CANTON, Ga. - Lots of pet owners face the same summertime decision: where should I leave my dog when I go out of town? Some customers discovered you don't always get what you pay for, even at places with glowing reputations.
From the outside, Pampered Pet Care of Atlanta in Canton shines with country goodness. Spacious runs and happy dogs.
"You're not going to meet anybody who loves animals more than I do," promised kennel owner Sarah Paulk during a tour with the FOX 5 I-Team.
But customers and a former employee say there was a room not included in their tour.
"I witnessed a customer explicitly stating, is my dog going into one of the runs?" remembered former employee Emily Loesel. "And the manager said, yes, yes, absolutely. And it was ultimately placed in the basement in a crate."
Loesel worked only one weekend at Pampered Pet. She found customers' dogs housed in wire crates in the basement level, their kennel cards attached to the doors. So before she quit, Emily took out her smart phone and began recording what she saw.
"Every time I went down there the lights were out," she emphasized as we watched video of a darkened basement. "It's damp like in most basements. There's a very strong odor and flies."
"If you only worked there two four-hour shifts, how do you know that what you saw is really going on and maybe just an exception? A bad weekend?" I asked.
"Well, I can tell you A it was not filled to capacity. They had a system even. When we prepared meals, the basement dogs got a different color label."
"Do you think the owners of those dogs in the basement knew that their dogs were going to wind up in that condition?"
"I do not."
She'd be right.
"They don't tell you this exists," remarked Linda Willman as she looked at the basement pictures. "They just show you beautiful runs."
Linda's poodle mix Bear was in the corner of the room. She had also dropped off her son's two dogs Oreo and Oliver. Both also wound up in the basement. Combined, the family gave Pampered Pet $882 for eight nights.
"See, this is just wrong guys," stressed Linda to us. "I gotta tell you. This is just not-- I'd just love to know where this place is. I didn't EVEN KNOW there was a basement."
Neither did Stephanie Tighe. The video showed her basset hound Weezy howling in her crate.
"They didn't tell us the truth," Stephanie insisted.
She also dropped off Weezy's bedding and blanket to keep her company at the kennel. Former employee Emily Loesel took pictures showing the Basset Hound's belongings stacked in a room with other customers' bedding.
"It never crossed my mind that something like that could be happening," complained Stephanie. "Ever."
But Pampered Pet owner Sarah Paulk offered an explanation.
"We had some clients that did not pick up their dogs on time. We had some clients that showed up early. So we did use this as a temporary overflow."
Kennel owner Sarah Paulk told us what that former employee happened to see happened only for two nights that weekend.
"Can you understand why the owners would be upset since they booked months ahead of time and their dogs are the ones put down here instead of the runs where they were promised they would be?" I asked.
"I guess I could see that but I know in my heart we took care of these dogs great and there was no difference in that."
"There were some empty runs upstairs when the former employee left at the end of the night. Why didn't you just move those dogs upstairs before you left Sunday night?" I asked.
"It may have been because we had a dog checking into those runs at 9 AM."
"But these dogs were here first. They paid already. They booked already."
"Sure," Sarah Paulk replied. "They're still getting all the same care that they would here in our lower play area versus upstairs."
Paulk could not explain why all that bedding was not with the dogs. She's offering refunds to any upset customer.
Truth is, without an employee taking pictures, you really don't know what's going on with your dog after you drop it off. That is, unless the kennel offers one key feature.
"I can tell you three dogs that will never go to a kennel without puppycams," vowed Linda Willman.
Puppycams. A growing number of kennels provide customers with real-time video access to their dog. Pampered Pet Care does not have such a system, but the owner says she's now considering it.
"If they don't have webcams, you have no visibility to what's happening to your dog," pointed out former employee Emily Loesel.
Even in the places with the best of reputations.