For Nick Pomilio, the time he had withÂ his English bulldog, Capone, came toÂ an abrupt end onÂ February 1, 2017. After what was supposed toÂ be a 15-minute nail trimming appointment, which lasted nearly an hour, the seven-year-old dog was rolled outÂ in a shopping cart byÂ employees because he wasn’t able toÂ walk.
Less thanÂ five minutes intoÂ the drive home, Pomilio discovered that Capone had stopped breathing. By the time he got back toÂ the store, it was too late.
“I’ll never forget that last look he gave me,” Pomilio told the media group. “You don’t take the dog toÂ get its nails clipped and it winds upÂ dead asÂ a doornail.”
Since 2008, the report found that 47 dogs acrossÂ 14 states died afterÂ they were dropped offÂ at local PetSmart locations. The state withÂ the highest reported dog deaths atÂ the retail chain was Pennsylvania. Of the 47 deaths, 32 ofÂ them came afterÂ 2015, when the company was bought outÂ by byÂ private equity firm BC Partners for $8.7 billion.
The investigation revealed that once new management set upÂ shop, things changed, and the pressure toÂ get more dogs inÂ was increased.
“When the new owners bought it, they demanded six toÂ eight dogs inÂ eight hours,” Marti Fernandez, a former salon manager who worked atÂ two New Jersey PetSmart stores, told the publication. “This is inÂ addition toÂ walk-in clients. The phones are ringing offÂ the hook, you’re meeting withÂ pet parents, doing paperworkâŚ. There’s always pressure toÂ do more dogs.
Fernandez ultimately parted ways withÂ the company inÂ 2016 afterÂ growing tired ofÂ the goals demanded ofÂ her. “I can handle pressure; I can’t handle their pressure,” she said.
Fernandez’s sentiments were echoed byÂ former employee Janette Parker, who stressed that PetSmart’s so-called love forÂ pets is a lie. “They say their business is all aboutÂ the love ofÂ pets. Be honest. They work forÂ the love ofÂ money,” she said. After quitting inÂ 2017, Parker opened upÂ her own dog grooming salon.
Other findings noted inÂ the investigation revealed that English Bulldogs and other breeds known asÂ brachycephalic dogs accounted forÂ 20 ofÂ the 47 reported deaths. Dogs identified as “brachycephalic” are those withÂ a short nose and a flat face, such asÂ pugs, chow chows and bullmastiffs. According toÂ website Petcarerx, these pooches tend toÂ have trouble breathing due toÂ their snouts.
The matter ofÂ groomer training was also raised. According toÂ PetSmart, trainees go throughÂ several sessions, which include spending three months bathing 125 dogs toÂ learn basic techniques, and attend a grooming academy forÂ four weeks. Afterward the graduates are sent back toÂ their home stores forÂ additional supervised training that lasts nearly 10 months.
And while the process sounds thorough, it’s not, according toÂ Katelyn Douglas, who worked inÂ a North Carolina store.
“On the first day atÂ academy, there was a dog forÂ me,” Douglas said. “They gave me clippers and shears and kind ofÂ just said, âGo forÂ it.’ I was like, âOh, I’ve never held these before.’âŚ They said, âWell, just don’t hurt the dogs.'”
When she returned toÂ her home store, she encountered the same attitude fromÂ her salon manager, who was supposed toÂ supervise all her grooming sessions. “She wouldn’t even see the dogs I was doing sometimes,” Douglas said. “What if I’m doing something really, really wrong, butÂ no one’s checking?”
The news outlet also found that onÂ various occasions, PetSmart offered payouts that amounted toÂ a couple hundred dollars toÂ owners whose pets died inÂ exchange forÂ owners signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that requires them toÂ delete any negative social media posts regarding the company.
North Carolina resident Michael Batchelor told reporters that PetSmart offered him $140 toÂ cover his vet bills afterÂ his Olde English Bulldogge, Gunner, left a grooming session inÂ January withÂ bloodied eyes due toÂ hemorrhaging. The bills would be covered asÂ long asÂ Batchelor agreed toÂ sign an NDA and delete his a Facebook post he’d made regarding Gunner’s injury.
After PetSmart made it clear they weren’t going toÂ take responsibility forÂ hurting his dog, Batchelor declined their offer. He has sinceÂ launched a Facebook page titled, “Justice forÂ Gunner and Other Fur Babies,” which has a membership ofÂ 12,000 users.
When investigators reached outÂ to Jim Dougherty, the co-founder ofÂ PetSmart, he indicated that he was pleased withÂ how the company was being run sinceÂ the BC Partners takeover, though he was concerned aboutÂ recent news reports onÂ dog deaths.
Without naming PetSmart outright, Dougherty said that reports ofÂ bad grooming experiences were heartbreaking. “It does break my heartâŚ I do think sometimes, unconsciously, profits are put [above] everything else. Not too sure that isn’t the nature ofÂ our way ofÂ life and business. But that doesn’t mean it has toÂ be that way,” he said.
With PetSmart steering clear ofÂ admitting any wrongdoing, it’s presently unclear how many dogs had died afterÂ PetSmart groomings sinceÂ the retailer has refused toÂ the disclose such information. In many cases, it also unclear just how the dogs died asÂ necropsies onÂ animals are often inconclusive, according toÂ the report.
In response toÂ the media group’s investigative report, PetSmart issued a lengthy statement, outlining how they’ve established the “highest safety standards inÂ the industry” and how the report’s claim ofÂ a “systemic problem is false and fabricated.” The statement continues byÂ picking apart assertions made inÂ the report, stressing that many ofÂ the deceased dogs had pre-existing medical conditions.