47 dogs died after PetSmart grooming, investigation says

An investigation from NJ.com has found that nearly 50 dogs have died after visiting PetSmart for grooming.

According to a report from Sophie Nieto-Muñoz and Alex Napoliello, families have claimed that their dogs have died during or soon after a grooming at the retail chain. The investigation found 47 documented incidents of pet deaths across 14 states since 2008.

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The NJ.com investigation found that 32 cases happened after the start of 2015, adding that 20 of the 47 documented deaths are English bulldogs and similar breeds with short noses and smushed faces.

In 2017, PetSmart announced new standards at grooming salons, including an express service solely for English bulldogs, French bulldogs, pugs, boxers Boston terriers and animals mixed with those breeds to minimize risk. The company also said cameras would be installed in all grooming salons and emphasized that pet stylists must be trained for a year.

Related: Two dog owners say their pets died at same PetSmart after grooming appointments

“Some former employees allege PetSmart’s groomer training — which the company touts as the industry’s very best — can fall short of what’s advertised,” the investigation said. “They say they have seen unprepared trainees rushed into stores because of short-staffing, putting dogs at greater risk of injury.

“Increasingly, the company is pressuring groomers to meet sales quotas, the employees said, and many felt either ignored or retaliated against when they spoke up about safety concerns or wrongdoing by colleagues.”

The report added that many owners whose pets died were offered out-of-court payments. In accepting the payment, some had to sign nondisclosure agreements. Those agreements, the investigation said, required them to delete negative comments and social media posts.

Related: Dog owners sue PetSmart after dachshund dies

The report said that individual groomers are not required by any state to be certified, meaning training and safety are not standardized. Owners get little money, should they go to court, because pets are considered property, and causes of death are hard to prove.

PetSmart said it has considered reasons that may be out of the groomer’s control -- such as unknown medical conditions, old age or natural causes -- for the deaths of some animals.

Related: Dog dies during grooming at NJ PetSmart; pet's owner wants answers

“As a company of pet lovers who are dedicated to the health and happiness of all pets, we empathize with these grieving families. Nevertheless, we are not aware of any evidence suggesting that PetSmart services caused the deaths of these pets,” the company said in statement issued Thursday in response to the NJ.com report. 

“In the case of this story, there are 14 names provided for which we have no record of a groom or incident occurring. For the remaining incidents, many of the dogs were advanced in age, overweight or are suspected to have suffered from pre-existing medical conditions. Finally, one specific case involves a pet parent who has repeatedly hidden veterinary records and necropsy reports from PetSmart and the public, but we expect the truth will be revealed through the ongoing litigation process.

“PetSmart works every day to be the trusted partner to pet parents. If an accident or policy violation occurs while a pet is in our care, we take immediate action and full responsibility. We maintain the highest standards in the industry, but by no means are we perfect. That’s why we’re always exploring enhancements to those standards. Our stylists complete at least 800 hours of hands-on instruction and safety certification, working with at least 200 dogs of all breeds and size.”

On Sunday, the company hosted an open house event across the country, inviting pet owners to tour salons and meet groomers.

The full investigation can be read at NJ.com Projects & investigations.

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