KEY POINTS

  • PetSmart employees told reporter AJ Ross that her dog passed out and went limp while having his nails trimmed
  • Surveillance footage of the incident indicated the dog's neck was crushed
  • Two groomers and two managers were charged in the dog's death

A woman from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who claimed her 12-year-old dog was strangled to death at a PetSmart store last year is seeking accountability from the company. Four of its employees have been charged in connection with the dog's death.

AJ Ross said she never expected her toy poodle, Kobe, to die when she left him at the PetSmart in East Liberty on Nov. 17 last year to get his nails trimmed, NJ.com reported. When the CBS sports reporter returned 10 minutes later, however, she was greeted with the dog's lifeless body. 

"I thought it would be a quick in and out," Ross explained. "The last thing on my mind was this would be a death sentence."

According to a criminal complaint filed against the groomers, the store employees told her Kobe passed out and went limp. The dog was rushed to a local animal hospital, where he received CPR, but the veterinarians were unable to resuscitate him.

After attempting to get answers from the employees, Ross was invited back to the store by a PetSmart regional manager on Dec. 1 to view surveillance footage of the moment Kobe died, KDKA reported. 

"They had him tethered to a leash and tethered to the end of the grooming table. So his neck is being hyperextended in different directions," Ross recalled seeing in the video.

"He was hanging. He was hanging for over a minute. He was struggling and being tortured. They didn’t do anything, they just kept cutting his nails," she added.

PetSmart said a necropsy done by the company's own pet hospital found no definitive cause of the death, but a separate medical examiner backed up Ross' claims that Kobe was strangled, according to a report by WCBS-TV

"The hyperextension of the neck as well as the lack of contact between Kobe’s paws and the grooming table, led to Kobe’s airway being crushed which resulted in his death," the complaint said.

The groomers, Elizabeth Doty and Julie Miller, as well as two of the store's managers Heather Rowe and Shapan Stonge, were charged with several offenses on May 5. They face several charges, including aggravated cruelty to animals and neglect of animals.

PetSmart, for its part, told KDKA in a statement, "We are heartbroken and truly sorry for the loss of Kobe. After this terrible accident, we launched an internal investigation and found unintended failure to adhere to our pet safety processes."

The company added it had fired the employees involved in the incident and cooperated with an external investigation.

Ross said PetSmart also agreed to pay for Kobe's cremation and the cost of a new dog, as per NJ.com. She, however, said she was not ready for a replacement yet.

"I don't know if I want them to be the conduit to getting another dog," she said.

Ross said she was now going public to raise awareness on the issue that states like Pennsylvania do not require dog groomers to be certified. 

"There are no specific standards, and anyone can just wake up one day and do a six-hour online course and have your pet’s life in their hands," Ross said. "There should be more accountability and oversight."

dog-5340331_1920 Representation. Photo: Pixabay