Since 2015, at least 47 dogs have died during or shortly after grooming at Petco, according to news reports and public records. The deaths represent a tiny fraction of the millions of dogs Petco grooms each year.
But they underscore a persistent problem in the pet industry: Even as more Americans treat their animals as family members, entrusting them with increasing levels of care, the death toll from kennel cough, heat stroke and other hazards has barely budged.
An investigation by The New York Times found that over the last decade, more than 500 dogs have died during visits to Petsmart and Petco stores across the United States.
The Times reviewed government inspection reports, lawsuits and news stories, and interviewed more than three dozen current and former employees. The picture that emerged was of an industry struggling to safeguard millions of pets amid rapid growth and little regulation.
The number of pets groomed each year has soared as Americans have increasingly come to view their animals not just as companions, but as family members worthy of expensive shampoo treatments and designer leashes.
At the same time, the pool of people willing to do this work for minimum wage has shrunk as the economy has improved. That has put pressure on groomers to work faster, sometimes leading to fatal mistakes.
In 2016, a federal class-action lawsuit was filed against Petco alleging that the company had failed to adequately train or supervise its groomers, resulting in injuries to dogs. The suit is still pending.
A Petco spokeswoman said the company had made “significant investments” to improve grooming safety since 2015, including hiring more experienced staff members and increasing training for all employees.
Still, grooming remains one of the most dangerous activities for pets at pet stores. A 2017 report by the United States Department of Agriculture found that there were nearly 8,000 animal injuries from grooming at pet stores from 2013 to 2016. Of those, more than 1,000 were considered serious enough to require treatment by a veterinarian.
The most common causes of death were respiratory problems like pneumonia, which can be caused by bacteria inhaled during grooming; car accidents on the way home; and cardiac events brought on by anxiety or overexertion. Other deaths were caused by heat stroke, choking and puncture wounds sustained during nail trims.