Brooke and Rob Tkatch of Toronto considered their dog, Hank, an important part of their family.
“We don’t have kids; we loved him like a child, he was everything to us,” said Rob in an interview, with Brooke at his side.
Hank was their cherished black rescue dog, their constant companion adopted just before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
But last week, Hank was accidentally killed by a car on a road near a boarding kennel business about 80 kilometers north of Toronto. The couple had entrusted the kennel to care for Hank for two weeks while they were away in Florida.
Somehow, Hank was able to walk away from the fenced property belonging to Wild Dogs Boarding, co-owned by Joe Rutherford.
“Him escaping — that can happen. It’s everything that happened after that. It seemed they were more interested in covering up the loss of our dog than actually finding him and rescuing him,” said Rob.
They say the company’s owners appeared to have stood in the way of search efforts by family members and friends.
The Tkatches say Rutherford’s company did not share information about where Hank was last seen; Rob says Rutherford was not eager to further the search after Hank was declared missing.
“He said to us he was cold and hungry and he thought it was not appropriate to keep searching, but he’d continue if we really wanted,” said Rob.
Later, Rob received a phone call from a motorist who had struck and killed Hank on a roadway. The driver got the phone number from the tag on his collar.
The driver was apologetic and offered to take the dog for emergency veterinary care.
The couple heard about Wild Dogs Boarding after reading an article on a popular Toronto blog site. It had also been featured by a local television station.
“Their social media and website was fantastic,” Brooke said, explaining that the couple liked the fact that animals appeared to live like guests in a home on the wooded property rather than being placed in crates or cages.
Prior to boarding Hank, they sent him to Wild Dogs Boarding for day visits on two occasions. The dog returned home safely on each occasion. They didn’t visit the property, however.
“They have a van — they come to your home and pick up the dog,” Brooke said.
When they later went to the rural property to collect Hank’s possessions after his death, she says they were told they were not allowed on site.
“No one is,” she said.
Global News attempted to reach owner Joe Rutherford by telephone and text. He responded that, “unfortunately, I am not available.”
A camera crew and journalist showed up in person at the kennel facility a few minutes later. Rutherford emerged and took questions.
“Our hearts are just broken,” he said, when asked what happened to Hank.
Asked about the efforts to find the lost dog, Rutherford began to sob.
“Every effort. This place is my dream. I love dogs. We did everything we could,” he said.
Rutherford also spent Wednesday modifying social media accounts.
Minutes before the Global News interview, the Wild Dogs Boarding website disappeared. But when asked directly what happened to the slick website, Rutherford denied it.
“It’s up, it’s up,” he said.
The site is no longer accessible to public view.
On Instagram, a platform used strategically to market what it called a “cage-free and home-style dog boarding experience in our cabin in the woods,” Wild Dogs Boarding called the events a “horrible tragedy.”
“We keenly feel the level of grief this family must be enduring,” the company posted, claiming one staff member was so shaken up she quit the company.
The Tkatches say they wanted to speak publicly about Hank’s death to inform others.
“For the sake of other dog owners to not go through what we went through.”