Julie Miller, 32 and Elizabeth Doty, 21 were assigned to the grooming area of a PetSmart in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood when A.J. Ross, local CBS Sports reporter and Pittsburgh native, came in with her 12-year-old toy poodle Kobe for a nail trim on Nov. 17, as stated in court documents.
Due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, she wasn’t allowed to stay in the grooming area, so Ross went to the Walgreens next door. When she returned to buy a toy and treats for Kobe, she heard an intercom request for a manager to come to the grooming area.
Ross went to the area and found Kode lying lifeless on the grooming table and the groomers told her Kobe collapsed.
She took Kobe to a nearby animal hospital, but veterinarians could not save the dog. Ross requested a necropsy on her beloved toy poodle. She also demanded the surveillance footage from inside the store’s grooming area.
She says the footage shows the groomers placing two tethers around the dog’s neck-- pulling in opposite directions--while the dog struggled to break free. Ross also reports that the video showed the dog suspended above the table by the tethers.
She reported the incident to Humane Society Police who said the video showed “exactly what Ross had described to me,” as stated in court documents.
PetSmart has released a statement on the incident reading in part: “After this terrible accident, we launched an internal investigation and found unintended failure to adhere to our pet safety processes...Additionally, we cooperated with an external investigation, terminated the responsible associates and facilitated an autopsy to help provide answers.”
In statements to the media, Ross referenced a failed 2005 Pennsylvania House bill that attempted to require dog groomers in Pennsylvania to be licensed professionals, the bill failed and has no impact on her case, but recent federal legislation may.
President Trump signed the a bipartisan bill making acts of animal cruelty a federal crime punishable with fines and up to seven years in prison in 2019.
All four employees were charged Friday via court summons. None of them have attorneys listed in the court documents.
Store managers Shaphan Stonge, 37; Heather Rowe, 27 are charged with two counts of neglect of animals and a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Doty and Miller are also facing those charges, in addition to two felony charges of aggravated cruelty to animals for alleged torture and death of an animal.
Their preliminary hearings are scheduled for October.
Ross has not filed charges against PetSmart.
PetSmart has faced claims of pet deaths previously, including another dog grooming related death in Lambertville, N.J. in 2018, according to the company website.
In that case the dog owner said the PetSmart employees brought their dead dog to a vet and left, according to NJ.com. An investigation showed the company was pressuring groomers to meet quotas, but in Jan. 2020 the case was settled with the owner issuing a public apology and issuing a statement that her dog died of conditions and PetSmart was not at fault.
The company has 62 stores in Pennsylvania and 1,650 stores nationwide.
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