Since 2008, there have been 47 documented cases of dogs dying during or after a PetSmart grooming appointment in 14 states, according to a disturbing new report published Sept. 20 on NJ.com. The number of deaths is probably even higher, since dog grooming is an unregulated industry.
After the December 2017 death of an English bulldog named Scruffles at the PetSmart in Flemington, NJ, reporters Sophie Nieto-Muñoz and Alex Napoliello began a six-month investigation into the company. They reviewed lawsuits, media reports and veterinary records, and interviewed 100 pet owners as well as PetSmart employees, lawyers, grooming experts and veterinarians.
The interviews with the owners of dogs who died as a result of being groomed at PetSmart are heartbreaking. Among them are Nick Pomilio, who in February 2017 took his English bulldog, Capone, to a store in the Philadelphia area for what should have been a simple nail trim.
The appointment lasted nearly an hour, instead of the usual 15 minutes. Afterward, Capone was unable to walk, so store employees wheeled him in a shopping cart to Pomilio’s car. Capone died on the way home.
“I’ll never forget that last look he gave me,” Pomilio told NJ.com, crying at the memory. “You don’t take the dog to get its nails clipped and it winds up dead as a doornail.”
PetSmart Response to Grooming Deaths
PetSmart refused to answer any questions for the report, but insisted in a response that it has “the highest grooming safety standards in the industry.”
The company refuted the number and cause of the dog deaths. It said it had no records of grooming some of the dogs mentioned in the report, while other dogs may have had underlying health issues that contributed to their deaths. “Any assertion that there is a systemic problem is false and fabricated,” it stated.
So, how many dogs have actually died, according to PetSmart’s official records? Although one of the company’s stated core values is transparency, it will not release the numbers.
Most of the documented deaths – 32 of them – occurred in 2015 or later. It’s probably no coincidence that PetSmart was bought by the private equity firm, BC Partners, in 2015. Since then, according to some longtime employees, there’s been growing pressure to increase the number of dogs groomed each day.
The causes of these deaths are difficult to prove, partly because of nondisclosure agreements signed by PetSmart customers and confidentiality agreements signed by pet owners who reached court settlements with PetSmart. These are some of the potential reasons cited by the NJ.com report:
Nearly half the dogs were English bulldogs and other short-nosed breeds and mixes that can have difficulty breathing in stressful situations and hot environments, such as a dryer.
Trainees with little experience are sometimes put to work due to short staffing.
Groomers, pressured to meet sales quotas, believe there is retaliation for speaking up about safety issues.
In response to media attention to the death of Scruffles, PetSmart announced an action plan for improvement that went into effect in February. The company said an independent task force of grooming industry experts would review its training and safety standards. It would install cameras in grooming salons and and hold open houses, so pet owners could meet groomers and inspect the facilities. The company would offer specialized care for short-nosed breeds.
Despite these promises, one month later, a corgi named Abby died during a grooming appointment at the PetSmart in Toms River, NJ. An employee called Abby’s owner, Chuck Crawford, and coldly told him his beloved dog was dead and where to pick up her body.
Pet owners might want to consider Crawford’s pledge. “I’ll never take my dog to a PetSmart or Petco or any of them ever again,” he told NJ.com in April. “I’ll give them a bath in my garage.”
How to Find a Safe Groomer
You may be surprised that, unlike beauticians and manicurists who work on humans, pet groomers are not required to be certified or licensed (aside from a business license) in any U.S. state. Pet groomers are regulated in Miami and New York City, but there are currently no statewide or federal laws regulating this industry.
Due to this lack of regulation, “there’s a lack of transparency of safety records, enforced standard training and little public accounting when things go wrong,” according to the NJ.com report. “Causes of death can be hard to prove, lawyers are hesitant to take cases and, because pets are considered property, owners can recoup very little money in court. As a result, exactly how many pets die, and why, remains largely unknown.”
To ensure your pet doesn’t become a statistic, the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other animal welfare groups recommend you ask a groomer the following questions before leaving your pet in their care:
Ask if the groomer has completed a training program and belongs to any professional groups, such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America.
Make sure the groomer has several years of experience and can provide references.
Check out the grooming facility to see if it looks and smells clean, is well-lit and the cages are the appropriate size.
Please join more than 76,000 people who have signed this Care2 petition demanding a temporary halt to all PetSmart grooming until the company meets safer pet grooming standards. https://nackpets.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/petition-close-petsmart-grooming-too-many-dogs-are-dying-there/
If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you, too, can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.
Photo credit: KaraSuva