Denise Swank and Gunnar

Denise Swank and her dog Gunnar. Gunnar died while in the care of an Antioch dog trainer. 

An animal trainer who was training a Napa dog when the pet died will be tried for felony animal abuse and is now prohibited from training or caring from animals.

In a preliminary hearing on June 19, a Contra Costa County judge ordered that defendants Garry Reynolds and Devon Ashby stand trial for eight felony counts of animal abuse/neglect.

Judge John Allen also ordered defendant Reynolds to not train or take care of animals during this criminal proceeding as a condition of his bail release.

Reynolds is the owner of NorCal K9 dog training company. Ashby was a trainer working for Reynolds and NorCal K9.

Ashby had already been banned from training or caring for animals, said Scott Alonso, spokesman for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.

The charges stem from the 2018 death of a Napa dog, Gunner, who died in the care of Reynolds last year in Antioch.

Gunnar, a German Shepherd, belonged to Denise Swank of Napa.

Swank had paid Reynolds $6,000 in cash to train her beloved dog. After Reynolds picked up Gunnar from Napa in May 2018, Swank never saw her pet again.

Swank said she was “devastated” at the loss.

According to the DA’s office, in addition to Gunnar, seven other dogs under the care of NorCal K9 were also found to be under extreme duress and presenting health problems.

The house used as the training facility in Antioch was kept in disarray and dogs were not able to access clean water or food, a police report stated.

Evidence presented during the preliminary hearing also demonstrated that the dogs under care of NorCal K9 were fed raw and rotting chicken meat, despite being provided regular dog food from the owners as part of their boarding and training agreement with NorCal K9.

“I’m grateful for the judge’s decision,” Swank said on Friday.

After Gunnar died, Swank later sued Reynolds for negligence, breach of contract and violation of California health and safety codes.

In March, a Napa County court awarded Swank $60,000 in damages for her loss, which included “emotional distress, pain, suffering and inconvenience.”

Reynolds could not be reached on Friday for a comment.

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.