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Dog loses eye during visit to Westminster dog groomer

Dog loses eye during visit to Westminster dog groomer
Posted at 8:08 PM, Aug 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-24 08:34:48-04

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Colorado animal welfare investigators opened an investigation into licensing at a Westminster pet grooming facility after a dog lost an eye during a grooming session.

Jeannine Andasola and Gilbert McKay dote on their 12-year-old Chihuahua mix, Baby.

"She's been our daughter ever since we got her," McKay said with a smile.

In May, McKay dropped off Baby for grooming at Love Grooming, located at 9165 Lowell Blvd. in Westminster. He thought she was in good hands with the owner, Pablo Garcia.

"And then we got a call from Pablo, and he says, 'You need to come over and get your dog to emergency pet hospital immediately,'" McKay said. "Her left eye had popped out of the socket."

Baby's eye was stitched closed and had to be removed weeks later.

"You can even see it in her one eye, how sad and heartbroken she is," Andasola said, crying. "She just looks like, 'Mommy, what happened?'"

According to a Westminster Police Department incident report, while it is not clear exactly how the injury happened, the groomer, Christian Cunningham, told investigators that while he was cutting Baby's nails, he put the dog's head in his armpit.

"In this position if he leans on the dog too much or pulls the dog it could cause strangulation. Christian stated he did not know that this occurred but it was the only thing he could think of that could happen. Christian stated that he felt bad that the dog was injured in his care and volunteered to pay the vet bills," the report states.

The report states that Garcia told the officer that he would "make it right" by paying the vet bills.

"All in total, it was over $4,000," said Andasola.

When the couple approached Garcia with the bills, he told them his insurance would not cover the expense because Cunningham was an independent contractor.

"We had no idea Christian was or wasn't an employee. Pablo had already told us that he was responsible because it happened in his shop. I think he's going back on his word," Andasola said.

McKay said Cunningham and Garcia initially offered to set up a payment plan.

"I said, 'No, that's not acceptable. I have to pay this money, and if you want to make this right, just pay for the vet bills and we're all done,'" McKay said. "Now, they're playing this, 'He's going to do it. No, he's going to do it. No, I'm not going to do it. He's going to do it.' They're not going to pay."

"These people aren't even accountable for what they've done," said McKay. "I mean, why don't they have insurance that would take care of this?"

Contact Denver7 reached out to Love Pet Grooming, Garcia, and Cunningham. After they did not respond to our requests for comment, we visited the shop Wednesday.

Garcia and Cunningham were inside working and declined an on-camera interview.

Cunningham said he tried to work out a payment plan with McKay, but McKay wanted to be paid in full. Meanwhile, Garcia said Cunningham was not an employee and confirmed that Cunningham was not covered by the shop's insurance when the incident happened.

Garcia said he was told by his attorney that McKay and Andasola could take them to small claims court, and if they win, they'll still have to take a payment plan. Garcia said he has since changed his insurance to include people working in the shop.

Colorado does not require insurance for grooming facilities, but the state's licensing rules for groomers are complicated. If a groomer is employed by a licensed facility, they do not have to be licensed. If they are an independent contractor, they need a license.

According to records obtained by Contact Denver7, investigators with the state's Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) Program, which is under the Department of Agriculture, looked into the incident. During that investigation, Garcia told them that Cunningham was an employee. PACFA administrators said Cunningham does not have a license, which would be required if he is not an employee and was performing grooming duties.

In a statement, the PACFA said it has opened an investigation into the license status of Love Pet groomers.

"As a result of the Channel 7 investigation of an incident reported to PACFA by the Westminster Police Department on June 14, 2023, potentially involving the actions of an unlicensed groomer, PACFA has opened an investigation into the license statuses of groomers contracted by Love Pet Grooming. PACFA encourages anyone using pet-related services regulated by PACFA to check our Active Facility List on our webpage at [] to ensure that you are receiving services from a licensed PACFA facility."

If the state finds Love Pet Grooming violated rules, the facility could face civil penalties or disciplinary action against their license. Cunningham could be issued a cease and desist order and could face criminal penalties for operating a pet animal facility without a valid license, according to the PACFA Section Chief Nick Fisher.

Westminster PD said investigators do not believe the dog was intentionally injured. No charges were filed in the case.

McKay and Andasola said nothing will make their dog whole again, but they hope others will learn from their story.

"Every time we look at her, it's a reminder of we took her in there to make her pretty, and she came back disfigured," said McKay.

"And it's a reminder of the trauma she went through," said Andasola. "We'll never take her to a groomer again."

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