TAMPA, FL – A Tampa family is anxiously awaiting the results of a necropsy to find out why their Yorkshire terrier suddenly died while being groomed at PetSmart.
Marcos and Michelle Soto dropped off their 6-year-old Yorkie, Fabio, at the PetSmart grooming studio at 1540 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, Monday, April 16, for a routine grooming appointment that was supposed to take about four hours.
But, a little over an hour later, their little dog was inexplicably dead.
Marcos Soto said they were shocked. Fabio was healthy, up to date on his shots and showed no signs of being ill when they dropped him off.
Marcos Soto said they simply received a call from PetSmart telling them that Fabio was unresponsive and that they needed to return immediately.
Michelle Soto arrived first. When Marcos Soto walked in, Fabio was in his wife’s arms.
"She was calling his name but he wasn’t responding," Soto said. "His eyes were closed, his mouth was open and his tongue was hanging out."
Soto said PetSmart rushed Fabio to a nearby veterinarian. At the vet’s office, the Yorkie went into cardiac arrest. The vet gave him CPR but was unable to save him.
Soto said the vet could offer no explanation why a perfectly healthy dog had suddenly died.
"His words were, ‘We don’t know what happened,’" Soto said.
Soto said Fabio was part of their family.
"My kids are still suffering the passing of Fabio," he said.
Soto said he keeps looking behind him, expecting to see the little dog following him around the house as usual.
"He was my boy," Soto said. "He was with me wherever I went. It’s like losing a child."
The dog’s body has been sent to the University of Miami for a necropsy. Soto said he wants to know whether Fabio died of a previously undetected medical condition or if PetSmart did something to cause the dog’s death. It could be three months before the results are in.
This isn’t the first time a dog has died at a PetSmart grooming studio.
On March 25, a Corgi died during a grooming appointment at a PetSmart in Toms River, N.J. This was the third dog to die at a New Jersey PetSmart since late December. The Corgi’s owner is also awaiting the results of a necropsy.
After Patch reported on the Corgi’s death, the online news organization received more than 50 emails from people around the country sharing horror stories about PetSmart grooming experiences.
Among them was Lambertville, New Jersey, resident Danielle DiNapoli. DiNapoli’s bulldog, Scruffles, died at a New Jersey PetSmart during a grooming appointment on Dec. 29.
Now she is organizing a protest at PetSmarts across the country on May 5 to push for the company to close the grooming studios.
"This must be stopped," she wrote on her Facebook page, Justice for Scruffles. "Enough is enough!"
DiNapoli has posted an online petition demanding that PetSmart investigate and release a public report on the grooming deaths. That petition has more than 94,000 signatures.
Another petition is calling for the implementation of "Scruffle’s Law" in New Jersey. The law would classify companion pets as more akin to family members than property, making it easier for pet owners to sue for damages against individuals who cause the injury or death of their pets through negligence, recklessness or animal cruelty. That petition has nearly 60,000 signatures.
Soto said he is planning to join DiNapoli’s protest.
After Fabio’s death, he said the store sent his family flowers and a note of sympathy but no explanation.
The Tampa PetSmart issued the following statement:
"We immediately rushed Fabio to the vet when he exhibited signs of illness, and we are very saddened that he passed away. The loss of a pet is extremely difficult, and we have shared our deep sympathy with the pet parents. We are conducting an internal investigation and hope to receive the results of the necropsy report, which should help us understand the overall circumstances leading to Fabio’s unfortunate passing"
On its website, PetSmart says it screens all animals when they come in for grooming appointments and added that it reserves the right to turn away any pets that are at risk of serious injury.
PetSmart says its groomers undergo a yearlong training process that starts with trainees "learning basic anatomy and bathing at least 125 dogs." The training progresses to 160 hours of classes and in-salon training that teaches them how to use grooming tools and how to groom specific breeds and styles. From there, it’s 16 weeks of supervised on-the-job training "by salon leaders as they work on 200 dogs," the website says. Then they spend six more months learning and being evaluated "until they become certified PetSmart Pet Stylists," the company says.
PetSmart’s website also says it has instituted a host of policies to ensure the well-being of pets. Among them, the store now offers "express service" for breeds such as bulldogs, pugs, boxers and Boston terriers that "are more likely to experience respiratory challenges, particularly in stressful environments."
The website says PetSmart now does an assessment of the pet at grooming check-in for lethargy, excessive panting or drooling, trembling or shaking, or resistance to entering the salon or going to the kennel area. The store reserves the right to refuse service to pets that exhibit those behaviors.
Have you had issues with a groomer at PetSmart? Contact D’Ann Lawrence White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Marcos Soto