Golden retriever’s unexplained illness sparks social-media backlash against staff of the boarding facility
O’FALLON, Mo. — Protesters walked along the road near WestInn Kennel in Wentzville on Wednesday afternoon with signs that read “Justice for George” and “shut down WestInn.”
They’re here after the sudden death of a 5-month-old golden retriever puppy, George, and the frustrating confusion over his death.
“At this point, we are going to do whatever we can do to make sure that George’s story is known, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” owner Jona Baldwin said.
Baldwin says they dropped off their puppy June 13 as they headed to a family vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama, calling to check on him once during the week and right before pickup on June 22. Both times, Baldwin says, they weren’t given any indication something might be wrong.
But when they picked up the normally playful puppy, they say there was a noticeable change in his behavior. He was skinny and feverish.
“He looks like he was on his deathbed, because he was,” Baldwin said.
Within days, the dog would be dead, vets telling them it might be a complication from pneumonia.
Activity logs from WestInn show on June 22, George “threw up food/bile, tired for the rest of the day.” Other days the chart shows “all” food was eaten. Baldwin says there is no way that the records are correct since kennel staff returned a bag with about a third of George’s portioned-out food upon pickup.
Frustrated by a lack of answers, Baldwin wrote about her experience — and George’s death — on Facebook, a post that ignited, with many users sharing other complaints and concerns.
“The stories are flooding in by the hundreds,” Baldwin said. “I had no clue the amount of people would be like, ‘our dog died at WestInn,’ ‘our dog is on IV fluids,’ ‘I used to work there.'”
Kennel owner Kevin West said the reaction was swift, saying, “It just came out of nowhere … just the amount of phone calls to the businesses. It was just out of nowhere.”
West says he doesn’t know what happened to the puppy; nobody does yet.
“Without any information, it’s just really hard,” he said.
West gave 5 On Your Side three photos that show George playing happily with other dogs during the visit but said there is no surveillance video to review.
West acknowledges the log that shows George threw up one afternoon, explaining it is their policy to begin a six-hour observation period after such cases. George’s family, West says, picked him up within that time frame.
Now — because of the social media attention — West says he’s worried about the staff’s safety.
“It’s been scary,” West says with a heavy breath. “It’s so scary. We have received a lot of threats, and this has been the hardest part for me because my staff are being called daily and receiving threats.”
West says they see up to 600 dogs a week between their two locations with an incident rate below 5%.
Baldwin says George’s body has been taken to the University of Missouri-Columbia for necropsy. The Baldwins are working with animal control investigators as well.
Concerns about animal welfare can be filed with the Missouri Department of Agriculture Animal Health Division at 573-751-3076 and St. Charles Animal Control at 636-949-3395.