News & Politics

Mourning Pet Owners Contemplate Legal Action After District Dogs Flood

“I am usually not a litigious person, but in this case I might be."

Flowers outside of District Dogs after the flood. Photograph by Malcolm Ferguson.

On Monday night, domestic violence case manager Jocelyn Lobos-Segura arrived at the Northeast DC branch of District Dogs daycare at 5:30 PM, just as she always did. The evening’s heavy rain was ending, and she was there to pick up Mona, her rambunctious one year-old mixed breed pup. Lobos-Segura saw roads closed and police cars and ambulances outside of the facility, but she assumed it was for a human medical emergency. It wasn’t until she spoke to other frantic, pacing dog owners that she learned the daycare had flooded.  

Lobos-Segura recalls District Dogs owner Jacob Hensley working with EMS to bring dogs to safety. “I just saw him running up and down just grabbing dogs, or holding dogs and putting them in the bike room, or handing them off to other people,” Lobos-Segura said. “At the end, Jacob asked me if I had gone to the bike room where all the dogs were being kept, and I said ‘yes, but my dog’s not there.’”

Mona, one of the dogs who died in the flood. Photograph by Jocelyn Lobos-Segura.

Mona and nine other dogs drowned that night, when heavy rainfall caused six feet of water to quickly rise outside District Dogs. When one of its large windows gave in, the daycare flooded. 

While employees were evacuated safely and 20 dogs were rescued by first responders and District Dogs staffers, some pet owners were left confused and heartbroken. “It’s hard to watch, it’s unbearable,” said DC Fire and EMS chief John Donnelly shortly after the rescue ended. “This is losing a member of your family, or being scared that you did.” 

Maggie Quinn’s dog, Josie. Photograph by Maggie Quinn.

Now, several owners are angry, and contemplating legal action against Hensley, District Dogs, and the city. Some have shared concerns about the facility’s emergency preparedness, and what they see as the city’s lackluster efforts to address the infrastructure of a region that has experienced chronic flooding since the 1800s (District Dogs itself experienced three floods in a month last summer). “I am usually not a litigious person, but in this case I might be,” said Maggie Quinn, who lost her dog Josie that night. “Like I promised my kids, we have to make sure this never happens again.”

Hensley has not responded to requests for comment. 

Lobos-Segura plans on filing a lawsuit for negligence. She places responsibility for Mona’s death in the hands of Hensley and Mayor Bowser: “I blame Jacob for not having some sort of emergency plan in place,” she said. “I blame the city for not following through with that [Northeast Boundary Tunnel Project] that they keep mentioning–for that to not be completed when it was supposed to be completed, knowing that the summers are always rainy.” 

Quinn’s anger is directed more toward the city’s building code: “How could there not be more routes of egress in the event of a flood which you know is going to happen, given that the location has been flooding since the 1800s? I just don’t understand how DC could allow the building to be built like that.” 

Public school teacher Teffiney Worthy, whose French bulldog Memphis died, was frustrated with the lack of communication from District Dogs. Her boyfriend waited “a few hours” at the scene before Worthy was notified via email that Memphis had drowned, and that his body was at the Humane Rescue Alliance: “It wasn’t even a relatable email,” Worthy said. “It felt very scripted, as if [Hensley] had just inserted Memphis’s name where it needed to be.”

Colleen Costello’s dog, Maple. Photograph by Colleen Costello.

5B05 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Colleen Costello and her husband still aren’t sure what to tell their children about the death of their dog Maple, who her family adopted from Shenandoah Shepherd Rescue in 2021. “She was the cutest little fluff ball,” Costello said. 

Costello is also thinking about legal action. “Jacob [Hensley] did tell me on Monday that the landlord has flood insurance, which I find extremely curious,” she said. “This is not a FEMA flood zone. The landlord knew that this area was prone to flooding and decided to cover their own losses, but didn’t do anything to mitigate the risk of harm or death to its tenant, or its tenant’s customers…All the landlord did was put these cheap, useless barriers up, and they didn’t even install them properly.” 

Costello also noted that the DC Office of United Communication, which handles emergency calls, was late to the scene and disorganized in their response: “OUC cancelled some of the dispatches to District Dogs because they assumed that the calls were only for people trapped in cars. Apparently they didn’t acknowledge the calls that came in for people and dogs trapped in the building, or the medical emergency from one of the staff members inside the building. They just closed out the dispatch requests. I don’t feel safe in DC knowing how many times OUC has failed District residents, and not just in this case.” Washingtonian reached out to OUC for comment, and will update the story when they respond. 

The families who lost dogs in the flood are all taking time to grieve in different ways. While only Lobos-Segura has confirmed litigation, Costello has begun to organize other mourning owners to comfort each other, share the memories of their loved ones, and discuss a plan of action moving forward. 

They did just that at a candlelight vigil for the dogs in Eckington last night. 

Malcolm Ferguson
Editorial Fellow