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A puppy died at a Mission training school. It’s not the first time it’s happened

Olive, a nine-week-old puppy
Olive, a nine-week-old Dachshund that died in the care of the Prime Paw dog training school. | Source: Courtesy Chloé Skelly

After a nine-week-old dachshund puppy died last week at a dog training school in the Mission, former employees have raised the alarm about toxic employment practices and alleged poor safety measures that led to one previous death at the school in 2022. 

The puppy’s owner contends her pup died after a larger dog knocked into it, collapsing its lung. Veterinary records say the puppy’s cause of death was a collapsed lung but do not elaborate further on the cause. Prime Paw, the dog school, maintains it does not know what happened and that it follows all best safety practices.

Courses at Prime Paw can cost upward of $3,000, according to the school’s website, which bills itself as a “bustling dog training center” that employs “science” in its methods.

The school maintains that its employees are all properly trained and it abides by all industry standards. Multiple online articles recommend the dog school, and prior to the accident last week, it boasted strong Yelp reviews.

But behind a manicured online presence, six former employees say that James Baybayan, the owner of Prime Paw, fostered a toxic and hostile workplace in which employees were overworked and undertrained.

Former staffers’ allegations against Baybayan include:

  • A dog jumped out the window of a moving car and died in August 2022. Prior to the incident, they said they repeatedly asked Baybayan to install bars and screens in the windows of the school’s vehicles to prevent such an incident.
  • They allege Baybayan allowed dogs with a history of violently attacking other dogs to continue attending the school. 
  • They claim Baybayan frequently berated them in front of colleagues and clients.
  • Staffers claim they were forced to handle around 15 dogs at a time in some cases.

Baybayan acknowledged the August 2022 accident but denied all other claims. He characterized the former staffers as disgruntled ex-employees who were insubordinate during their tenure at Prime Paw.

‘Pale gums, no heartbeat’

Chloé Skelly thought she did everything right. Just weeks ago, she picked up her new dachshund, Olive, and was quickly enamored. 

“Me, obsessed? Never,” she wrote in an Instagram story alongside 15 photos of Olive.

She read reviews, checked with her vet and asked a friend who sent her own puppy to Prime Paw. The consensus: It was safe to send Olive to the school.

A small, light-colored puppy is nestled between two patterned pillows, one green and one with black triangles on beige. The background features white wooden paneling.
Olive's owner said she was told her pup would hang out with dogs of a similar size. | Source: Courtesy Chloé Skelly

Skelly said a staffer told her in a consultation that Olive would only interact with puppies of the same size and that she would be constantly monitored. Skelly said those measures helped alleviate any concerns she felt about leaving her pet with strangers.

Soon after she dropped Olive off on May 30, Skelly saw a video on Prime Paw’s Instagram story that showed Olive with a large scratch on her back. She didn’t think much of it, but saved it just in case.

Just a few hours later, she got a call from a Prime Paw staffer, telling her to hurry down to the vet as there had been an accident with another puppy.

Olive died before she reached the vet. 

“Pale gums, no heartbeat, no pulses, and eyes dilated,” the official report from the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reads. The cause of death: pneumothorax. In layman’s terms, a collapsed lung.

Prime Paw and Baybayan said the facility doesn’t have cameras in that area, and the staffer on the job didn’t witness the incident: She only heard Olive yelp.

But Skelly said when she arrived at the vet, the staffer told her Olive had been playing with a larger bernedoodle, a cross between a Bernese and a poodle. A video on Prime Paw’s Instagram story earlier in the day shows a bernedoodle puppy that appears larger than Olive.

Prime Paw's Instagram story earlier in the day showed a larger bernedoodle in the facility with Olive. | Source: Screen recording of @primepaw

In an interview, Baybayan acknowledged that the bernedoodle weighed around 12 pounds to Olive’s four, but contended that the bernedoodle’s breed, play style and past behavior indicated it was safe to play with Olive.

He said Prime Paw is reviewing the way it matches its play partners.

“Based on the determination by the veterinarians who received Olive, there is no identifiable reason for her death,” Baybayan wrote in a statement to The Standard. “We pride ourselves on providing a safe, welcoming and secure environment for the dogs under our care, and Olive was given that as well.”

Prime Paw reimbursed Skelly around $7,500 for the cost of her puppy and covered the vet’s bill. Baybayan also offered free classes for her future dogs, Skelly said, a suggestion she described as insulting. 

“You never expect to see a 9-week-old puppy that you just dropped off dead on a table,” Skelly said. “It’s just truly awful.”

She added that the incident was “straight negligence” on the part of Prime Paw.

Alleged negligence

Three former employees confirmed the 2022 incident in which a dog jumped out of a moving car to its death. The Standard verified their employment through pay stubs. 

“I looked in my blind spot just in time to see him dangle, yelp and detach from the window,” said Mads, the former employee who was driving the vehicle at the time. Mads did not want their last name published for privacy reasons.

Mads performed CPR while another employee drove them to the vet, where the dog died.

A text exchange between Mads and a colleague shows the two staffers discussing their reactions after a dog died in the care of Prime Paw in August 2022. | Source: Courtesy Mads

The three ex-staffers said that prior to the accident, they repeatedly asked Baybayan to install window bars, crates, screens, tethers, or seat belts in the school’s cars. Mads said they had to open the windows in the car because it was hot and the vehicle did not have air conditioning.

Baybayan acknowledged the dog’s death, but said that employees asked him to install bars in the windows only after the August, 2022 accident, and that prior to that, all the vehicles followed best safety practices.

Tyler West, one of the three former employees, said the school frequently transported dogs in the bed of a pickup truck without crates. He added that the window on one of the camper shells was broken and wouldn’t shut, which allowed one dog to jump out of the bed on multiple occasions although it did not get injured.

He said he pleaded with Baybayan to purchase more crates to transport the dogs in and at one point, even submitted an online order for the crates. Baybayan canceled it, he said.

“It was 100% preventable and they played it off as a freak accident,” West said.

Dog sticking its head out of a window
Mads says the pictured window was broken and wouldn't close, though West said he was referring to a different window. | Source: Courtesy Mads

Baybayan denied that a dog ever jumped out of a truck bed and that West ordered the crates, again noting that Prime Paw followed all best safety practices.

“Tyler (West) was let go for insubordination,” Baybayan said.

Baybayan said that after the August, 2022 incident, Prime Paw enforced child locks on car doors, put bars in the windows, reviewed the tethers that pinned down its crates and double checked its camper shells.

West disputed that he was fired for insubordination, saying that Baybayan instead told him his department was overstaffed.

‘Some of us had no idea’

The third employee who spoke out, Reya Soto, said she wasn’t surprised to hear that another dog died at Prime Paw.

Just three months into her job, Soto was put in charge of a $3,200 course for adolescent dogs. But she said she only received one week of training, which consisted of shadowing an outgoing employee.

“She wanted that job position,” Baybayan said, adding that Soto shadowed the outgoing employee for longer than a week and that he offered her one-on-one instruction. 

Soto acknowledged that, at the time, she didn’t realize how undertrained she was.

“We were being promoted as well-trained—which some of us were—but some of us had no idea what they were doing,” said Alexandria Jeremi, another former employee.

Jeremi added that Baybayan had a stated limit of six puppies per employee, but staffers were frequently forced to handle around 15 puppies at a time.

Baybayan denied Jeremi’s claim and said Prime Paw employees only ever handle five puppies at a time per staffer.

“It’s funny that she would even say that,” Baybayan said.

A former employee who did not want to be named because she feared Baybayan might retaliate against her, said Prime Paw allowed dogs with a history of violence to stay in the program, endangering staff and other dogs.

In one instance, she said a dog bit a staffer, drawing blood. She said Baybayan chastised her for not properly handling the dog. 

Baybayan denied that the dog bit a staffer and said he would never chastise an employee for such an incident.

“I don’t have that in me,” he said.

The former staffer said the dog had a history of attacking other dogs. She said multiple staff members had told Baybayan that they didn’t feel comfortable with the dog in the facility prior to the incident. But Baybayan shrugged off their concerns and allowed the dog to return to the school after biting the staffer, she said.

Baybayan acknowledged that staffers had brought concerns about aggressive dogs to him, but contended that all truly aggressive dogs were confined to one-on-one training with properly trained employees.

In another instance, Soto said that one dog attacked another and left it “torn around the neck, blood exposed, tendons and stuff.” The two dogs belonged to the same owner, Soto said.

West said that prior to the attack, he had raised concerns about the dog with Baybayan. Baybayan said he’d “handle it,” West said, but never did. 

Soto and Jeremi said that after the incident, the dog was allowed to continue training at Prime Paw. Soto said she had to plead with Baybayan to muzzle the dog. 

Baybayan said that such an attack never happened.

‘It was chaos’

Six former employees told The Standard that Baybayan fostered a hostile work environment in which he frequently berated them publicly.

“He would get really in people’s faces,” Tyler West said. “He’s done that to me a couple times.”

Baybayan denied West’s claim, and in part blamed employee discontent on an outside consulting firm he brought in to improve Prime Paw’s efficiency. He said the firm implemented a slew of changes that stoked discontent among the staff. 

Other staffers described Baybayan as short-fused and prone to outbursts. West alleged that in one incident, Baybayan brought a client to tears after berating her for failing to complete an at-home training assignment with her dog.

Baybayan denied that such an incident happened.

“I would not in my lifetime berate another client,” he said. “It’s one of our core values: customer satisfaction.”

In another instance, Soto said that Baybayan gathered colleagues to chastise her for allegedly attempting to stoke discontent among the staff. 

Baybayan said he addressed the issue with Soto one-on-one and acknowledged that he called a team meeting, but denied that he called her out by name in the group setting.

“Reya (Soto) and Tyler (West) were in a boat where they kind of knew everything and wanted to do things their own way,” Baybayan said.

“When he wasn’t working in the facility, it was great—everything ran smoothly,” Jeremi said. “But when he was there, it was just like a mess. It was chaos.”

Skelly said she still feels guilty for sending Olive to Prime Paw. But as time has gone on, she’s gotten more angry.

A small beige puppy rests comfortably against a person wearing a dark "Extra Mural" sweatshirt, with the puppy's big eyes and floppy ears prominently visible.
Skelly still feels guilty for sending Olive to Prime Paw. | Source: Courtesy Chloé Skelly

In interviews with The Standard, the former employees said not everything at Prime Paw was bad. Soto noted she sent her own dog to the school and had no problems. Jeremi said she believes Baybayan “has a good heart.”

They all said they wanted to speak out because they believed clients should know about it.

Baybayan noted that a viral Reddit thread that Skelly posted about the incident has led many on the internet to leave one-star reviews on Prime Paw’s Google and Yelp pages.

The Google page was Prime Paw’s “lifeline,” he said, adding that Skelly’s anger is “very, very valid” but that he denies her characterization of him as “incompetent.”

“I truly hate the idea of somebody losing their business because of this,” Skelly said. “But your basic service is making sure a dog does not die. And my dog, nine weeks old, didn’t make it past the first half day.”

Tomoki Chien can be reached at