Beach Dog Resort, other dog boarding businesses under scrutiny in Palm Beach County

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Dan Friedman got the call from the dog kennel that every dog lover dreads.

His 16-year-old Yorkie, Angel, had been bitten Sunday while being boarded at a Loxahatchee dog resort. Friedman, in Tampa to visit a dying relative, rushed home.

He learned that a Siberian husky had slipped a fence and attacked Angel, and the dog was now in the emergency room of the Palms West Veterinary Hospital. There, a doctor noted Angel's injuries: a dozen or so bite marks, dislocated shoulder, perforated intestines.

"This was a real mauling," said Friedman, who lives in Delray Beach.

On Tuesday, because of the extent of Angel's injuries, a veterinarian euthanized the dog.

The loss of his family's longtime pet crushed Friedman. But he said it was worse when he learned resort owner Christy Cotton never had a license to operate a kennel.

Officials said Cotton never filed paperwork for an animal control license to open the Beach Dog Resort in Loxahatchee. Her business tax receipt lists her occupation as a pet-sitter, not a kennel-operator.

But Animal Control officials said Wednesday Cotton isn't the only one facing a conflict between what her business license says and the business she runs: a subsequent investigation revealed that 10 of the 12 kennels in Palm Beach County have been operating illegally with pet-sitting licenses, instead of kennel-operating licenses.

"What we're now discovering is all these boarding operations opening under the guise of pet-sitting," said Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve.

A pet-sitting license only allows its holder to take care of pets at a client's home. A kennel license also requires that the place of business meet certain zoning standards, but it's typically up to business owners to make sure their businesses follow code.

By the look of it, Sauve said, Cotton's cageless kennel doesn't meet zoning requirements.

Cotton's kennel is also her house, a private residence in the rural 16000 block of Wiltshire Drive East. A Palm Beach County ordinance prohibits public kennels in private residences.

The location typically has to be commercial, or deemed an agricultural reserve by a zoning board.

When the husky attacked Angel, Cotton claimed it slipped a fence and went after the significantly smaller dog. It's unclear if the layout of Cotton's kennel could have prevented the attack.

The weekend incident prompted Animal Control investigators and the County's Zoning Department to make sure all kennels in Palm Beach County are up to code and operating under the proper licenses.

"We are ethically bound to look into this, now," Sauve said of the agency's discovery while cross-referencing documents. "How safe are some of these places?"

Cotton's Beach Dog Resort appeared on Animal Control's radar two weeks ago, when they received a complaint from a woman who had left her dog with Cotton.

When the woman retrieved her dog, Sauve said, it had a chipped tooth. The dog allegedly hit its tooth on one of Cotton's dog crates. The Beach Dog Resort does not use cages.

The complaint was unfounded, but Animal Control officials discovered that Cotton never submitted the $400 fee and paperwork required to get an Animal Control license.

During the first investigation, Cotton tried to pay Animal Control Sgt. Joan Holloway cash.

That raised a red flag, Sauve said.

Holloway refused the cash and told Cotton she had 30 days to get a license. During that time, she was not to take any more dogs into her kennel.

But Cotton continued operating without a license and took more dogs into her kennel.

Monday, a day after Angel was attacked, Cotton showed up at the Animal Control offices and tried to get a license.

Because she was the center of a new investigation, Cotton couldn't get a new license.

Now, Cotton says she plans to file a complaint with the Palm Beach County Commission.

"I'm not out letting little Yorkies get mauled by other dogs," Cotton said. "This is the first drop of blood that's ever been dropped on my property."

Cotton, who opened Beach Dog Resort about a year ago, said she feels Friedman, who is now threatening her with legal action, is compromising her ability to make a living.

Friedman said in an interview Wednesday that he plans to sue.

"It's important that this doesn't happen to someone else," Friedman said.


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