GEORGETOWN, Texas — It has been over a week since a fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown killed 75 dogs, and now people are trying to make sure this never happens again.
Carmela Stearns has a lot of experience helping animals in disaster situations, like hurricanes and tornadoes. On the night of the fire at the pet resort, she showed up to help, only to find out all the dogs had died.
“We responded to the site. We stayed there for hours and did not leave because I was devastated and couldn't believe that there wasn't something that we could do right then and there, and that it was too late,” shared Carmela Stearns. "I have not been back to the memorial since because of that. And so, I'm directing my energy towards this."
Stearns, like many others, was surprised to find out that the pet resort was not required by law to have an overnight employee and that the building was not required to have fire alarms or sprinkler systems.
“I was shocked,” said Stearns. “And so, I’m devastated. And something needs to be done. Something needs to be done to prevent this from happening again.”
Stearns started a petition that has thousands of signatures. The goal is to get the attention of Gov. Greg Abbott and other state lawmakers, in order to get new laws in place. Stearns listed off just a few of the changes she, and many dog owners, would like to see made.
“To have fire and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are monitored 24/7. Sprinkler systems, fire suppression systems, 24/7 staffing, if possible,” said Stearns.
In 2020, the State of Illinois was one of the first to require fire safety protections for pets.
Stearns and the families of the dogs who died are not alone; the Georgetown Fire Department said it wants to see change too.
In a video released by the City, Fire Chief John Sullivan said they follow the International Fire Code, and under that code, they said there is not much clearly stated about animal occupancies.
“When it comes to animal shelters, it actually falls under a business occupancy, and we see that a normal business occupancy, such as a bank, is much different than it would be for an animal shelter,” said Chief Sullivan. “And as such, we are looking at ways we can try to encourage change, not only locally, but across the country.”
Chief Sullivan said, locally, they plan to meet with the Building Standards Commission in mid-October and then will discuss potential code changes with the Georgetown City Council in November or December.
Chief Sullivan said they are still investigating the Ponderosa Pet Resort fire and are not ready to release a cause just yet.
In a community that is hurting, they are remembering the 75 dogs lost and say they are trying to push forward to save lives in the future.
“Sign the petition, make our voices heard, make those 75 voices and 59 families make, you know, let's not make this in vain, and let's do something with it. Let's do something positive together,” said Stearns.
The City of Georgetown is making plans to create a memorial for the 75 dogs who died in the fire.
To learn more about the code changes proposed by the fire department, click here. To go to the petition, click here.
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