Sunday, May 19

Fifth family tells WPTV pet dog died at Pawsitively Paradise

WPTV has learned of additional allegations against the owner of Pawsitively Paradise, a dog training company in Palm City.

The allegations come as the Martin County Sheriff’s Office continues its third investigation into the facility and its owner, Nikki Camerlengo.

“Yeah, she should not be in business,” Tiffany Owen said.

Owen and her husband, Mike Owen, sat down with WPTV on Friday to share their experience with Camerlengo.

The couple said in 2014, they left their puppy Gibbs with Camerlengo for a week of training while they went on vacation.

Everything seemed fine until the day they returned.

“We got a text from her that our dog had passed away,” Mike Owen said.

“We were just in shock, you know?” Tiffany Owen added. “We left her with a healthy dog, a puppy, and we came back and there was no reason why that dog should have passed away.”

The Owens said they told Camerlengo to meet them at the veterinarian and asked her what happened.

“She kind of said, ‘Well, it could have been a snake bite,'” Tiffany Owen said.

The couple had no reason to question that until they saw others come forward to share similar stories.

“I mean, I felt bad for her at first because maybe this is just a horrible coincidence?” Tiffany Owen said. “But I don’t think that’s possible.”

The Owens didn’t order a necropsy and no longer have a copy of the vet records, making it difficult to know what happened to Gibbs. They didn’t file a police report in 2014 but said they would Friday.

WPTV’s Kate Hussey also called Camerlengo about the new accusations, but Camerlengo wouldn’t return her calls.

However, Martin County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy John Budensiek doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I think something is nefarious that’s taking place here. I have two pets two dogs and I can’t imagine dropping them off perfectly healthy and then getting a call that something bad happened.”

The Owens are one of five families WPTV has reported on who said their dogs died in the care of Camerlengo.

WPTV first became aware of the facility in 2022, when the Martin County Sheriff’s Office launched its first investigation into Pawsitively Paradise.

A Palm City couple, Dan and Adelle Csontos, told Hussey at the time their retriever Mako died while in Camerlengo’s care for a weekend.

Since then, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office has launched three separate investigations, the latest of which is looking into the death of a 2-year-old golden doodle who the sheriff’s office said died after being in Camerlengo’s care for just four hours this week.

WPTV has since learned Camerlengo used to work at Martin Downs Animal Hospital.

The hospital told WPTV she had not worked there for more than five years and said she was only with the company briefly.

When asked, staffers were not able to tell Hussey why she was with the hospital for such a short amount of time but did release the following statement:

<i>”We are dedicated to the health, safety and happiness of animals and we are saddened to hear about the passing of these pets.”</i>

In 2022, when the Martin County Sheriff’s Office launched its first investigation into Pawsitively Paradise, Camerlengo was cited eight times for improper care of animals.

Multiple neighbors told Hussey they saw Camerlengo attaching dogs to a golf cart with leashes and running them around the block, which Hussey asked Camerlengo about in February.

“We very safely had them on (a) leash, running at a pace they pick,” Camerlengo said. “We are not dragging them. We’re not forcing them to run. We’re not taking the old fat dogs. We’re taking the dogs that need the extra energy out.”

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office has already sent off the most recent dog’s body to the University of Florida for a necropsy and is planning to send the dog who died in February too.

Budensiek said the dog had been in the care of a veterinarian’s office, awaiting funding for a necropsy.

“The ASPCA stepped in,” Budensiek said. “They funded the necropsy.”

But what happens if those necropsies are inconclusive? That’s what happened with the first investigation in 2022.

Last month, WPTV learned the county could pursue an injunction against Camerlengo to prevent her from possessing animals.

“We’re exploring all options,” Budensiek said. “The main option right now is education, education. We’re telling the public, ‘There’s an issue here.'”

The Owens said they just hope those options make a difference.

“I hope she stops working with animals,” Tiffany Owen said. “I hope nobody takes their dog to her ever again and that she’s out of business.”

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone who has had firsthand experience with Pawsitively Paradise, has had a dog injured or die in the company’s care, or has an eyewitness account to share to contact deputies.

You can also contact reporter Kate Hussey at Kate.Hussey@WPTV.com.

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