Danielle DiNapoli’s Facebook group, “Justice for Scruffles,” became a haven for grieving owners of pets who died following grooming appointments at PetSmart.
But after a lengthy court battle, DiNapoli took down the page — named after her English bulldog who died following a 2017 visit to the Flemington PetSmart — as of Jan. 20 and issued a public apology to the company.
“I never should have said on television or here on social media that PetSmart killed Scruffles and for that I’m sorry,” DiNapoli said in a final post on the page. “I have since learned that other health factors caused Scruffles’ death and PetSmart did not kill my dear Scruffles.”
The apology was issued months after the case was settled.
On Dec. 29, 2017, DiNapoli, a Lambertville resident, took what she believed was a perfectly healthy 8-year-old bulldog to a grooming appointment at the nearby PetSmart. At some point during the appointment, Scruffles was taken to the Flemington Veterinary Hospital where the beloved pet was pronounced dead. A baffled DiNapoli said at the time that no PetSmart employees explained to her what happened to Scruffles.
And so commenced DiNapoli’s lengthy journey in the New Jersey court system.
DiNapoli sued PetSmart in April 2018 for compensatory and punitive damages for the death of Scruffles. She then launched a highly-publicized negative campaign against PetSmart — which included the Facebook page and a “Dr. Oz” segment.
The “Justice for Scruffles” page had more than 11,000 followers. It became a place where pet groomers feuded about best practices, other victims came forward with their stories of misfortune and reports from media outlets on pet deaths tied to groomings were shared.
Scruffles’ story became the impetus of a special NJ Advance Media investigation that documented 47 cases across 14 states since 2008 in which families claim they took their dog to PetSmart for grooming — everything from a nail clipping to a haircut — only to have it die during or shortly after the visit.
English bulldogs and similar breeds known as brachycephalic dogs, or those with short noses and smushed faces, accounted for 20 of the 47 documented deaths. Those dogs can have trouble breathing, especially in stressful environments or areas that get hot.
The investigation also found that PetSmart was pressuring groomers to meet sales quotas, some former employees said, and many felt either ignored or retaliated against when they spoke up about safety concerns or wrongdoing by colleagues.
PetSmart has denied any wrongdoing in the deaths reviewed by NJ Advance Media. From the start, the company said Scruffles’ death was caused by pre-existing medical conditions, but it did not specify what caused the death. It also filed a counterclaim for defamation against DiNapoli.
In the Facebook post, DiNapoli did not offer an explanation as to how Scruffles died, and she did not return a phone call seeking comment. Her attorney, James Barletti, also did not immediately return a request for comment.
In a statement, PetSmart said, Scruffles’ “death was, in fact, caused by pre-existing health issues, evidenced by a necropsy report that was deliberately withheld by Ms. DiNapoli while she engaged in a concerted, national smear campaign against the company.
“We are glad that the facts came to light and that truth prevailed in this case,” the statement said.
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