BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — The phone call Bill and Kristin Ervin were expecting was from a pet transport driver telling them that they'd be pulling up soon with their three beloved pets safe and sound onboard his vehicle. But what the caller said horrified the couple.
The man on the phone said he was the father of the transport driver, calling on his son's behalf because he was too upset to tell the Ervins himself that not only were their two Great Danes dead, but they had already been cremated.
Bill said he and his wife were stunned and found it simply surreal that their two healthy 6-year-old dogs, Cookie and Penny, were dead and, that if true, they'd have no way to determine how they died because they had already been cremated.
The Ervins contracted with VIP Pet Delivery out of Topeka, Kansas, to drive their dogs and their cat by ground to Napa, California, last week.
The dogs were cleared by their veterinarian to go on the trip, but shortly before the pets were to leave, the owner of VIP Pet Delivery, a woman who identified herself as Rachel, told the Ervins that her family would not be able to drive their pets because of a COVID-19 issue.
She told the couple that their "best driver" could take their place, telling the couple that he'd be driving the two dogs and cat by himself, but assuring them that he was more than capable of handling the job.
The Ervins said the driver showed up Monday, June 7. He even agreed to let the couple link an app from their phone to his where they could track their pets along their journey.
The first time the Ervins checked the app, the driver with their precious cargo was heading west on I-94. But not long after that, they noticed he turned off the tracking app.
He may not have wanted the couple to know that he wasn't going straight to California because he ended up in Texas.
Rachel is the one who told them via text message where the man was on Tuesday. Prior to that, the driver said he was going to just sleep in the transport vehicle with the cat and the dogs.
Bill and Kristen replied to the text, asking why their pets were in Texas.
"She didn't answer us," Bill told KSHB.
On Wednesday, the couple got another text from Rachel. She said the driver and their pets were on their way to Phoenix and then California.
Then came that phone call from a man saying he was the driver's father. And in a very matter-of-fact way said, "I hate to tell you this. But I need to tell you that your dogs are dead. And, by the way, they smelled really bad. So we had them cremated," recalled Bill.
The Ervins wondered if the driver left their pets in the van and they suffered heat-related deaths.
Their cat did survive, thankfully.
And as if being told that their 6-year-old Great Danes were suddenly dead wasn't harsh enough, what the driver's father said next was wrong and inappropriate on another level when the Ervins asked how their dogs could have died.
"He said, 'Well, you know, they were old. And they probably felt like you abandoned them. So, that's probably how they died,'" said Bill. "That was the entire answer."
Kristina Rinaldi, Executive Director at Detroit Dog Rescue, said when transporting animals in cargo vans, you need a separate ventilation system so that the cool air or heat makes it to the back of the van.
"I have seen it so many times during the summer, where you'll find a dog who has heat stroke," said Rinaldi. "And it really does impact all breeds. But, yes, the bigger breeds can overheat quicker, as well as smaller breeds with the shorter noses" such as pugs and American Bulldogs.
And Rinaldi said when transporting, animals can also see and sense the distress of another animal which can also increase the stress on their own bodies.
Make frequent stops because it's not just the temperature that can induce stress on an animal.
"You want to make sure you're stopping every few hours to let the dog decompress," said Rinaldi. "Studies have shown actually shown anything over 10 hours, dogs start to experience extreme stress and anxiety, even in ground transport."
When the owner of VIP Pet Delivery texted the Ervins last night, there was no remorse, said Bill.
The owner reportedly said the dogs were "old," telling the Ervins, "What did you expect?"
What the company owner, the transport driver, and his father perhaps didn't realize is that the dogs were never cremated even though they presented the Ervins with cremation certificates.
Late Monday afternoon, the Ervins learned that the cremation company in California that the driver and his dad instructed to cremate the dogs, never did.
The staff was reportedly suspicious and did not want to cremate the dogs without finding out if there was something else behind the deaths.
"Drive them yourself. That would be my only advice," said Bill when asked what he would tell other pet owners. "My trust level and I'm a very trusting person, my trust level right now is so low in humanity, that I would say if you want it done correctly, then do it yourself."
"Someone needs to be accountable for this. And, more than anything, we just want to know what happened. I think that's fair," he said.
"It's ironic, the only person who has not spoken up is the person who knows everything."
This story was originally published by Kimberly Craig at WXYZ.