Carlos R. Munoz
VENICE – The owner of a dog who suffered a broken jaw during a grooming session in October now wants the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the actions of the Venice dog groomer.
The sheriff’s office said his report on Phyllis Lucca, 70, owner of Happy Puppy Pet Spa, has been forwarded to the state attorney’s office for review, but the groomer has yet to be charged.
Allegations of alleged animal abuse arose on October 26 when a poodle named “Pumpkin” suffered a broken jaw while on a date with Lucca.
The owner of Pumpkin initially refused to press charges.
Additional charges surfaced on November 10 when Lucca’s former colleague Briana Casey posted a video on Facebook showing two dogs allegedly being abused. Lucca is seen in the video hoisting a dog by the neck and shaking it while in the air. The 70-year-old groomer then turns to Casey and uses a curse to describe the dog’s actions.
Later in the video, Lucca also appears to grab the fur on the dog’s head and press the animal against a table while cleaning its ears.
Lucca did not respond to calls for comment from the Herald-Tribune and did not respond to a message left with his lawyer, Jeff Young.
Abuse case reopened
The pumpkin was brought to the Happy Puppy Pet Spa on October 26 for a grooming appointment, but when she returned her owner noticed blood on her paw, redness on her chest, and an uneven muzzle.
The condition of the dog aroused the owner’s suspicion and she asked Lucca what had happened. The owner of the pet salon said nothing had happened, the sheriff’s report says.
But the owner took Pumpkin to a vet within an hour of picking her up, and the poodle was diagnosed with a broken jaw, abdominal bruising, irritation in the left eye, and a small laceration on the outside. from his left ear.
Lucca called to apologize but didn’t admit anything had happened.
The owner of Pumpkin submitted a typed complaint to the sheriff’s office stating that she believed Lucca lied about who treated Pumpkin, but then signed a waiver of prosecution and the case was closed.
The waiver was overturned on November 3 and the case was referred to the state attorney’s office.
In a taped interview with detectives, Lucca said she was the only person to groom Pumpkin and that the dog’s injuries were self-induced. She said she put her fingers on the dog while holding it, but Pumpkin did not cooperate and “tense” during the grooming session.
The 70-year-old, who has been a groomer for decades, said she was not busy or overwhelmed on the day of the incident.
Pumpkin’s vet Dr Gary Berkowitz examined the dog and determined that the pressure the groomer was using to hold the dog by its lower jaw had caused it to snap. Lucca knew the dog had a dental problem that could have compromised the strength of his jaw, according to the sheriff’s report.
Lucca said in her statement to detectives that Pumpkin’s nail was broken during the date, but not while she was restraining the dog.
The sheriff’s report says Lucca was “emotional” and “upset” during the interview, but said the incident was not an “act of cruelty”. She said she received training as a veterinary assistant which enabled her to recognize the signs of distress in dogs, but admittedly failed to recognize the distress in Pumpkin.
The company does not have video surveillance, according to the report.
Casey, the colleague and witness in the case, began to pay attention to Lucca’s treatment of pets after the incident with Pumpkin. She was able to capture video of the two dogs Lucca allegedly abused and posted the evidence on Facebook.
The post sparked instant outrage – over 1,200 shares and 700 comments, and nearly 300,000 views.
The video is part of the official investigation, according to Sarasota County Sheriff’s spokesperson Kaitlyn Perez.
Casey quit her job at the pet salon after posting the video.
“It broke my heart – I cried after taking the video, and I cried even more when I got home,” Casey said in a phone interview with the Herald-Tribune . “My heart goes out to all of these animals – she was ready to do it in front of me.”
Lucca has since denied the allegations in television interviews. She told Fox 4 in Fort Myers that she had looked after the dog for six years and said the dog was passed out. She said the shake was needed to revive him.
But Casey said Lucca’s comments left her feeling uneasy.
“I had trouble eating and I had trouble sleeping,” Casey said. “I cried so much about it – for her to try to lie to say she was trying to revive the dog.
There are better ways groomers can deal with unruly dogs – Casey says she uses song and petting.
“It’s like toddlers where you try to distract them,” Casey said. “Dogs really don’t want their faces touched, that’s right, but reacting like she did was appalling.”