Death of Dog at Pittsburgh PetSmart Leads to 4 Employees Charged with Animal Cruelty

The death of a 12-year-old toy poodle, Kobe has resulted in four PetSmart employees charged with animal cruelty. The dog died in the groomers' care.


Image via Getty/Bruce Bennett


A routine nail trimming at a Pennsylvania PetSmart resulted in the death of a 12-year-old toy poodle, Kobe, and charges against two groomers and two store managers.

Kobe’s owner, AJ Ross, had taken her dog to a Pittsburgh location in November 2020. “I thought it would be a quick in and out,” she told NJ Advance Media. “The last thing on my mind was this would be a death sentence.”

Since her pet’s untimely death, Ross filed criminal charges on May 5 against groomers Elizabeth Doty and Julie Miller, and managers Heather Rowe and Shapan Stonge, including aggravated cruelty to animals and neglect of animals.

“After this terrible accident, we launched an internal investigation and found unintended failure to adhere to our pet safety processes,” a statement from PetSmart said. “Additionally, we cooperated with an external investigation, terminated the responsible associates and facilitated an autopsy to help provide answers.” PetSmart also said it’s “heartbroken” and “truly sorry” that Kobe passed away.

Ross had only left Kobe alone for 10 minutes when the incident occurred. When she returned, his body was limp on the grooming table; the employees said he passed out and wasn’t moving during the nail clipping, according to the complaint. She took the dog outside, hoping he’d wake up. When that didn’t work, she took him to a nearby veterinarian, who pronounced him dead.

“They were just standing there looking inept,” Ross said. “I’m walking in, shocked, and they were just standing around. They weren’t doing anything.”

Ross, who’s a reporter for CBS and CBS Sports, knew something wasn’t right. As she tried to find the truth, she eventually got access to surveillance footage from the PetSmart. “The whole narrative of ‘He just collapsed’ didn’t make sense,” Ross said. “He had a very youthful spirit. If he was lethargic at home, that would be very uncharacteristic of him.”

The video showed Kobe strapped into some sort of harness that helped keep him in place as they trimmed his nails. However, he was fighting against the straps, causing him to go into distress, and the groomers still held him down in the harness.

An animal doctor working with Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh shed more light on exactly what happened  to the dog. “Kobe was tethered using two different tethers, causing his neck to be pulled in two opposite directions as well as hyperextension of the neck,” court documents said. “The hyperextension of the neck as well as the lack of contact between Kobe’s paws and the grooming table, led to Kobe’s airway being crushed which resulted in his death.”

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