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September 20, 2018

Nearly 50 dogs have died after being groomed at PetSmart stores across the country – report

Seventeen of the cases occurred in New Jersey or Pennsylvania

Investigations PetSmart
justice for scruffles petsmart Justice for Scruffles/Facebook

Danielle DiNapoli's dog Scruffles, who died shortly after being dropped off at a New Jersey PetSmart for grooming.

A new investigation details almost 50 cases, including many in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, from pet owners claiming their dogs died after being groomed at nationwide retailer PetSmart.

A NJ Advance Media investigative report on Thursday found a documented 47 cases against PetSmart across 14 states in the last 10 years. The cases each claim that the dogs have died either during or shortly after being groomed by the pet retailer. The grooming sessions were for procedures as simple as a 15-minute nail trimming.

RELATED: Pet owners report deaths of animals, injuries after visit to N.J. PetSmart

With nine reported cases, New Jersey has more than any other state. Pennsylvania is second, with eight cases. Other states with cases, according to the report, include Texas, California, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oregon. 

According to the report, PetSmart offered hush money to pet owners whose pets were injured or died in their care. Though the report goes over records dating back to 2008, the vast majority of the cases – 32 – occurred after 2015, when PetSmart was purchased by equity firm BC Partners.

A high number of the dogs who died are also categorized as brachycephalic breeds, a classification that can be applied to English bulldogs or other breeds with short noses that, in the wrong circumstances, could make it difficult or impossible for them to breathe. The report speculates that the new BC Partners ownership put pressure on PetSmart to fill customer quotas, which could lead to inexperienced groomers caring for animals with distinct needs.

Marti Fernandez, who worked as a PetSmart salon manager in New Jersey from 2006 to 2016, told NJ Media Advance that there was "always pressure to do more dogs," and that the new owners "demanded six to eight dogs in eight hours" in addition to walk-in clients and other administrative duties. Fernandez said the pressure caused her to quit.

This isn't the first time that allegations of mistreatment done to animals at PetSmart have gone public. Earlier this year a Colorado man's Facebook page, "Justice for Gunner and other fur babies," went viral. The man, Michael Batchelor, shared the story of his dog leaving PetSmart with bloody eyes from hemorrhaging. When the story gained traction, the company offered to cover his vet bill if he deleted the social media posts, which he didn't.

Shortly after Batchelor's incident with PetSmart, two other reports came out regarding the PetSmart in Flemington, New Jersey, including a dog who died just over an hour after being dropped at the store for grooming.

The retailer did not admit to any wrongdoing in any of the 47 cases in the report, which found that PetSmart, on multiple occasions, has offered out-of-court payments in exchange for pet owners to sign non-disclosure agreements. The payments were as little as a few hundred dollars, the report said.

“Any assertion that there is a systemic problem is false and fabricated,” PetSmart said in a statement. “We extensively investigate any and every incident, no matter how minor. Our independent team of investigators, many of whom have law enforcement backgrounds, is committed to conducting these comprehensive investigations."

Read the full NJ Advance Media investigation, including detailed accounts of pet owner's stories against PetSmart, here.

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