Having your dog groomed isn’t supposed to be a health risk. On the contrary, good grooming is usually one of the things that keeps your dog healthy and happy. But right now, Cindi Tousel is devastated with grief because her 6-year-old Newfoundland, Gracie, died shortly after she was groomed at a PetSmart in Mentor, Ohio.
Tousel had taken Gracie to the PetSmart for grooming before, but the regular groomer was gone. After interviewing one of the groomers on duty, she left, feeling sure that her beloved dog was in good hands. She left one special instruction: Do not dry Gracie. Newfoundlands are very sensitive to heat.
But when Tousel came back to PetSmart four and a half hours later, the staff told her that Gracie was taken to the emergency vet.
“She was extremely sick,” Tousel told CBS. “Her gait was off. Hard to put one foot in front of the other. She took 15 steps and collapsed on the floor.”
When she got Gracie to the emergency clinic, the vet told her that Gracie’s body temperature was 109 degrees and her internal organs were shutting down. Her brain was swelling and she was bleeding internally. The next day, Gracie was dead.
Only a month before, Gracie had been checked out by her regular vet, who gave her a clean bill of health. The vet at the emergency clinic called Gracie’s death “heat-related.”
“I don’t understand,” Tousel said to TV station WOIO. “I don’t know what goes on back there. I assumed because the store where you shop is comfortable, that in the back where the animals are it’s the same way.”
What does one say to this? How could anyone understand, or ask a pet owner to do so? PetSmart is a national chain, trusted by thousands. It seems reasonable to expect that such a thing wouldn’t happen. But how do you respond when it does?
The death of her dog cost Tousel more than $2,200 in vet bills. To its credit, PetSmart has said it will pay the bills. But frankly, that seems like such a small thing, compared with the grief that comes out so clearly in Tousel’s words. Tousel is an unabashed dog lover. She’s described her family as containing more four-legged than two-legged members, but Gracie had a special place in her heart.
“Everybody loved Gracie,” Tousel said. “She ran this backyard. Played with the deer, the bunnies, the squirrels. This was her life.”
The statement released by PetSmart’s corporate headquarters somehow seems proper, but also woefully inadequate.
“The safety and well-being of the pets in our care is our top priority,” it says. “We are conducting a full investigation into this incident and will take appropriate action based on our findings.”
The corporate headquarters also sent flowers to the Tousel household in condolence.
There definitely needs to be an investigation into the death of Gracie. By her own account, Tousel told the groomer that Gracie shouldn’t be dried with heat, but the dog was completely dry when she came back from the grooming. With or without instructions, we would hope that a chain as big as PetSmart already had some protocols in place for how to deal with certain breeds. As of now, we don’t know what the grooming space is like, and whether PetSmart keeps proper measures in place, or whether this is something that could happen more frequently.
The flowers, the investigation, and the statement are fitting responses, but only that. It’s a very formal and by-the-numbers approach. It doesn’t match the grief of a dog owner who lost a dog in such a senseless way. But then, nothing really does. It’s hard to say what PetSmart should do, because grief goes so deep and overflows all boundaries.
Tousel says it best: “Only thing that’s going to help is if it doesn’t happen to anyone else who loves their dog the way we loved our Gracie. Because this was a senseless tragedy that didn’t need to happen.”
What do you think is the best way for a chain like PetSmart to address this kind of loss in order to maintain the trust of its customers? Have you ever come across problems in the way its stores handle your pet?
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