Pensacola dog trainer arrested after client’s dog dies in burning car

A Pensacola dog trainer is accused of leaving a client’s American Bulldog in a hot car this summer for more than an hour while she worked with another dog, resulting in the bulldog’s death from one blow heat.

Sophie Haniford, 19, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with animal cruelty. She was sentenced to Escambia County Jail on $2,500 bond.

County records show she was released the same day.

Haniford could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. The company she worked for at the time of the incident, Off Leash K9 Training, did not respond to the News Journal’s request for comment.

According to Haniford’s arrest report, a Virginia man and woman were visiting Orange Beach, Alabama in July when they signed up their dogs for training at Off Leash K9 Training at 51 E. Gregory St. in Pensacola.

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They left two dogs, including a gray and white American Bulldog named Ruthie, in Haniford on July 2 before returning to Virginia.

On July 8, they received a call from Haniford informing them that Ruthie had died, leading them to call the Pensacola Police Department to report the incident.

They told police Haniford said she left Ruthie inside her car while she was working with another dog and that when Haniford returned after an hour to check on Ruthie, the dog was dead , according to the arrest report.

“Haniford said she left the car running with the windows open. Haniford said she left Ruthie in the car for over an hour,” the report said. “When Haniford returned she found the vehicle had shut off and Ruthie was dead. Haniford told them her car used to shut off when she left it running.”

Haniford later denied to police that he said his vehicle turned off.

After finding Ruthie dead in the car, Haniford rushed the dog to the nearest veterinarian, who determined the bulldog had died of heat stroke, according to the report.

During an interview with PPD investigators, Haniford explained the events leading up to Ruthie’s death. She said that on July 8, she took Ruthie with her to Off Leash K9 Training to do a private training at 10 a.m. with another dog. While working with the other dog, she left Ruthie in her car with the car running.

After the private lesson, Haniford got Ruthie out of her car and worked with the bulldog for about an hour of obedience training.

Haniford then left Ruthie in the running car again when she gave another private lesson with a different dog from noon to 1 p.m.

After finishing the lesson and cleaning up the practice space, Haniford went to check on Ruthie and found the car had shut down and Ruthie was unresponsive, according to the report.

Haniford told investigators she used a device to monitor the heat inside the vehicle when Ruthie was in the car. However, Haniford said, she didn’t read the device’s instructions until after the dog died, at which point she learned the device didn’t work through walls.

“The fact that Haniford purchased and used the device indicates that Haniford reasonably believed it was an unsafe practice to leave a dog unattended in a vehicle,” the report said. “Through his own admitted negligence, Haniford failed to read the instructions on the device and abused them, resulting in Ruthie’s painful and cruel death.”

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.

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