brown said he called IMPD, who responded along with an IACS officer.

Katie Trennepohl, deputy director of IACS, told CBS4, “On Saturday we received a call to go out to Best Friends at 82nd and Bash on reports of pet owners trying to reach the facility regarding pets that were in their care.”

“The concern was that the owners weren’t able to get in contact with anybody during business hours,” Trennepohl said. “It’s not uncommon for animals to be left alone overnight, but there should be somebody there at least through the day to care for the animals.”

According to a sign on the door, business hours at the pet hotel on Saturdays are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

An IMPD incident report confirms officers responded to the pet hotel Saturday afternoon prior to the end of business hours.

Brown said as they were trying to resolve the situation, his daughter noticed a post on Facebook from another customer who claimed they experienced something similar that morning. That customer was Nick Marucci.

Marucci told CBS4, he boarded his dog Maggie on Oct. 8 and she was supposed to stay until noon on Oct. 16. When Marucci went to pick her up Saturday morning around 10:25 a.m., he said he couldn’t get in touch with anyone at the facility by ringing the doorbell or calling.

“At the side door I could tell all the lights were off and the dogs were in their crates barking like crazy,” shared Marucci.

Marucci said despite all efforts and phone calls to corporate and other locations in the area, he was unable to get any answers on whether he could get his dog out of the facility. He said he was the one who had to tell several pet owners coming to drop off their dogs that there was no staff around.

“At a little after 1:00 I decided I needed to file a police report since it was clear no one was coming in,” wrote Marucci. “I left there at 2:30 after the police left hoping I would be able to get my dog in the morning.”

It wasn’t long after Marucci left when Brown and his family arrived.

“While out at dinner, I got a phone call from another officer who was back because Billy Brown had showed up to get his dog,” said Marucci, “The officer said they were trying to get animal control out and there might be a chance to get the dog out tonight, but could still be in the morning.”

“It was basically a nightmare in our eyes to get her back. Our daughter was in tears. This is our first dog, so it was breaking her heart,” said Brown.

Trennepohl said the IACS officer that was on scene was able to get in contact with the corporate office, and through them, they were able to get somebody to come out and let the pet owners in to reunite with their pets.

Both Marucci and Brown told CBS4, the person who came out to help was a former employee of the facility that eventually showed up with a key still in their possession.

“Corporate gave them permission to enter the building and rescue the dogs that the people were there waiting on to get that night,” said Brown.

“When I showed up she was a mess and smelled like urine. Thankfully, the former employee showed up and some of us were able to get our dogs,” Marucci wrote to CBS4.

Both pet owners said they are extremely frustrated with the company’s lack of response to their efforts to pick up their dogs and in the aftermath of the situation, where they still feel they’ve been left in the dark.

“We were there for over four and a half hours in that parking lot waiting to try and call and get a hold of someone,” said Brown, “3:00 til 8:30 that night.”

“It’s very concerning, very upsetting that there’s not an emergency number to contact anyone at all,” said Brown.

After more than 24 hours of pushing for answers on what happened and why pet owners were unable to get a response from Best Friends Pet Hotel staff, a spokesperson for Best Friends Pet Hotel shared a statement with CBS4:

“Nothing is more important to us than the pets in our care.  While we are aware of the police report that was filed over the weekend by a customer, we did have associates present on both Friday and Saturday taking care of the pets staying with us.  We met with the animal control officer over the weekend at our location to discuss the concerns raised and will continue to cooperate with any questions they might have.”

After noticing his dog wasn’t acting like herself or having normal bowel movements, Brown said he brought Bella back to the pet hotel Sunday to demand answers.

“We went back to the facility. I guess they had flown somebody in and we had talked to them. I guess they said that take her to the vet and they would try and cover it. That’s all they said so far,” said Brown. “I just want to know how they failed miserably.”

On Sunday, after picking up her dog, Dexter, Jennifer Purkey said she learned of the allegations pets had been left alone for some time. She told CBS4 she already had suspicions her dog hadn’t received the proper care during his stay. She said she began to push for answers and spoke with someone at the facility.

“She said the managers never showed up, they couldn’t get a hold of a manager, still at that time on Sunday,” said Purkey. “They said that they were sorry, that they flew a couple managers in from Ohio to help, and they said when they came in on Sunday morning the place was a mess.”

When asked whether the company was bringing in out-of-state employees to help at the facility, Best Friends Pet Hotel did not respond to CBS4, however, reporter Courtney Spinelli went to the facility, asking to speak with staff. A woman who answered the door said she was from out-of-state and would need to get the district manager.

After 30 minutes of waiting outside, nobody returned to speak to CBS4 Monday. We continued to receive reports from people who boarded their pets at the facility, alleging neglectful conditions.

Purkey said she boarded her dog, Dexter, a 1-year-old lab at the Best Friends Pet Hotel while her son was getting married over the weekend.

“I didn’t have any family really to watch him,” said Purkey. “Every other boarding place that we usually go to were booked because of fall break.”

Knowing it would only be a few days that she was away from Dexter, Purkey said she felt like things would be okay.

“We did try to check the pet cams and we never saw any dogs playing over the weekend,” said Purkey.

When Purkey returned to pick up Dexter on Sunday is when she said she started to believe she wasn’t being too suspicious about the situation.

“We pre-packaged his food, one cup of food in a baggie each time. He gets three times fed each day,” said Purkey. He shouldn’t have come home with any.

“I get in and I check his bag, I started bawling because he had one bag of food missing,” said Purkey. “So, he didn’t get his bag of food on Friday, he didn’t get any of his food on Saturday, he didn’t come home with his blanket that we took him in with.”

Both Brown and Marucci shared similar claims with CBS4 about their experience.

Brown said, “They returned three bags of untouched food, three days’ worth of untouched food and we’re not the only ones that had happened to.”

Marucci said Maggie takes four cups of food per day, so he sent 32 cups worth of food with her with instructions to give her two cups in the morning and two in the evening during her eight day stay.

He wrote to CBS4, “When I finally picked her up late Saturday there was 24 cups of food left – so clearly she wasn’t being fed.”

All three owners said they want answers from the Best Friends Pet Hotel on what occurred during their pets’ stay at the facility.

“I want to know why they took so many animals in knowing they couldn’t care for that many and I want to know why there’s not an emergency number to contact anyone at all,” said Brown.

“They can’t talk to tell people what happened, so we have to talk for them,” said Purkey. “It’s their responsibility to take care of these animals. They had a job to do. They’re in charge. They need to be held accountable for their actions.”

IACS said it is taking all claims seriously and will continue its investigation into allegations of animal neglect at the Best Friends Pet Hotel.

“We will handle the investigation. We do have an open case; we’re working with people at the corporate office of Best Friends and also just looking into allegations here locally,” said Trennepohl.

“We do ask that if anybody has information on this or anything further that they would like to add that they can report that through the Request Indy app,” said Trennepohl.

In order to investigate the claims alleged by pet owners, IACS said people need to report what they may know.

“This is a unique situation, there’s lots of allegations, but without more people to back it up, we really can’t prove a case, so we really need people to provide any information they have,” said Trennepohl.

IACS receives calls often about people not properly caring for their pets, but said this is a bit different.

“I think when you’re entrusting your pet’s care to somebody else, you have a certain expectation and as a pet owner myself, I can’t imagine the feeling that my pet might have been locked in a facility and nobody was taking care of them,” said Trennepohl.

“We’re definitely taking this seriously and we’re looking into it.”

Anyone with information can also call Indianapolis Animal Care Services at 317-327-1397.

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