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9.25.21 – GEORGETOWN (AP)

Will and Alyssa Moore console their daughters, Marley, left, 7, and Mila, 9, after they laid flowers in memory of their border collies, Lola and Sunny, at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown on Monday September 20, 2021. Their two dogs were among the 75 dogs who died in a fire at the pet boarding facility on Saturday.
Jay Janner/American-Statesman

After 75 dogs died in a fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, the city staff is working on recommended updates to the fire code that might require smoke alarms and sprinkler systems in kennels and pet boarding facilities, regardless of their size, an official said Tuesday.

The Ponderosa Pet Resort facility was not required to have smoke alarms or a sprinkler system, said Georgetown Fire Chief John Sullivan. Businesses that are at least 10,000 square feet are required to have a sprinkler system, but the pet resort was 8,125 square feet.

The Fire Department was notified about the fire shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday after people passing by saw smoke and fire coming from the facility at 2518 N. Austin Ave. By the time firefighters arrived almost five minutes later, Sullivan has said, they found “the worst possible scenario,” with heavy smoke and fire coming from the building, and were unable to save any of the dogs.

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Photographs are left at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown on Monday in memory of the 75 dogs that died in a fire there Saturday.

The Fire Department last inspected the Ponderosa Pet Resort in 2015 and found no violations, he said.

“Typically what we see for violations are things having to do with people being able to leave safely,” Sullivan said. The pet facility was considered a low-risk business, so it was inspected only every three to five years, he said, adding that it had had no history of problems. 

He also said there are no national or state fire codes, so it’s up to local jurisdictions to adopt their own codes.

Eric Torberson, the chairman of the animal law section for the State Bar of Texas, said there are no state laws governing animal boarding facilities. Owners aren’t allowed to sue for the emotional loss of a pet in Texas and are only permitted to sue for the “fair market value” of the pet, he said.

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Gizmo, a French bulldog who died in the fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort, loved to wake up her family's other dog, Drexel, to play in the morning.

City officials said Ponderosa Pet Resort had a permit to operate but did not have a kennel permit. Such a permit doesn’t require sprinklers, smoke alarms or around-the-clock staffing, according to information the city posted on its Facebook page.The city’s kennel permit has requirements about food, water, sanitary conditions and health. 

When the fire happened Saturday night, no staff was there, Sullivan has said. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

There are four animal boarding facilities in Georgetown, and only one of them has a kennel permit, city spokesman Keith Hutchinson said.

“Because we haven’t been enforcing the kennel permitting ordinance, we do not expect to issue a citation to any of the three businesses we know of, including Ponderosa, for not having a kennel permit,” Hutchinson said.

The maximum fine for not having a kennel permit is $500 per day.

“We are working to provide notice to current kennel operators to make sure they are aware of the kennel permit requirements and provide them 90 days to come into compliance,” said Aly Van Dyke, a city spokeswoman.

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Drexel, an English bulldog, and Gizmo, a French bulldog, both lost their lives in the Ponderosa Pet Resort fire. Drexel loved his owner, Don Huckins, so much that he pouted until Huckins came home from work.

For people whose dogs died in the fire, including Leikyn Huckins of Liberty Hill, the loss was priceless.

“These were not pets; they were family, and it is a horrible, horrible loss,” she said.

Her 3-year-old French bulldog, Gizmo, and her husband’s 4-year-old English bulldog, Drexel, died in the fire. 

“They were very intuitive,” she said. “When my husband had COVID this year, you had to literally drag both of them outside to eat or play because they wouldn’t leave his side.”Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

Huckins said she had no idea that a pet kennel would not have a fire system.

“It just seems so inhumane to me, and I can’t stop thinking about (Gizmo) knowing something was wrong and needing help and nobody coming, and my dog burning to death.”

The owner of Ponderosa Pet Resort, Phillip Paris, did not respond to a request for comment. He sent an email to pet owners that said, “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.

“We share those questions as well and will be diligent about finding solutions moving forward.”

The city is asking for residents to comment about the fire code at bit.ly/3zvrBOh.

petition has been started by change.org asking for state legislation to require smoke alarms and fire suppression systems in animal boarding facilities. 

A GoFundMe page has been established to raise money to paint portraits of the dogs that died.