Cross Super Bowl XLIX madness with the insanity of the Green Acre dog fanatics, and you've got yourself one hothouse loony bin.
The canine crazies are online crying for revenge again, riled up this time by the news that New England Patriots' defensive tackle Alan Branch lost four dogs at Gilbert's Green Acre Dog Boarding facility in June, when an air-conditioner at the home-based business failed and 20-plus dogs lost their lives from heatstroke.
Fox Sports reports that Branch discussed the loss during a recent interview, telling the news outlet that his deceased pooches were "part of the family" and that they are "definitely on my mind" as he heads into the Pats' Super Bowl Sunday showdown with the Seattle Seahawks at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium.
Branch and his wife, Ashley, live in the Valley during the off-season, according to the Fox story. They had left five of their dogs with Green Acre for several days, while attending funerals out of town.
The facility was watched by Austin and Logan Flake, the son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, as Logan's mom and stepfather, MaLeisa and Todd Hughes, were in Florida for a week.
Per the Hugheses' instructions, on June 20, the Flakes put 28 dogs into a 9-foot-by-12-foot room for the night, as they had on previous nights. But the room's AC unit failed, and most of the dogs there expired of heatstroke.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio had the MCSO's animal crimes unit conduct a lengthy investigation, which ultimately resulted in multiple indictments of the Hugheses and the Flakes on felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty counts.
Almost all those charges were dropped by County Attorney Bill Montgomery after the Flakes' attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, alleged that Arpaio's lead investigator lied to the grand jury in the case.
At present, only one count of fraud remains against the Hugheses.
Though the local dog lovers' lynch mob still is baying for blood and has been using the link to Branch to promote its cause, Branch seemed taken aback by the fanaticism displayed in recent protests at Montgomery's office over the MCAO's charging decisions.
Branch told Fox Sports:
"It was crazy the way animal lovers came out and supported us. We really appreciated it . . . But some got a lot more into than I expected or than I'm willing to go. They were having a rally at the court, I believe, and someone was wearing a "I Can't Breathe shirt."
"How can you compare the two things? That's a man who died, and these are dogs. I love my dogs to death and they are part of the family. I'll never forget this and it hurt, but that went too far. Most of the people were good to us and again, we really appreciate them, but some went over the top."
As I mentioned in a recent column praising Montgomery's handling of the case, one dog-lovin' protester at the County Attorney's Office carried a sign that read "We Can't Breathe," a reference to the choke-hold killing of African-American Eric Garner in Staten Island by NYPD officers.
Thus, the sign likened the deaths of the Green Acre dogs to Garner's death, as if they were morally equivalent.
I noted in that column that the woman carrying the sign was white, as were almost all of the demonstrators that day, who were demanding Montgomery prosecute the Flakes and the Hugheses.
Branch is African-American.
According to the MCSO's investigative file, Branch and his wife signed paperwork with Green Acre agreeing to pay $20 a night for each of their dogs.
These included: Francis, a 12-year-old rescued lab hound mix; Tonka, a four-year-old pit bull; Buick, a seven-month-old English bulldog; and Snickers, an 11-year-old deaf and blind Manchester terrier.
One dog, Tiny, a Great Dane, also was left at Green Acre but survived.
Some of the dog owners and their supporters have stated that dogs died at Green Acre because there were so many placed in the overnight room.
But according to the log books for Green Acre in the investigative file, there were as many dogs present at the facility, if not more, on days before the date of the tragedy as on it.
For instance, on the day Ashley Branch dropped off her five dogs, there were 29 dogs total on the property, including the Branch pets.
The factor that changed on the evening the dogs died was not the number of dogs in the overnight room but the electricity readings from the Salt River Project utility.
SRP records show a dramatic decline in the early morning hours of June 21. Experts for both the defense and the MCSO have indicated the AC failure likely was caused by the filters not being changed.
Branch tells Fox News that he recently had heard that "the prosecutor was a Senator Flake supporter," saying that he did not know if that was true, but that it sounded "like something fishy is going on."
Montgomery did endorse Flake in the 2012 GOP U.S. Senate primary, but it's Arpaio who helped Montgomery get elected county attorney the first time around in 2010, spending more than $500,000 in an independent ad buy targeting Monty's rival, former County Attorney and Joe-foe Rick Romley.
Monty's office is still reviewing the case after dismissing most of the charges "without prejudice," meaning, hypothetically, they could be refiled.
But considering Montgomery's recent critical statements about the dog owners and their lawyers, a refile of any of the charges seems highly unlikely.
In the MCSO report, the Branches allege that Todd and MaLeisa Hughes misled them about the reason for their dogs' deaths, and had the dogs cremated without their permission.
Todd Hughes has admitted to making false statements to the owners in a panic.
The Hugheses may not be the most sympathetic pair, but Bonnie and Clyde they ain't.
The young Flake couple are blameless, as far as I can tell. At all times, they were following the instructions of the Hugheses, and they attempted to help those dogs still alive on June 21.
However, that reality does not help along the civil suit that's been filed against the Flakes and the Hugheses by the dog owners.
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And it does not feed into the hate-filled conspiracy theories of the Internet's pooch kooks, who want to punish the Flakes more for being related to a U.S. Senator than anything else.
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