AJ Ross just wanted to get her dog’s nails trimmed.
The sports reporter took Kobe, a toy poodle, to a PetSmart in Pittsburgh for a grooming appointment back in November, WTAE reported. But, due to COVID-19 rules, she wasn’t allowed to stay with her dog during the visit.
“I thought, ‘He’s not getting the full works. Everything will be OK,’” Ross told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
She popped into a nearby Walgreens and quickly returned to the pet store. Ross was in line to buy some treats for 12-year-old Kobe when she heard someone call a manager to the grooming area over the intercom, according to the newspaper.
Not long after, a manager escorted Ross back to the salon where she said her toy poodle was laying limp on the table, KDKA reported.
Stunned, she scooped up Kobe and ran out of the store.
“I’m hoping maybe some fresh air will help him. If I just rub him and the fresh air hits him, maybe he’ll wake up,” Ross told KDKA. “I’m saying, ‘Kobe, wake up, wake up,’ and he’s not waking up. And I just collapsed outside the store.”
Ross then rushed the pup to a nearby veterinarian who tried to revive Kobe — but the dog couldn’t be saved, according to WTAE. Ross said her goodbyes to her beloved companion.
She soon asked the PetSmart workers what happened, KDKA reported, and a manager told her Kobe had fainted while getting his nails trimmed.
But it wasn’t adding up, Ross said, and she demanded to review surveillance video from the day Kobe died.
What she saw shocked her.
“They had him tethered to a leash and tethered to the end of the grooming table. So his neck is being hyperextended in different directions,” she told KDKA. “He was hanging. He was hanging for over a minute. He was struggling and being tortured. They didn’t do anything, they just kept cutting his nails.”
Ross called Humane Animal Rescue after seeing the video, WTAE reported. Police said the video showed the dog “hanging by two leashes,” according to the outlet.
A criminal complaint filed by an animal control officer says the video showed one worker holding Kobe “as he struggled against the leashes” while another trimmed his nails, KDKA reported. The dog soon fell limp and a worker called for the manager, the complaint said.
Officials showed the video to a veterinarian who said the tethers likely crushed the dog’s airway and he was flailing against the leash because he couldn’t breathe, the Tribune-Review reported.
Now, four PetSmart workers are facing animal cruelty charges.
Heather Rowe, 27, and Shaphan Stonge, 37, are charged with two counts of animal neglect and a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals, WPXI reported. Elizabeth Doty, 21, and Julie Miller, 32, are charged with two counts of cruelty to animals and animal neglect as well as two felony charges of aggravated cruelty to animals for alleged torture and death of an animal.
PetSmart released a statement to several local news outlets.
“We are heartbroken by and truly sorry for the loss of Kobe,” the statement said. “After this terrible accident, we launched an internal investigation and found unintended failure to adhere to our pet safety processes. Additionally, we cooperated with an external investigation, terminated the responsible associates and facilitated an autopsy to help provide answers.”
Ross said she declined an offer from PetSmart to help her adopt a new dog, according to WPXI.
Ross adopted Kobe in Myrtle Beach during her first job out of college to help her through a tough time, she told the Tribune-Review.
“I was really lonely, and I had this little fur ball to take care of. It was not so unbearable with him there,” she said.
Ross hopes speaking out about her experience will lead to stricter regulations for dog groomers in Pennsylvania, WTAE reported.
“I really thought it would be something innocuous,” she said of the appointment, per the Tribune-Review. “Now I don’t have my dog anymore.”