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PetSmart is responding to allegations of animal mistreatment after at least four dogs have died after being dropped off for routine grooming appointments at its locations within the last five months.
Three of the deaths have occurred at stores in New Jersey, most recently on March 29 when an 8-year-old corgi named Abby died after being dropped off for grooming at a PetSmart in Toms River.
The same thing happened to Danielle DiNapoli's English bulldog, Scruffles, during a grooming appointment on Dec. 29 at a PetSmart in Flemington.
DiNapoli warned the groomers not to dry the bulldog because she gets anxious. She received a call less than an hour later that Scruffles had died.
"I just hope she didn't suffer,'' DiNapoli told Kristen Dahlgren on TODAY Tuesday. "But I think she did because for her to die that quickly she must have been so scared."
In a planned lawsuit, the DiNapolis are claiming the company violated policy by using a dryer on the bulldog, a breed known to have breathing problems.
PetSmart said in a statement to TODAY that its associates followed rigorous practices and pointed out that an animal autopsy being withheld by the DiNapolis pending litigation may show pre-existing conditions.
The company also said the recent spate of dog deaths were separate and unrelated, and that it has formed a task force to evaluate procedures.
"We love pets and their well-being while in our care is a responsibility we take very seriously,'' PetSmart said in its statement.
The company maintained that it has the highest grooming safety standards in the industry. Its stylists complete over 800 hours of hands-on instruction and safety certification while working with 200 dogs of different breed and size, and each salon associate must be safety certified annually, according to the company's website.
PetSmart fired one of its groomers at a Houston, Texas, location in February after a video of her roughly handling a Shih Tzu went viral.
Pet owners are pushing for regulations over the training of groomers, who are not required to have a license in any state.
Experts told Dahlgren that any pet owners concerned with their dog's well-being should ask if there is someone with the animal at all times and inquire about the credentials of the groomer.
PetSmart also recommended stopping by at the location with the pet ahead of the grooming appointment to get the animal used to the environment. Owners were also advised to be aware of their pets' health and any special conditions they may have.
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