39-year-old Juan Zarate was found not-guilty on one count of felony animal abuse Friday in the case of Henry, a one-year-old long haired Dachshund who died last year after going to a San Mateo, CA PetSmart for a simple nail trim. Henry was taken to a back room by Zarate who rushed back out minutes later carrying the unresponsive dog. Blood was foaming from his mouth. An on-site veterinarian pronounced Henry dead after attempts to revive him failed.
A necropsy revealed that he died of “thoracic compression leading to asphyxia” or strangulation, and a post-mortem X-ray showed that Henry also suffered two broken ribs and a punctured lung. Zarate was arrested the same day on suspicion of animal cruelty.
Zarate pleaded not guilty to the charges and opted not to testify on his own behalf. The burden of proving that Henry’s death was intentional fell on the shoulders of Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County’s District Attorney.
“We presented the evidence of an expert veterinarian who testified that this was not an accident,” Wagstaffe told The Mercury News, “but obviously, the jury did not find her persuasive. I accept that.”
Zarate’s court-appointed attorney was not available to comment on the outcome of the case.
Henry’s owners filed the lawsuit in an effort to protect other innocent animals from suffering the same brutal fate as their beloved dog and to hold PetSmart accountable for turning a blind eye to the problems within their grooming department.
“The goal is to change the systems, either internally or to have some sort of larger oversight and regulation of the industry. It really isn’t about the money,” their lawyer said.
The couple spoke out soon after Henry’s death last May, but have since declined to comment on the advice of their attorney. They have two other dachshunds who also went to PetSmart for nailtrims that day.
Henry’s owners filed the lawsuit last November, alleging that PetSmart had received several complaints of serious injuries and pet deaths during nationwide grooming appointments dating as far back as 2010 – some at the very same store. The injuries range from severe cuts, to overheating, strangulation and blunt force trauma.
“The volume of reports of dogs and cats sustaining serious, and sometimes lethal injuries while being groomed at PetSmart undermines the claim that PetSmart is ‘where pets are family,'” the couple’s lawyer said in a statement last year. “PetSmart claims that it trains its groomers and annually certifies its groomers in safety. If that is the case, then it seems the system is broken.”
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