Dog owners accuse animal trainer of abuse and worse

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Jesse Dalton seemed like a picture-perfect dog trainer. He had search and rescue experience, an interactive social media and good references. But clients say he was anything but the picture he painted.

At least six dogs — Lola, Remy, Silvie, Jynx, Zeus and Taser — were either neglected, disappeared or died on Dalton’s watch in Massachusetts and Southwest Florida.

“He was cremated, and this is how he was returned to me,” Gregg Tappan said.

Ashes are all Tappan has left of his dog, Taser.

A Massachusetts police officer said Dalton agreed to board Taser in 2016. But when Dalton refused to let Tappan see his dog, he took action.

“I got extremely suspicious at that and started calling pet crematories, and it was the third one that I found that had Taser,” Tappan said, “The really sick part of it all was Jesse was still lying to me, telling me he had Taser.”

After the incident, Dalton moved to Florida.

Melissa Velez of North Fort Myers said she hired Dalton to train an energetic Lola, last year.

But the week-long train and board program turned into several weeks.

“He just kept having excuses as to why he couldn’t bring the dog back,” Velez said.

When Dalton finally returned Lola, Velez said her dog was in rough shape.

“She went up on the stairs, and she fell,” Velez said. “Her back legs just gave out, so she didn’t even make it up the steps onto the porch.”

Velez took her to the veterinarian the next day, and the report said Lola may have been drugged, had scabs and lost fifteen pounds.

“She was skin and bones, you could see every bone there was,” Velez said.

Natalie Clause of South Fort Myers also signed up her dogs, Remy and Silvie, for a board and train program.

Like Velez, Clause said she had trouble getting her dogs back, even threatening to call law enforcement.

Silvie was returned malnourished and Remy, even worse. In addition to being malnourished, Remy’s hair was falling out, and she had an infection.

Two other dogs in Dalton’s care disappeared. Dalton fostered Zeus and Jynx in North Port, for a rescue in 2018. A former rescue worker said the dogs haven’t been seen since.

Local victims Velez and Clause reported Dalton, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office charged him with animal cruelty. He plead no contest to both cases and was ordered by the judge to have no contact with animals.

Dalton and his wife, Jennifer MacDonald, are also facing an animal cruelty felony charge. In February, Sarasota animal services found 13 animals confined within their small motel room and allegedly stolen U-Haul van. Court documents say the animals were filthy and malnourished. The case is still pending.

But tracking trainers is tough because the state doesn’t regulate them. However, counties can step in.

Hillsborough County in Florida passed “Truth in Training,” an ordinance requiring trainers to register and report bad behavior.

Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties said they’re not considering anything like this.

Before hiring a trainer, there are a few things owners can do to try and protect their pet. You should ask for and speak with references and ask about vaccinations. If your pet is boarding, look at the facility in person.

“That’s the one thing I have guilt about,” Velez said. “That I didn’t push harder to see where she was going to be housed.”

We reached out to Dalton, MacDonald and their attorneys multiple times. No one returned our calls.

Grant Reeves, The Upbeat K9 CEO, said they severed their relationship with Dalton, the local franchisee, 18 months ago. Reeves says he is also considering legal options.

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