PetSmart, the nation’s leading pet retailer, is countering allegations raised in an investigation that documented 47 deaths in, or shortly after leaving, the store’s grooming salons in the last 10 years.
The investigation, published last Thursday, documented dozens of cases of dogs dying amid or after groomings. The count is based on reports by PetSmart customers in 14 states.
Additionally, the investigation found, the company has offered owners payments, sometimes for as little as few hundred dollars, in exchange for non-disclosure agreements — in other words, paying people to not go public with the deaths of their dogs.
PetSmart is responding to the allegations, and is allowing customers to tour its salons as part of a package of changes it’s making to reassure customers that its dog groomings are safe.
PetSmart — which operates more than 1,600 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico and does millions of groomings a year — fiercely defended its safety record and has not admitted wrongdoing in any of the cases.
“As a company of pet lovers who are dedicated to the health and happiness of all pets, we empathize with these grieving families,” it said in a statement Thursday. “Nevertheless, we are not aware of any evidence suggesting that PetSmart services caused the deaths of these pets.”
“We maintain the highest standards in the industry, but by no means are we perfect,” the company said in its statement. “That’s why we’re always exploring enhancements to those standards.”
During the course of the investigation, the company announced it would improve dog screenings before groomings, install cameras in grooming areas and review its training procedures.
The investigation also detailed allegations of inadequate groomer training and intense pressure to grow profits.
The organization behind the investigation, NJ Advance Media, is a team of award-winning journalists that provides content for NJ.com (The Trenton Times and the Newark Star-Ledger.
The investigation began after the December death of Scruffles, an English bulldog groomed at a PetSmart in Flemington, after which tens of thousands of people took to social media to share stories of injuries or deaths.
The 47 deaths across 14 states since 2008 is not a definitive number. No state currently requires all individual groomers to be licensed, so there’s no enforced standard training and little public accounting when things go wrong.
PetSmart did not address specific cases in its statement, but noted some pets could have unknown medical conditions that put them at risk, or they could die of natural causes, old age or other reasons out of the groomer’s control.
When cases do go to court, the plaintiffs often reach private settlements. The company has offered out-of-court payments to pet owners — especially those who have been outspoken on social media — in return for signing non-disclosure agreements, the investigation found.
According to a copy of a three-page PetSmart non-disclosure agreement obtained by NJ Advance Media, signatories are forbidden from revealing anything about an incident, the payment received or even the existence of the agreement.
(Photos: At top, Danielle DiNapoli, with a depiction of Scruffles, who died shortly after a grooming at a PetSmart in Flemington, N.J.; at bottom Capone, a bulldog who died after getting his nails trimmed at a PetSmart in Philadelphia; by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)