A dogwalker from British Columbia, Canada could face criminal animal cruelty charges if investigators conclude she purposely left six dogs in her hot vehicle on May 13. All of the dogs, dogs that belonged to her customers, died of heatstroke in the back of the pickup truck that day, when outside temperatures crept up into the seventies.
But rather than coming clean and admitting she’d made a horrible mistake that led to the death of the dogs, dogwalker Emma Paulsen lied to authorities and to the families of the dogs, the Paulsen telling everyone the dogs had been stolen from her vehicle while she used the bathroom at a park in Langley, B.C.
“When I came back the top flap of my truck [canopy] was open and the dogs weren’t there,” Paulsen even told CTV the day after the dogs supposedly went missing.
News of the dogs’ theft spread quickly, with the community rallying behind the dogs’ owners and their worried dogwalker. The press dubbed the dogs “The Brookwood 6,” and donation drives were held in the dogs’ honor, raising a hefty reward fund of more than $2,800 for the dogs’ safe return.
Heartbroken, the dogs’ owners contacted Alesha and Al MacLellan, pet detectives with an agency called Petsearchers Canada, hoping the husband and wife duo could find all of the missing dogs alive. As the MacLellans dug a bit further into what had happened to the dogs, however, they uncovered something awful.
“We had suspected there was something more to the story so we weren’t shocked, but I will say we were disappointed,” Alesha tells CTV News.
The MacLellans spoke to Emma Paulsen in the immediate days following the disappearance of the dogs. As the days went by without any sign of the dogs and no leads as to their whereabouts, the truth of what had transpired started to reveal itself.
“Immediately upon talking to her and hearing what had happened, we knew we were dealing with an extremely unusual situation and that this needed immediate action, regardless of what we were up against,” the MacLellans said in a statement on their website.
In a conversation with Alecia and Al MacLellan, the dogwalker tearfully admitted the dogs had died in the back of her truck. She told the couple that she had transported the dogs in this manner before, opening the side vents on the truck canopy and providing plenty of water for the dogs, without any incident. But on this particular trip, when she arrived at her destination and opened the hatch to retrieve her canine charges, she discovered that all six of them had died. Paulsen’s own dog, a Border Collie named Salty, was among the dogs who perished.
“Unfortunately, she panicked and opted to concoct a story to cover the missing dogs,” Alesha MacLellan tells The Province.
Not only did Paulsen invent a story about the dogs being stolen, she disposed of the dogs’ bodies in a marshy area nearby to cover up what had really happened. Following her difficult conversation with the pet detectives, Paulsen spoke to authorities. The bodies of the six dogs were then recovered from a ditch in Abbotsford, B.C.
“We had hoped that there was a chance that if something bad had happened that there would maybe be one or two or three of them stashed somewhere. We were hoping the story wouldn’t be as tragic as it really was,” Alesha says.
The case has since been transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA).
To determine how the six dogs lost their lives that day, the BC SPCA Chief Prevention and Enforcement Officer, Marcie Moriarty, says the organization will perform necropsies on the bodies of the dogs.
“Like everyone, we were shocked to hear these allegations. Now we’re going to be pursuing them and determining the mystery — what exactly happened in this case,” Moriarty says.
Meanwhile, the grieving owners of Mia, a black-and-white Pit Bull Terrier; Teemo, a grey Bouvier des Flandres–Poodle mix; black-and-white Boston Terrier, Buddy; Oscar, a Rottweiler–Siberian Husky mix; and Blue Heeler-German Shepherd mix, Molly, plan to put the reward funds raised towards the cost of burying their best friends.
Buddy’s owner, Eric Ortner, says his dog’s death was a tough blow to him and his wife.
“[Jenn] and I tried to have kids before and it was unsuccessful so we got Buddy as our baby,” Ortner explains. “He was our child. I don’t think anything can ever replace him. Nothing can.”
Colleen King, Teemo’s owner, tells CBC News investigators have since told her that Paulsen and the dogs were never at the park, contrary to Paulsen’s claims. The RCMP now believes that the dogs were left in the back of Paulsen’s truck while the dogwalker entered a local business.
“It was one of our concerns from day one that this was a possible scenario. But we just didn’t want to believe that was the case,” says King. “And that she could be that irresponsible and torment the families for five days who wanted to know where their dogs are and to give us hope they’re still alive.”
Clayton Williams, Mia’s furious owner, is demanding justice. He says he had an odd feeling that morning when Paulsen came by to pick up Mia for her daily walk.
“I had my suspicions — just the way that she was acting. She clearly had other things on her mind. She should have just taken the day off like any other normal person,” says Williams.
And Oscar’s owner, Paul Grant, remains distraught days after his dog’s tragic death.
“I’m just focused on the loss of my boy,” Grant says.
While charges have not yet been filed against Emma Paulsen, she could face some steep penalties under Canada’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The maximum sentence for animal cruelty is two years in jail and a $75,000 fine. Under the Criminal Code, Paulsen may have to serve two years in prison and pay a $5,000 fine, should she be charged and convicted.
Many of the dogs’ owners have banded together to create a memorial and legal fund on GoFundMe.com.
“These dogs were our worlds and now we are all devastated and heartbroken,” Buddy’s owner Jenn Myers Ortner writes on the fund’s page. “I am not sure if we will ever truly mend from this. The tears just won’t stop.”
BC SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk tells the Global Post that this case should serve as a harsh reminder that leaving pets inside of hot vehicles can have tragic consequences. Dogs do not have sweat glands, and as the mercury rises inside of a car, the pet can suffer heat exhaustion, brain damage, and in the worst cases, death.
“We really do want to warn people that leaving windows open, leaving water, that is not going to help the situation,” Chortyk says. “If an animal’s in a hot car you’ve put them in danger.”