Tooele pet groomer accused of drinking on the job and injuring customer’s dog

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TOOELE (ABC4 News) – A Tooele pet groomer is now facing charges of animal abuse, after a customer accused him of injuring her dog while being intoxicated on the job. Investigators said this may not be an isolated incident.

The incident took place at Doggy Style Pet Grooming two weeks ago when Anne Burt and her husband, Owen Speth dropped off their dog in the morning for a trim and a bath.

What was originally supposed to be a two-hour wait, reportedly turned into five hours, and then seven hours. During that time, she said the business owner, Micah Gardner allegedly kept delaying their pick-up time and returned the wrong dog to them.

Doggy Style Pet Grooming and Supply in Tooele

Burt said they noticed an open bottle of prescription pills and empty beer cans around the shop. They reportedly heard Gardner mumbling profanities from afar before he fell and they found him laying on the floor, allegedly intoxicated.

When Boomer was finally returned to them, she said his condition was concerning.

“He was just fighting to get out of those doors as soon as he saw us. He hadn’t had anything done grooming-wise. He didn’t have his fur washed or his ears cleaned,” said Burt. “He had a massive lump on the top of his muzzle and he had blood on his paw and he also had two bulging, bleeding eyes.”

An officer with the Tooele Police Department was called to Countryside Animal Clinic, where Burt and Speth took Boomer for medical treatment. The officer was then dispatched to the Gardner’s grooming business.

In the police report, the responding officer wrote:

“Another person had gone to the shop to pick up their dog and found Mr. Gardner passed out on the floor. He said he tried to wake Mr. Gardner up, but he was not able to. When I went into the shop, I was able to see Mr. Gardner laying on the floor next to an open bottle of bleach. I saw multiple cans of White Claw laying around. I shook Mr. Gardner and tried to get him to wake up. He would move for a second or two. But then would pass right back out. I was able to tell Mr. Gardner was breathing fine. The general state of the shop was a state of disarray. There were things knocked over and garbage was all over the place.”

Sgt. Jeremy Hansen with Tooele Police Department said Gardner was transported to the hospital because of his condition. Investigators said he’s been linked to an animal cruelty case before in 2017 and it’s possible that this time, he could lose his grooming license.

“People are very protective of their animals so we understand where the alarms are coming from. We feel they have a valid complaint. It’s definitely something we need to look into,” said Sgt. Hansen. “Ultimately, we’ve got several different complaints that state their dogs received injuries while under Gardner’s care.”

Nine days later when investigators contacted Gardner and asked if he remembered what happened with Boomer, documents stated Gardner alleged the dog freaked out when he was trying to trim his nails. The police report stated:

“He (Gardner) said the dog jumped off the table and the leash he keeps on the dogs while working with them, was the only thing keeping the dog from falling to the ground. He said he got the dog unstuck and it ran around his shop crashing into things and breaking shelves. Mr. Gardner said he was very upset about what happened. He started drinking and shut down.  He said when the owners showed up, he was not in a good state and they were not receptive to what he was trying to explain to them.”

The veterinarian’s report stated Boomer’s injuries were consistent with head trauma and they suspected excessive force and restraint of the head.

Boomer photographed two weeks after the incident

Although he’s healing now, Burt said Boomer may suffer from neurological and eyesight problems in the future. He’s currently working on becoming a service dog, but his family said this incident has delayed his training.

“I just feel really, really horrible for this whole situation. I blamed myself a lot because I was the one that made the appointment. This dog never deserved this. He’s the sweetest dog in the world. Poor thing’s afraid of the dark. He’s not going to harm anyone,” said Burt. 

Gardner faces one count of animal cruelty. Sgt. Hansen said they are investigating a second case and have forwarded the charges over to the city attorney.

“I really hope that he doesn’t ever get a business license to work with animals again,” said Burt.

Gardner declined an on-camera interview but spoke to ABC4 News by phone Wednesday morning. He said the allegations brought against him are not true and that he is not an animal abuser. As for the accusations of intoxication, he said, “I don’t drink.”

He later issued this statement:

“Thank you to all the clients and customers who trust me and continue to have faith in me, despite the many untrue things that have been said about me online.

I’ve been at this location since 2013. I have been grooming for more than 20 years. I never abuse, neglect, or mistreat any animals. In this business it is in my best interest to treat all dogs and cats well. If you don’t, it makes grooming a pet much more difficult and can be dangerous to the groomer as well. A happy pet is ideal. 

When I am grooming them, they are much more likely to behave when they’re being groomed and that is what I strive for. Sometimes pets are nervous when they are groomed. My job is to try to make them understand that I am not going to harm them, as a fearful dog is much more likely to behave in a way that makes my job easier on the pet as well as the groomer.

Different breeds can be inherently more difficult to handle for a number of occasions. On rare occasions, dogs are fearful, despite being well-cared for. This can trigger a fear flight, fight, response. This reaction, though very rare, can be very extreme and dangerous to the pet and groomer. I always have and will continue to provide the best service to the pets and their owners that I can.

I love dogs and cats. That is why I chose this profession. I take great pride in my work. I urge anybody who has any concerns to come see for themselves, How pets are treated here as opposed to believing everything they hear. These charges are very unfortunate and I have faith that the court will show, untrue.”

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. Her areas of focus include stories about communities of color, minority issues, and social justice.

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