PHOENIX (CBS Las Vegas/AP) — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Monday that his office is planning an “immediate and thorough investigation” into the deaths of 20 dogs at a pet boarding facility in Gilbert.

The dogs died over the weekend of apparent heat exhaustion.

Authorities said the air conditioning at the Green Acres Dog Boarding Facility went out after one of the dogs chewed through a wall and then an electrical cord.

“But it seems unreasonable that dogs could be healthy at 11 at night and dead by 5:30 the next morning as the owners suggest,” Arpaio said at a news conference. “Even the veterinarian I met with agrees that the timeline given by the owners and caretakers is highly suspect.”

Arpaio said his deputies found the 20 dead dogs piled into a shed on the property.

Some pet owners said they already have contacted lawyers to pursue a possible civil case against the kennel’s operators, who were vacationing out of state when the dogs died.

“Do you realize this was an accident?” MaLeisa Hughes, owner of the boarding facility, told KPHO-TV. “Do you realize this house almost burned down and I nearly lost half my family? Do you realize that?”

Sheriff’s officials said the boarding facility’s owners arranged for the dogs to be taken care of by their daughter and their son-in-law.

The son-in-law, Austin Flake, is the son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. The senator issued a statement calling it a “tragic accident” but didn’t confirm or deny his son’s involvement.

Hughes refused to talk about the Flake family.

“I’m not going to talk about Senator Flake,” Hughes told KPHO. “Austin is my son-in-law, Senator Flake is his father, he’s my senator, am I allowed to speak about my senator? Is that OK with you guys if I reference my own senator?”

Sheriff’s officials said the Flakes discovered the dogs Friday morning and the couple tried to save what animals they could by hosing and icing them down, but they failed to call for emergency assistance before the dogs died.

“If a crime occurred, someone will be held accountable,” Arpaio said.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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