PetSmart groomer arrested for animal cruelty

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A pet groomer employed by PetSmart in San Mateo has been arrested and charged with animal cruelty after a dog died in his care, authorities said Monday.

Juan Zarate, 38, of San Francisco is facing charges in connection with the incident reported Sunday at the pet store, which is located on S. El Camino Real and West Hillsdale Blvd. Company officials said he has been suspended, pending the outcome of an internal investigation it has launched into the incident.

San Mateo police were called to the pet supply store shortly after 5 p.m. to investigate a report of a dog that had died on the premises. 

Police said they spoke to a San Mateo resident, who told police he brought his 1-year old male Dachshund to the store to be groomed. 

"About three minutes after the groomer took the dog into the back to be groomed, the groomer came out and was saying the dog was having a medical emergency. The owner said that he could see the dog was foaming at the mouth and had some blood in his mouth," said police spokesman Sgt. Rick Decker. "We're certain it was not an accident."

Decker said the store's veterinarian did a post-mortem X-ray on the dog and discovered he had two broken ribs and a punctured lung.

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The dog died just a few minutes after he was rushed to the on-site vet. Investigators have concluded that Zarate's actions likely contributed to the animal’s death. He was arrested at the scene and booked for Felony Animal Cruelty. 

The Peninsula Humane Society – SPCA took custody of the deceased animal and will conduct a necropsy in the coming days to ascertain the nature of the injuries and specific cause of death.

Marisa Mendoza, a family spokesperson, said Zarate called her and she went directly to the store to see him.

"He's kind. He loves animals. The animals love him," Mendoza said. "He was crying a lot. He said that police said he killed the dog. He said that he didn't kill the dog."

Mendoza says Zarate had worked at the PetSmart for two months and was previously employed by the Wag Hotel, a pet boarding facility, in San Francisco.

She says they have a Pitbull-Boxer mix and a Chihuahua at home. 

"A small dog he's used to handling them," Mendoza said, "He's the sweetest person you'll ever meet. He's caring and . . . that's not his character. He would never do that. He would never hurt an animal."

Some PetSmart customers said they were surprised by the allegations.

"The staff is great, very helpful," said Dan Glomstad of San Mateo.

"My past experience has been really well....They do a really good job I think," said Chris Ocampo of San Mateo.

Michelle Friedman, a spokeswoman for PetSmart, said in a written statement: "We are heartbroken by the loss. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of pets, and we take full responsibility for the pets in our care."

She said the firm is conducting an internal investigation and will take immediate action based on the findings. 

Police said Zarate is cooperating with investigators.

The dog's remains have been given to the Peninsula Humane Society for a necropsy, which was conducted Monday morning. A spokesman for the Peninsula Humane Society says it could take at least a week before the findings are known.

KTVU reporter Jana Katsuyama contributed to this report.