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Denise Swank and Gunnar

Denise Swank and Gunnar preparing for a trip to the beach in September 2017.

A Napa woman whose German Shepherd died while in the care of a Contra Costa dog trainer has been awarded $60,000 by a Napa County court.

Denise Swank said she was devastated after her beloved dog, Gunnar, died in May after she sent him to be trained by Garry Reynolds of NorCal K-9.

According to the Antioch police, officers found inhumane and cruel conditions at the home where Gunnar had likely been held.

Swank then sued the trainer Reynolds for negligence, breach of contract and violation of California health and safety codes.

Gunnar died an “avoidable, painful and excruciating death,” said a lawsuit Swank filed in Napa County.

A Napa County judge seems to have agreed.

On March 15, Superior Court Judge Victoria Wood awarded Swank $60,000 in damages for her loss, which included “emotional distress, pain, suffering and inconvenience.”

“Justice is being served,” said Todd Wenzel, Swank’s attorney.

“I’m grateful” for the decision, said Swank.

Reynolds did not answer Swank’s civil complaint and did not appear in court. Reached by phone last week, Reynolds declined to comment on the judgement, only to say “it will be appealed.”

Last May, Swank paid $6,000 in cash to Reynolds with the promise that he would train Gunnar. But 17 days after Reynolds took Gunnar to his reported training facility, he was dead.

A veterinary pathologist at UC Davis did a necropsy on Gunnar, for which Swank paid $1,800. The pathologist concluded that Gunnar had died of heat stress or hyperthermia.

In June, Antioch animal control officers visited an Antioch address associated with Reynolds where they found seven dogs. One dog was returned to its owner. The other six were taken to a local shelter. But after rehabilitation efforts failed, all had to be euthanized.

On Dec. 12, Reynolds, 37, and another man, Devon Benjamin Ashby, 30, were each charged in Contra Costa County with eight felony counts of cruelty to an animal.

The criminal complaint states that Reynolds and Ashby deprived eight animals, including Gunnar, of proper food, drink or shelter and subjected the animals to needless suffering and cruelty.

Reynolds insisted the dog’s death was not his fault.

“I did nothing wrong,” Reynolds said in a January interview.

“I loved Gunnar,” Reynolds said. “I feel for Gunnar and Gunnar’s family,” he said, but “there was nothing I could have done.”

Wenzel noted even though Swank has been awarded a judgement, enforcing it “is a whole other ball game.”

Reynolds still faces multiple criminal charges, Wenzel noted. “I think he’s in a lot of trouble.”

If Reynolds doesn’t pay, Swank can use the judgement to garnish Reynolds’ wages or place liens on any property he owns.

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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.