GRRR: Jury Finds PetSmart Groomer Not Guilty in 2016 Death of Dachshund

PetSmart groomer found not guilty of animal cruelty

Henry was only supposed to get his nails trimmed in May 2016 at a PetSmart store in San Mateo, Calif. But after spending just three minutes alone with groomer Juan Zarate in a back room, the Dachshund ended up with a punctured lung and two broken ribs. As little Henry bled from his mouth and struggled to breathe, an on-site veterinarian tried to save his life — to no avail.

“We know that the dog was brought there with no injuries or no known illnesses of any kind and we do believe that actions taken by the groomer, during the grooming session, is what caused the dog to die,” San Mateo Police Department Sgt. Rick Decker told ABC7 News at the time.

Zarate was arrested at the store and charged with one count of felony animal cruelty, which has a maximum penalty of three years in prison. He was placed on suspension by PetSmart, which issued a statement saying, “Any incident of animal cruelty goes against everything we believe as a company and as individual pet parents.”

A necropsy performed on Henry showed he had died due to strangulation — “thoracic compression leading to asphyxia.”

Thirteen months later, after a four-day trial, a jury has shockingly found Zarate not guilty of the animal cruelty charge.

That’s right, the jury somehow could not be convinced, despite expert testimony, that Henry’s death was intentional.

“We presented the evidence of an expert veterinarian who testified that this was not an accident,” San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the Mercury News, “but obviously, the jury did not find her persuasive. I accept that.”

No further information is currently available about the trial, but unlike Wagstaffe, I’m having extreme difficulty accepting the jury’s decision. My heart goes out to Henry’s owners, Terrie Peacock and Stefan Zier.

Groomers Not Required to Be Licensed

Henry is not the only dog that has been killed or injured by a groomer at PetSmart (or Petco, or other pet stores). After Henry’s death, his owners filed a lawsuit alleging that although several customers had complained about pet injuries during PetSmart grooming sessions, the company had taken no action to resolve these issues.

You may be surprised to know that pet groomers are not required to be licensed or certified in any U.S. state. They are regulated in New York City and Miami-Dade County, Fla., but not statewide.

New Jersey could become the first state to require licenses for groomers. The proposed Pet Grooming Licensed Act NJ was originally named “Bijou’s Bill” in memory of a 6-year-old Shih Tzu who died during a routine grooming session — at, yes, a PetSmart store.

Until statewide laws are passed, to prevent a tragedy from happening to your own dog, it could be a life-or-death matter to ask the groomer some important questions, especially at PetSmart and Petco stores, where many of the incidents have occurred.

“It would behoove you to find out who your groomer is, how long they’ve been grooming, what kind of track record they have — you need to do this kind of work,” Bijou’s dog mom, Rosemary Marchetto, told CBS New York.

Photo via Twitter

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!