Family’s Great Danes die after hiring Topeka pet delivery for move between states

Local News

TOPEKA (KSNT) – A Topeka company is at the center of a controversial story making national headlines after two dogs died during a pet delivery transport.

“It’s like a movie, a really bad movie,” said Bill Ervin, a longtime Michigan man who recently moved to Napa, California with his wife Kristin.

The couple hired VIP Pet Delivery based in Topeka to transport the couple’s two Great Danes, Penny and Cookie, and cat Nellie.

Only the cat Nellie would make it to the new home in California.

Both dogs died during the trip despite being cleared by a vet just a week prior.

Their cause of death remains a mystery, the dogs are now undergoing a necropsy at a California state lab that will hopefully provide the Ervin’s an explanation as to what happened to their beloved dogs.

“We want answers and an apology would be really wonderful, and some accountability,” he said. “That’s what we are looking for and we didn’t want this to become national news or anything else, we just wanted our dogs.”

Rachel Cottrell, the owner of the company which has since disabled their website and removed all social media pages, had assured the Ervin’s that her family would do the transport themselves.

About 10 days prior to the scheduled pick-up date, she sent the couple a text that’s been shared with KSNT that another one of her drivers named Shawn would be taking over after someone in the family was exposed to another person who was positive for Covid-19.

Both Cottrell and Ervin’s shared texts with us confirming this change with the company’s driver, Shawn, taking over. The messages also state that Cottrell would still handle all logistics and payments and any questions or concerns.

“We were going to have another driver named Shawn do the transport but he backed out on us at the last minute,” Cottrell said.

The family was never informed that Shawn was no longer available. Instead of informing them of the change, Cottrell worked with a man named Randy Snyder, the owner of another delivery service ShipPetsOnline to handle the family’s cross-country trip.

Snyder then turned the job over to his driver Jack Nakamoto Jr., but in Facebook messages provided to us from Cottrell, it shows that she instructed Snyder to tell Nakamoto Jr. to say his name was Shawn to avoid any confusion.

“She wanted us to lie about who we were because she wanted Jack to represent her company,” Snyder said. “Not be a different company, that was her words.”

Nakamoto Jr. obliged, lying to the family when he arrived at their home.

Despite initially sharing his location with the Ervin’s on an app so they could track the animals while they traveled across the U.S. to California, Nakamoto Jr. turned off the app once he left the state of Michigan.

He then refused to update the family on the animals along the way leaving the family to contact Cottrell for all updates.

Initially, Cottrell provided the family with updates she received from either Snyder or Nakamoto Jr., sending the family texts saying things like, “In Iowa, stopped for a potty break.”

Nakamoto Jr., who never returned our calls for this story expressed concerns about the dog Cookie’s health. He shared a video with his dad and Snyder, who then passed it on to Cottrell.

KSNT was sent this video, showing one of the Great Danes lying on the grass on her side, while the other is standing inches away.

In the video, Nakamoto Jr. can be heard saying “Dude, she won’t get up, she can’t walk no more.”

During our phone interview with Cottrell, she expressed multiple times that her business was no longer involved with the delivery now that Snyder’s company had taken over.

However, Cottrell continues to maintain contact with the family at this point by asking them over text if it was normal for the dog, Cookie, to behave this way.

The Ervin’s responded that this was normal, and asked if the driver could give Cookie some of her medicine. Cottrell responded she would pass along the message to Nakamoto Jr.

In a text exchange shared with KSNT, it shows Cottrell also informed him she was upset the family didn’t share these issues with the company prior to the transport.

We asked Cottrell why she stayed so involved if she had turned the job over to Snyder’s company, even though she never informed the family it was a different company.

“I don’t know to be honest with you, I guess because I was trying to be helpful and I really f***ed up, I messed up for lack of better words,” she said. “I messed up, I wish I would’ve never hired anyone else but my family to do anything else for me.”

By mid-day on day three of the five-day trip for the pets, Cottrell had stopped communicating with the Ervin’s.

The last they knew was that their animals had taken a bizarre route so far, traveling from Michigan, to Texas, then to Pheonix, Arizona before heading to California.

The family received no response after sending texts asking why the driver was taking this route.

Then just before the animals were expected to be delivered in Napa, Bill Ervin received a call from the driver’s father, Jack Nakamoto Sr., explaining that his son was too upset to call to tell them the dogs had died.

“Just flat out said, I don’t know how to tell you this but your dogs are dead,” Ervin said while describing the unexpected phone call from the delivery driver’s father, “I have video of them being dead and that I cremated them.”

KSNT has since learned the crematorium the dogs were taken to in San Bernadino, California sensed there was something suspicious going on and didn’t cremate the dogs.

Nakamoto Sr. told us he didn’t know what to do, the dogs were decomposing and started to smell, he thought the humane thing to do would be to have them cremated.

Since Nakomoto Jr. denied all of our calls for this story, we asked his father if he had any idea how the dogs died, and he responded, “How do I know?”

The results on the necropsy on the dogs are still pending, as soon as we learn the results we will update this story.

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