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The owner and a trainer of an East County dog training and boarding business have been charged by the Contra Costa County Office of the District Attorney (DA) with eight felony counts of animal cruelty following the death of a dog left in their care.

Garry Frank Reynolds, the 37-year-old owner of NorCal K9, and Devon Benjamin Ashby, a 30-year-old trainer employed by Reynolds, were charged in December 2018, after Antioch police removed seven dogs from an Antioch residence associated with Reynolds and Ashby. Scott Alonso, public information officer for the DA, said that Antioch police were prompted to investigate the business after receiving written complaints from former clients.

Detective Geis of the Antioch Police Department (APD) said that of the seven dogs the APD seized in June, one was returned to its owner and six were euthanized after it was determined that the dogs were so aggressive they could not be rehabilitated.

A charge of animal cruelty indicates that the defendant allegedly caused unnecessary cruelty upon an animal, abused an animal and failed to provide the animal with proper food, drink or shelter from the weather.

During an interview with The Press, Reynolds said that he was working in Southern California at the time that Antioch police seized the dogs and that the dogs were removed from the Ashby’s home.

“I have never hurt a dog,” said Reynolds. “I’ve never done anything to hurt a client or a dog. The whole thing with the other dogs, it had nothing to do with me. One of my staff was doing that. They didn’t come to my house to seize dogs...I wasn’t at that house. I wasn’t living in that house.”

The DA’s criminal complaint specifies May 3, 2018 as the date that the alleged abuse took place, though the seizure of the animals occurred several weeks later. Reynolds confirmed that one of the dogs identified in the DA’s criminal complaint did die while in his care. Gunnar, a three-year-old German shepherd died May 20. A necropsy was completed by the Necropsy Services Group in Davis, and the final report obtained by The Press stated that Gunnar died from hyperthermia, a condition that can be, according to the report, caused by high environmental temperatures and/or physical exertion. The report also said that physical exertion leading to fatal hyperthermia may be seen in dogs that are hyperexcitable, overanxious, stressed or experiencing seizures. Reynolds noted that the high temperature on the day Gunnar died was 70 degrees and the temperature at the time of his death was 54 degrees.

“The dog (Gunnar) had severe anxiety,” said Reynolds. “The dog had all these different behavioral problems. Anxiety is what caused the dog to pass away...we took the dog in for the autopsy. I’m the one that, as soon as the dog passed and there was nothing I could do, after I got off the phone with (Gunnar’s owner) I put the dog on ice so we could have a true autopsy where we could find out what actually happened to the dog. Why would I do these things if I did anything to hurt that dog?”

Karen Parks, president of Napa Valley German Shepherd Rescue, joined with Gunnar’s owners after having been made aware of his death while in a boarding facility. Her organization agreed to cover half of the cost of a civil case brought against Reynolds.

“The reason that Denise and Jeff (Swank, Gunnar’s owners) really wanted to do the civil suit was to have something in writing in case someone else did background checking so they could see this happened to their dog,” explained Parks. “That was the only purpose it was meant for. We didn’t expect to get any money from Garry (Reynolds). We kind of knew it was going to go nowhere. They didn’t want something else to happen to someone else’s dog. If they still want to go there, fantastic. But at least they would be able to read what was in this case.”

According to Parks, Reynolds did not respond to the suit and the case is in default.

The criminal complaint specifies that Reynolds was previously convicted of violent felonies – second degree robbery in 2002 and shooting at an inhabited dwelling in 2001 – and that a conviction on the animal cruelty charges could result in a longer sentence due to the prior convictions. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 184 months while Ashby faces a possible maximum sentence of 92 months.

Alonso said that both Reynolds and Ashby are free and on $160,000 bond. Reynolds is scheduled for an arraignment on Feb. 25. Ashby was arraigned Jan. 11 and entered a not guilty plea at that time. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing March 4.

The Swanks did not respond to a request for an interview before this story went to press.