Brandon Jones, a spokesman for the Maricopa County sheriff's office, said a criminal investigation of the Green Acres boarding facility in Gilbert, Ariz., is underway, but the deaths appear to be a "tragic accident." No charges had been brought against Todd Hughes, the owner of the facility, or his family as of Monday morning.
Angry owners say Hughes called them Friday and told them their pets had run away.
"Todd called everybody and said, 'Oh, your dogs got out and they're missing,'" Justin Butler told KPHO-TV. "They weren't missing. They're dead."
Butler said he only learned Saturday why an intensive search had turned up no trace of his family's golden retriever, Koda.
Shannon Gillette told the TV station in a call from Southern California that she was trying to celebrate her son's fifth birthday and Disneyland and to explain to her children that the family's dogs are gone.
"They don't understand." Gillette said. "They said, 'We can just go pick them up from the hospital,' and we can't because they're dead and they were killed."
Some families said they were already talking to lawyers about suing Hughes.