‘They are our babies’: Around 75 concerned pet owners contact police after Sarasota groomer’s arrest

‘They are our babies’: Around 75 concerned pet owners contact police after Sarasota groomer’s arrest

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) —Sarasota police arrested 41-year-old Diana Stevens earlier this month on numerous animal abuse and cruelty charges. Two weeks after announcing her arrest, authorities say they have heard from around 75 individuals concerned that their pets may be victims of animal abuse.

“The response was tremendous. There were lots of concerned pet owners. Our pets are like our family, so for pet owners, to be taking their animals to be cared for and groomed, and to find out this could possibly have happened to them, it is shocking, it is scary, it is horrifying,” said Sarasota Police Department’s Public Information Officer Cynthia McLaughlin.

Police said they had obtained video evidence from a 17-day period in August last year showing Stevens mistreating multiple cats and dogs under her care.

“It is unknown how many pets were victims. These cases are difficult, because you have to have evidence, but in this case, it is the video that does solidify many of the claims of animal abuse happening here,” said McLaughlin.

Police will soon be combing through more video evidence obtained from the former Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming location on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. The store has since closed. The latest video is from February and March this year.

David Kelley was a customer of the business for the last year or so. He took two of his cats and two of his dogs to Woof Gang for grooming. He recalls at their last scheduled appointment, one of his Jack Russell Terriers wrapping her paws around his leg. His other terrier left a different appointment with a two-inch cut around her neck. He says at the time, he thought there must have been some sort of accident.

He and his wife have since reported their concerns to Sarasota police.

“Really looking back at it, there is no good explanation for it, it was abuse, it had to be. I think about how Roxie grabbed a hold of me, begging me not to leave her there. All the little red flags I guess maybe we weren’t so little, they were actually pretty big red flags,” said Kelley.

He says he was shocked and disturbed learning of Stevens arrest earlier this month.

“I was awake most of the night that night. Just thinking about how they behaved when I left them there. I have a hard time wrapping my head around anybody treating animals badly,” said Kelley. “They are our babies. We take them to people and we trust them implicitly when we leave them with them all day. It was a misuse of trust. She did not just abuse animals, she abused us, by abusing our animals.”

Stevens’ attorney sent 8 On Your Side a statement Wednesday after reviewing videos of her conduct and reading an assessment from a veterinarian used by the state to assess the videos.

“It is clear that Ms. Stevens’ conduct falls far below the standard for criminal conduct. We look forward to proving her innocence of these charges,” said attorney Mark Zimmerman in a statement.

Sarasota police are asking for the public’s patience as the investigation continues.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to email Detective Sullivan at jessica.sullivan@sarasotaFL.gov or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or sharing it online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com

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