Political Animal

Injuries and deaths at pet stores renew call for groomer licensing

Hannah Hartman and her dog Joey, who was severely injured during a routine grooming at Petco.

Marina District resident Hannah Hartman is sitting at Peet’s Coffee on Chestnut Street holding her 7-year-old Shih Tzu, Joey, in her lap. “A woman here at Peet’s suggested we contact you,” Hartman said.

In February, Hartman’s mother took Joey to a Petco in Novato for his regular $50 grooming. “My mom said it was obvious something had happened,” Hartman says. “Joey wasn’t walking and his right leg was just dangling. The assistant manager called the groomer, who said there was a ‘tug’ on Joey’s right rear leg at some point, but that was it.”

X-rays showed that Joey had a dislocated hip. “The surgeon said he was confident there had been a traumatic injury, most likely from falling off the table,” Hartman said. After $7,000 in vet bills, the family reached out to Petco and its insurer, but the company refused to take responsibility until the media got involved (Both ABC News and Good Morning, America covered Hartman’s story).

Eventually the family settled the case, but Joey is still attending physical therapy. “I want to get the word out because I know Joey’s not the only dog this has happened to, and some dogs have died. We need some regulations in place to protect other dogs and dog parents from going through this.”


According to PETA, there are an alarming number of serious injuries and deaths at grooming salons, with a disproportionate amount occurring at Petco and PetSmart. The accounts are horrific:

  • A Lhasa Apso died at a California Petco after being forgotten in a drying cage, which reaches temperatures of 135 degrees.
  • After a woman told an Ohio PetSmart not to dry her Newfoundland (the breed is sensitive to heat), the dog later collapsed; an emergency vet determined the dog’s temperature was over 109 degrees — her organs shut down and she died.
  • In California, an English bulldog was strangled to death after being tied to a grooming table and left unattended by a PetSmart groomer.
  • Another bulldog died from choking on his vomit while having his nails trimmed at an Indiana PetSmart when a groomer wrapped her arm around his neck to restrain him.
  • An 8-year-old pug died at a Pennsylvania PetSmart after being placed in a head restraint.
  • Another pug died after collapsing at a Pennsylvania Petco, where one groomer repeatedly warned the lead was too tight (a veterinarian determined the dog had been asphyxiated).


In 2009, a Palm Desert, Calif. PetSmart groomer cut off five nipples, dislocated a leg, and caused an eye to come out of its socket on David Martin’s Yorkshire terrier mix, Lucy. Local animal advocate Jacqueline Mercier-Berman was so outraged that she began compiling data, where she learned that in California only a business license is required to set up a grooming shop. At big chain pet stores, where most of the 1,500 deaths from grooming incidents occurred, Mercier-Berman noted that workers receive little to no training. Along with her attorney husband, she drafted legislation that would make California the first state to require vocational licenses for pet groomers. United States Representative Juan Vargas (D-CA) championed Senate Bill 969, also called Lucy’s Law, but with vociferous lobbying against it from the grooming industry, lawmakers voted Lucy’s Law down in August 2012.

In August 2015, two former employees of a Virginia Petco were charged with animal neglect after Colby, a 2-year-old golden retriever was found dead in a drying cage at the store in May, renewing calls to pass an amended version of Lucy’s Law that would exempt groomers with at least five years’ experience. “Anybody can become a dog groomer, anybody can buy a clipper and a shear and put up a shingle and murder a dog,” Mercier-Berman told ABC News Palm Springs affiliate Channel 3.

Lucy passed away in 2014, but her owner is still determined to see the bill she inspired become law. “If [the store is] short on groomers they will call a cashier off the register who has never done it before, so there is a lot of room for error,” Martin told Channel 3 reporter Megan Terlecky.

Hartman also wants to see Lucy’s Law passed. In July, she reached out to California State Senator Mark Leno (D-District 11) and has a meeting scheduled with Leno’s staff for September 16.

“A Spanish animal TV channel contacted me … so at least it’s now gaining worldwide attention. Sometimes I lose my steam after I try and try and then it seems God and the universe open the door.”

Let Senator Mark Leno know that you support Lucy’s Law by contacting his office by phone at 415-557-1300 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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