‘It’s a terrible thing’: 10 dogs drown after flood at DC pet day care, boarding facility

The owner of a pet day care and grooming facility in Northeast D.C. said that the location is closed after the death of 10 dogs that drowned when the building flooded following torrential downpour on Monday.

In an interview with NBC Washington, District Dogs owner Jacob Hensley said the Northeast location is “officially closed. Forever.”

Hensley said that they are in this business because of a love of dogs.

“It’s completely heartbreaking to make these phone calls and talk to these owners,” Hensley told NBC Washington. “This is not why we’re in business. This is not anything we expect to do.”

Hensley said that he had reassurances from District officials last year that the area was a safe place to open for business. He said the community has been supportive, and he hopes to “come back stronger” in another location.

This is not the first time District Dogs has had to deal with flooding. A year ago, the business was inundated with about 3 feet of water inside the building.

“The emotion is hard to watch,” D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John Donnelly said, after delivering the news Monday that several pets died in the flood inside the pet day care and boarding facility.

Ten dogs were “tragically lost during the floods,” said the Humane Rescue Alliance on Tuesday. The alliance is working with owners who lost their pets.

“Our hearts go out to the families who lost beloved pets in yesterday’s tragic flooding,” the alliance said in a statement.

“It’s unbearable,” Donnelly, with D.C. police, said. “This is losing a member of your family or being scared that you did … It’s a terrible thing.”

Hensley said in a statement on Twitter Monday night that they are heartbroken over the events that happened.

“We are focused on doing everything we can to support impacted employee [sic] and customers during this difficult time,” Hensley said, adding that they continue to work with officials to review what happened.

Crew members from a D.C. Fire and EMS engine located nearby noticed rapid buildup of water underneath the Rhode Island Avenue railroad bridge. Donnelly said fire crews started helping people stuck there out of the water, including those stuck in vehicles.

The water rose nearly six feet in a span of a few minutes, “roughly to the middle of the doors or above the middle of the doors on District Dogs,” Donnelly said.

That’s when one of the walls gave in and the building flooded. Firefighters saw several people swimming out of the building and coming out of the door.

“It appeared they were in trouble,” Donnelly said. Firefighters went in and helped District Dogs’ employees get through, knocking through drywall at some point and working in what Donnelly described as a “very hard and rough situation to work in.”

Several people and pets were rescued following severe weather in D.C. on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Several pets died in a flood inside a doggy day care and pet grooming facility. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Flooding occurs near Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast D.C. on Aug. 14, 2023. (Courtesy Jason Crighton)

In a statement Tuesday posted on its Instagram page, District Dogs said that within a few minutes, flood waters blocked the front door and broke through the glass wall, “sending 6 feet of water into our business.”

The pet day care said that staff “worked heroically to save as many animals as possible despite real danger to their own lives. Many had to cling to shelves and counters themselves.”

Several dogs were rescued from District Dogs, as well as about seven employees, Donnelly said. Overall, crews rescued some 20 people from the flooded area.

Megan Smith ran to District Dogs from a work meeting and was reunited with her pet Juniper.

“I saw a puddle on the floor and a stream of water. I saw the water just continually rise 3 to 4 feet,” Smith said, who watched it unfold from her device.

Donnelly said he had not heard of severe flooding issues at District Dog, but said he was aware that there has been flooding in the area near Rhode Island Avenue.

DC Water said in a tweet that the area has “experienced chronic flooding, as far back as the late 1800s especially during intense storms.” Approximately two inches of rain in 45 minutes were recorded by the utility on Monday.

The Northeast Boundary Tunnel is scheduled to open in the next two months, which DC Water said will “help mitigate the risk of flooding but not eliminate it.” The new tunnel is expected to open by the end of September, the water utility said, and will add storage to handle 90 million gallons of stormwater. The tunnel “will not prevent all flooding from intense storms but will lessen their impact,” DC Water said.

In a thread posted on X, formerly Twitter, DC Water noted how the low point under the train overpass “acts as a bowl [where] stormwater flows into it from multiple directions.”

Donnelly said authorities, including DC Water, will investigate what happened.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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