PetSmart employees charged in toy poodle’s grooming death

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Four PetSmart employees in Pittsburgh are facing animal cruelty charges in the death of a toy poodle named Kobe during a grooming session, court records show.

The employees at PetSmart’s East Liberty location were charged last week in the November death of the 12-year-old toy poodle owned by AJ Ross, a  r and Pittsburgh native who wasn’t allowed to stay with her beloved pooch during the nail-trimming session due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Tuesday.

"I thought, ‘He’s not getting the full works,’" Ross told the newspaper. "Everything will be OK."

But minutes later, while in line at the pet store to buy a treat for Kobe after stopping at a pharmacy next door, Ross heard a manager being paged to the grooming area, where she found her dog named after NBA legend Kobe Bryant lifeless on a table.

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Ross said surveillance footage from inside the store showed employee Elizabeth Doty, 21, and Julie Miller, 32, putting tethers around the dog’s neck, causing the animal to thrash and become suspended above the table at one point.

A criminal complaint states the groomers hyperextended Kobe’s neck and ignored signs of distress as he shook his head, NJ.com reported.

"Doty briefly looks towards Kobe’s heard and then resumes the nail trim," the complaint reads.

Miller continued to hold Kobe above the table as he went limp and Doty then removed the tethers before shaking the dog’s snout and rubbing his body, according to the complaint.

Two managers at the store, Heather Rowe, 27, and Shaphan Stonge, 37, then entered the grooming area and rubbed the dog’s table on the table, the complaint states.

An animal doctor told investigators the two tethers caused Kobe’s neck to be pulled in opposite directions, causing hyperextension and a lack of contact between his paws and the table, causing the dog’s airway to be crushed, according to the complaint.

Rowe and Stonge are facing charges of neglect of animals and a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals. Doty and Miller have been charged with cruelty to animals and neglect of animals, as well as aggravated cruelty to animals, the Tribune-Review reported.

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All four have since been fired, the newspaper reported.

"After this terrible accident, we launched an internal investigation and found unintended failure to adhere to our pet safety processes," PetSmart officials said in a statement. "Additionally, we cooperated with an external investigation, terminated the responsible associates and facilitated an autopsy to help provide answers."

Ross, meanwhile, said she’s speaking out about Kobe’s death in hopes that no one else has to endure the same pain. She told The Post Wednesday that PetSmart offered to help her procure a new dog, but she declined.

"I haven’t taken them up on that offer, if and when I’m at a point to get a new dog," Ross said during a brief interview. "He meant everything to me. I don’t have children, so he was like my child. He was literally like my shadow. Life without him has been weird because he was ever present."

AJ Ross said her poodle, Kobe, was "literally like my shadow."

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