When Cranston resident Lori Manni DeRobbio’s cairn terrier Lulu returned home from the groomer recently, she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. But the following day, DeRobbio says Lulu was acting strangely. She was skittish and scratching at her back.
Removing the dog’s bandana revealed a patch of raw skin, with blood pooled in several places.
Now, the injuries have DeRobbio and the Artistic Dog and Cat Grooming salon at a standoff, each accusing the other of being responsible for the wound.
DeRobbio says her pet sitter picked up Lulu and fellow terrier Zach, and it wasn’t until later that night that she first saw her dogs. Though she didn’t notice anything right away, when she saw a brown spot the following day, she called the salon. She says she was put on hold for too long before hanging up and visiting the salon in person. It was there that DeRobbio says she removed the bandana and the extent of the dog’s injuries became clear.
DeRobbio is adamant that Artistic, which is located on Park Avenue in Cranston, caused the injuries.
“I can’t even fathom the pain she was in,” she said. “I want to see people stop going there. Don’t put your animal in their hands.”
The owners of Artistic insist that they had nothing to do with the injury. DeRobbio looks at the raw skin and says it looks like a burn, perhaps caused when the dog’s fur was being dried. Artistic owner Chris Noonan says they hand-dry the dogs and do not use any type of curling irons. She believes the scabs are from puncture wounds – bite marks from another dog.
“I know this wasn’t done here. When the dog left, it would have been impossible not to have known,” Noonan said.
The disagreement came to a head in the business’ lobby. DeRobbio demanded to speak with the groomer who worked with Lulu, and then the owner, and says she was treated rudely by the staff there.
Noonan says it was DeRobbio who was acting rudely, adding that when she was put on hold, the receptionist was looking for a receipt to figure out what groomer had worked with Lulu. Moments later, DeRobbio appeared at the front counter.
“She started yelling and screaming in the front of my salon,” she said. “She got so belligerent with my manager.”
Customer Sean Gately said he was in the salon at the time and was likewise surprised at DeRobbio’s behavior, saying she was “screaming” at the staff. He said he has been going to the salon since 2002 and has been satisfied with the service.
“I’ve never had a problem,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Artistic has been accused of mishandling dogs, however. Susan Dwyer brought her shih tzu, Shiloh, to Artistic in January 2012 and Shiloh ultimately had an eye removed due to extensive injuries to it. At the time, Artistic owners agreed to pay for the medical expenses but denied responsibility for the injury, saying that the dog was aggressive and hit his eye while thrashing around.
This is the first time that DeRobbio says she has had a problem with Artistic. She has used the groomer for years, except for several years when she moved to Scituate and used a salon closer to her home.
She maintains that a dog bite would not have happened on her watch.
“My other dog is like her mate; he doesn’t bite anybody,” DeRobbio said. “She’s the alpha; he would never bite her.”
Though 4-year-old Lulu was spayed in the fall, she previously had two litters of puppies with 2-year-old Zach.
The injuries that Lulu sustained required antibiotics and pain medication, adding up to a $188 veterinary bill. Large scabs cover her back, which was shaved down by DeRobbio’s veterinarian. The skin covering the wound is rough and peeling, and looks almost like brown paper. DeRobbio was directed to use a special kind of lotion on the area but says it is difficult to get close to the area without Lulu yelping.
“I can’t watch her in pain, and I don’t want to inflict it,” she said.
Lulu’s veterinarian refrained from comment, and the office manager said that there was not enough information available for the vet to make a public statement on what caused the injury.
Beyond the physical effects, DeRobbio says Lulu’s behavior has changed as well.
“My biggest heartbreak is her personality is totally different. I think the dog has PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” she said, noting that the 12-pound dog is barking more than normal and is significantly less playful.
While Lulu used to spend her days running around with Zach, DeRobbio says she is more apt to sleep during the day and wants to be close to her owner at all times.
“She doesn’t leave my side. She follows me everywhere,” she said.
DeRobbio is also concerned that Lulu will resist grooming in the future.
“I think she’s going to be terrified. I’m going to have to be the one to bathe her,” she said.
Both parties have taken action against one another. After asking DeRobbio to leave the salon, Noonan called the Cranston Police to file a report. While she did not ask for a restraining order, she wanted the incident on record and asked the officer to tell DeRobbio not to return to the facility.
“It concerned me so much that I called police,” Noonan said.
DeRobbio also called the police later that week to try to file a complaint against the groomer. At that time, she was informed of Noonan's call. She says the preemptive action stopped her from returning to Artistic with her veterinary bills, which she believes the business should be responsible for.
Other than that, she reached out to the state veterinarian and the Rhode Island SPCA to file complaints. She discovered, though, that bringing a complaint against a groomer is not that easy. Customers must be able to prove intent to injure, which in this case would be impossible.
“She had to be screaming. If that’s not willful, then I want to hear the definition. I think it’s criminal,” she said.
Rhode Island state veterinarian Dr. Scott Marshall explained that the licensing process for groomers is not the same as it is for vets or other care providers.
“In Rhode Island, they’re not required to be licensed, so basically we have no oversight over them. There is no formal means of lodging complaints,” he said.
The state Department of Environmental Management grants licenses to pet stores, but those licenses are like any other business license. No certification is required for groomers, so intent must be proven in order for the state to launch an investigation in earnest. Marshall admits that the lack of oversight is a frustration for him and for the department.
“Without having that requirement for licensure, there’s really no mechanism for following through on that,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way the cruelty statutes are written, it’s very difficult to prove animal cruelty.”
DeRobbio isn’t ready to accept that. She admits that she may never find resolution with Artistic, but she hopes to change the process in the future. She is looking to introduce a bill that would better regulate pet grooming salons.
“I don’t think there’s any other way. I’ve got to get to the root of the problem,” she said. “I’m looking for someone on Capitol Hill who’s willing to help all of us who could possibly be hurt by a groomer.”