Like many loving dog owners, Hannah Hartman of San Francisco spends big bucks to keep her 7-year-old Shih-Tzu, Joey, looking clean and cute.
But what should have been a routine trip to a groomer at a Novato, California, Petco last year, turned tragic when Joey came home unable to walk.
“I asked my Mom to take Joey in to get groomed; normal routine. And when she went to pick him up, just before she left the store, she noticed he was not walking,” Hartman told ABC News’ Cecilia Vega. “And she said this is not the same dog that I dropped off just a few hours ago who was perfectly healthy.”
Doctors told Hartman her dog’s traumatic injury was likely the result of him falling off of the grooming table.
"GMA" Investigates has discovered dozens of cases of alleged pet grooming abuse and neglect throughout the country and across numerous companies.
Pet grooming is an unregulated industry in the United States. Currently, no state requires groomers to be licensed.
Hartman believes her dog’s accident and subsequent pricey surgery could have been avoided if groomers were licensed.
Hartman’s dog required a closed hip reduction surgery and later major hip surgery, once doctors discovered his hip was still out of place. After receiving that surgery, Joey needed physical therapy.
“Joey had to relearn how to walk so he needed to go to physical therapy to train and relearn to put equal weight on all four paws. So part of that was hydro therapy.”
In the end, Hartman’s medical bills totaled nearly $7,000. Petco eventually settled with Hannah, but refused to comment on the case.
One instance of alleged grooming abuse was caught on camera in a March 2015 video taken outside of a Petco in Georgia. In the video, a Petco employee can be seen pulling on a dog’s leg inside a grooming room. Petco later terminated the employee, writing in a statement on their website: “At Petco, the health and safety of pets and people is always our top priority, and we take full responsibility for all animals under our care. There are strict grooming protocols in place to ensure the safety and well-being of pets, and we are very concerned by the conduct of the groomer in this video. As such, after a thorough investigation, this employee is no longer at Petco. We are in contact with both the concerned individual who took the video and the pet parent and can confirm that the dog is home and in good health."
Animal rights organization PETA wants more oversight of pet grooming.
“Dogs being injured at groomer's is a pretty significant problem,” said Lisa Lange, PETA’s senior vice president of communications.
“We unfortunately hear about a lot of incidents,” Lange said. “For example, dogs are being left too long in drying cages and so they get heat stroke or they get burned. Some animals are strangled when they fall off of grooming tables. Some animals have their ears nicked or cut off and some animals are abused by groomers who get violent … And if you have a groomer who doesn't particularly like dogs or gets impatient things can go wrong very quickly. And you're not there to protect your dog.”
Rosemary Marchetto, of Northvale, N.J., says she found this out the hard way.
“I brought my dog in at a healthy, happy 6-year-old pup and I was called within about an hour that he died there,” Marchetto said.
Marchetto’s dog, Bijou, died during a routine grooming at a competing chain.
“I purposely sought out a large chain thinking everybody there was licensed,” Marchetto told ABC News. “To find out that they’re not, this way, was shocking.”
Rosemary sued the groomer and settled out of court.
Today, she’s working with New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, to pass “Bijou’s Bill,” which would require pet groomers in her state to be licensed.
“If you choose to groom a pet in the state of New Jersey, you will be required to go to sort of an accredited dog grooming school,” Marchetto explained. “After 3 years you would apply for a license.”
“There will be some kind of legislation put in place so that there is a system of checks and balances set up,” Marchetto added. “When you go in, you’re getting a licensed professional not somebody who might be doing it just for the summer or to make a paycheck. There’s a big difference.”
Marchetto says if the bill passes in New Jersey, she will embark on a mission to roll the bill out across the country.
“I would like to go to the federal level and make it a federal law for all dog groomers to be licensed,” Marchetto said.
So what can you do if your pet is a victim of grooming abuse or neglect?
“Start by telling the owner of the establishment,” Lange said. “Report it to the police because every state has a cruelty to animals statute … And then, of course you could always file a complaint with the state veterinarian. Basically, tell everyone. Don't let a groomer get away with this.”
PETA also offers some suggestions on how you can possibly avoid any issues altogether at the groomer.
“No law, no person is going to protect your dog like you will. The best thing you can do for your dog is groom him yourself,” Lange said. “If you absolutely must have a groomer groom your dog, find one who will come to your home … We would never leave a toddler at hair salon by themselves, so we should never leave a dog alone with a groomer.”
As for Hannah Hartman, she says she will keep complaining until something changes.
“There needs to be something in place so that there are people who are trained who are taking care of our pets," she said.