Exclusive look inside Four Paws Pet Resort

Published: May. 10, 2011 at 10:05 PM EDT|Updated: May. 11, 2011 at 1:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As vacation season rolls around, many of you may be thinking about boarding your dog, but a warning tonight: do your homework! Doggie daycares are not regulated by the state.

Just last month we told you about a Pomeranian puppy that died in the care of Four Paws Pet Resort near The Fan. In a separate incident, the resort is accused of letting a dog run away.

Since then, others have reached out to us about problems they've experienced with Four Paws. But the owner wants to set the record straight! He gave me an exclusive, inside look at Four Paws..

Four Paws owner John Maleta gave me a personal tour. I was able to look into every room following mistreatment allegations by a former employee, who asked to remain anonymous. The tour you're about to see is almost the same one, Maleta, swears he'd give any customer who asks.

"This is our indoor play area," said Maleta.

"Employee bathroom? Ya."

"This is my crown and jewel right here of what we do," said Maleta.

Maleta invited me in after accusations of animal mistreatment surfaced by a former Four Paws employee.

The allegations come after last month's mauling death of "Jenny", an eight month old Pomeranian puppy and an investigation a week later into "Bailey" hopping a six foot privacy fence and running away. "Bailey" is still missing.

"I think it was more important for Four Paws to get money in hand than proper treatment of animals," said the former worker.

The woman said she snapped undercover photos while employed with Four Paws on North Hamilton in 2008.

"I saw that many dogs were crated or put in a room or kept indoors all day," said the former worker.

I showed him the first photo, of a dirty suite.

"Oh, I can tell you that's 100% accurate there," said Maleta.

But Maleta said there's no negligence, this is just what it looks like in the mornings, after a dog's overnight stay.

During my visit, dogs, separated by size and temperament, played outside. Maleta said it's what you would see most days, unless the weather is bad.

This is where they sleep at night. Maleta said most get their own suite complete with small cots. The only crates I saw were inside a room where dogs go to dry off after a bath. Another touchy subject said the former worker.

"There was no where else to put them to dry except where I was told to put them in a cage with a box fan," said the former worker.

"Box fans over crates to dry dogs. Does that happen at your facility? No," answered Maleta.

But the former worker said that's not what upset her the most.

"I was definitely told to lie to customers about their dogs injuries or treatments," said the former worker.

Maleta calls that allegation ridiculous.

Courtney Groves, who worked at Four Paws for three weeks in 2007, said her foster dog "Bella", was severely injured in a dog fight during a weekend stay there in 2008.

"She had puncture wounds two on her side leg, a major puncture wound and abrasion on her belly and then her vulva was completely split open," said Groves.

Groves said she got a frantic call from a Four Paws employee.

"They told me I can't leave. I'm not even supposed to have called you and told you she was injured just come quickly," said Groves.

Groves sued Four Paws, and won by default when Maleta didn't show for court. He said he was never summoned. The judgement shows Maleta owes more than $600 in vet bills.

"Her dog attempted to go over a fence to get to her. The dog breaks its leg. I refuse to pay for it," said Maleta.

Under Virginia law, boarding facilities are required to provide adequate food, water and shelter, as well as emergency vet treatment should a dog become sick or hurt.

Virginia law gives the State Veterinarian Office the authority to inspect boarding facilities but doesn't require it to.

Local animal control offices are the inspecting agencies and the state vet assists by request. But facilities aren't inspected unless a complaint is made.

Richmond Animal Control received five complaints about Four Paws since 2008. They range from cruelty, which was unfounded, to allegations that a dog bit another dog, that an employee was bitten by a dog, and the deadly attack of "Jenny".

Our story about Jenny prompted a Better Business Bureau investigation. At the time, Four Paws had an F rating driven by unanswered complaints lumped into one file. That rating has since changed to a B.

Maleta met with the BBB last month. He explained, he has four locations, in Richmond, Chesterfield, Ashland and Fredericksburg: key information the BBB didn't have. Each one will now have separate files, once Maleta provides the appropriate documentation.

The BBB's advice to consumers: don't just ask for a tour, get to know the owner's philosophy and the risks involved. Ask about crating, exercise, and how the dogs are allowed to interact.

Cindy Briggs runs All Dog Adventures in Richmond. She said the industry needs a watchdog.

"I would like to see some sort of regulation or some sort of monitoring," said Briggs.

Moved by "Jenny's" death, she too offered us an inside look at how she runs her business.

"There are three rooms here."

Briggs' facility is daycare only with a strong emphasis on training.

"We swim the dogs; again supervised," said Briggs.

Her dogs play in small group settings.

"I double gate everything. I've always done that since I started. I monitor and the dogs are never left alone," said Briggs.

Back at Four Paws, Maleta said there's one staff member for every ten dogs. Claude Carr works next door.

"I have seen couple of dogs get into scrimmages long time ago and the way they handle it I was impressed," said Carr.

His German Shepherd "Sampson" is a regular at Four Paws.

"I would rather leave him here than anywhere," said Carr.

Maleta said he'll never back down on his business philosophy, that allows dogs to play freely for up to 10 hours a day.

"You have to be willing to accept it and mitigate the risk as much as much as you can but what's the alternative keeping them cooped up in the rooms, no," said Maleta.

It's recommended you check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any doggie daycare has a complaint.

Prices at Four Paws can range from $27 to $42 a day, for lodging. Grooming is extra. Maleta maintains he's not in it for the money and that he goes above and beyond what's required by the state.

Richmond Animal Control released the following complaints about four boarding facilities located within the city:

All Dog Adventures: 0 calls received

Diamond Dog Care: 0 calls received

Lombardy/Good Dog Daycare:

4/29/08 contained stray

7/11/08 contained stray

2/10/09 abandoned pet

9/29/09 contained stray

10/22/10 contained stray

4/19/11 unrestrained cocker spaniel

Four Paws:

6/11/08 cruelty complaint, unfounded

3/19/08 compliance

4/28/10 dog bites dog

11/20/10 employee bite

4/6/11 dog attacks dog, Pomeranian killed

There are 10 boarding facilities in Chesterfield county. According to Chesterfield Animal Control  there was only one call for service to one facility. The outcome was unfounded.

Henrico Animal Control reports it does not get a lot of complaints about boarding facilities.

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