New England's Alan Branch has a strong association with Arizona, where Super Bowl XLIX is being played. In the offseason, the tackle -- who has bounced around several teams during his NFL career -- calls Arizona home. He started his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals.
But not all of the associations are positive. For Branch, Arizona is also home to a tragedy involving four of his dogs.
Last summer, four of Branch's five dogs died from suffocation at a kennel outside of Phoenix. Branch had placed the dogs in the kennel while he went to minicamp with the Buffalo Bills. While away, he received a phone call informing him that one of the dogs had chewed through the fencing and died from heat exhaustion in the intense Phoenix heat.
But that was far from the truth. A police investigation determined that the kennel had stuffed 28 dogs into a 9-by-12-foot room at the kennel. While in there, the air conditioner servicing the room malfunctioned. The seals on the doors into the room were so tight that 23 dogs died.
“It was definitely rough,” Branch said, according to a story from The Boston Globe. “I’m bouncing back slowly but surely from the loss. I just tried to be a rock for my family. Fortunately we’re getting through it. The kids aren’t crying or waking up crying missing their dogs right now. I think we’re doing better.”
When management discovered the scene, several of the dogs had died, and many were under distress. Instead of seeking out medical help, they tried to cool the dogs off with hoses and ice. Many more died, possibly when proper care could have saved them.
Then, instead of owning up to the mistake, the managers tried to fabricate a scene of their death in a shed out back. When officials finally showed up, the dogs were covered with flies and maggots.
There is currently dispute over what charges the owners should face, since it's unclear if the air conditioner is to blame or if neglect caused the death of the dogs, now referred to as the "Gilbert 23" in reference to the Phoenix suburb where the kennel is located. Many advocates are calling for animal neglect charges to be brought, but currently the kennel only faces one charge of fraud.
Branch said his family is looking into getting new dogs soon, but they haven't reached that point. Right now, his hope is that something good comes from the loss of his dogs.
"I just want justice," Branch said. "And if anything, for Arizona to have stricter laws on what can be considered a boarding facility."