TAMPA — When Alberto and Amy Porras returned from their two-week vacation in Europe last month, they couldn't wait to be reunited with their beloved Chinese pugs, Chloe and Joey.
The couple, who don't have any children, boarded their dogs at Royal Pets Market & Resort off N Dale Mabry Highway while on the trip. They've used the kennel before and didn't have any problems, Alberto Porras said.
But when the Porrases returned to the kennel to pick up their dogs, they were told Chloe had died two days before.
Chloe, who was 5 years old, was found by Royal Pets employees in an outside kennel, unresponsive and covered in vomit, symptoms consistent with heatstroke, Alberto Porras said.
"I'm completely grief-stricken," Amy Porras said at a news conference Tuesday at the law office of Ruiz & Lee. The Porrases say they plan to sue Royal Pets for neglect and hope to recoup the market value for a pug and compensation for emotional damages.
"I know to some people she's just a dog, but to us she was like a daughter," Amy Porras said while crying and holding Joey, who will be 2 years old in September and was unharmed.
Royal Pets' chief veterinarian presented a different story of what happened.
Every morning, dogs are moved to a holding pen while their kennels are cleaned, said Dr. Bryan McGoldrick, part-owner of Royal Pets. The animals stay in the holding pen, which has an indoor and outdoor chamber that the dogs can move between, for about 10 to 15 minutes, McGoldrick said.
"Our attendant went back there and saw that Chloe was passed out," McGoldrick said, adding that she was in the same area as Joey. "There was some vomit, and the assistant rushed Chloe right into our vet center."
"Joey was perfectly happy, healthy," he said. "Chloe went from perfectly happy to passed out and vomiting."
McGoldrick said a staff veterinarian spent hours trying to determine what happened. Employees tried to call to the Porrases, who could not be reached because they were overseas, and Royal Pets also reached out to the family's vet.
When McGoldrick reviewed Chloe's medical history, he said he noticed that she was diagnosed with a condition called "stridor," which means the dog had trouble breathing properly.
A lawyer for the Porrases said a vet at Royal Pets Market & Resort determined that Chloe had an internal temperature of 109 degrees. Normal body temperature for a dog hovers around 101 degrees. The Porrases' own vet later listed heatstroke as the cause of death in a necropsy, said Amy Ruiz, the Porrases' lawyer.
Alberto Porras said he thinks Chloe was forgotten outside in a kennel for a long time because her temperature was so high.
Ruiz acknowledged that pugs are a breed susceptible to respiratory problems, and thus have a higher risk for asphyxiation.
Hillsborough County Animal Services is investigating, said Marti Ryan, spokeswoman for the department. Though Ryan said she couldn't comment on the ongoing investigation, she did add that this case brings attention to a common problem in Florida: pets overheating from being outside too long or getting locked in cars.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Liz Crampton at email@example.com.