Family defends San Mateo PetSmart groomer accused in dog's death

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Family defends San Mateo groomer accused in dog's death
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Relatives of a PetSmart groomer who's accused of killing a young dog during a session at a store in San Mateo say they can't imagine him ever harming a dog.

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- Relatives of a PetSmart groomer who's accused of killing a dog during a session at a San Mateo store are defending him. They say Juan Zarate would never harm anything.

The family doesn't get it and the district attorney for this county says it doesn't make sense for someone with experience to do this. The DA now has to prove that it was a deliberate act, and that's not easy.

Gustavo and Roberto Zarate, the dog groomer's uncle and grandfather, tell ABC7 News they can't imagine the 38-year-old ever harming a dog.

"Very surprised and I know he's innocent," said Gustavo. "He's not one to be injuring animals. We've all been raised around animals."

RELATED: San Mateo PetSmart groomer arrested following death of dog

They showed us Chili, the grandfather's dog, who's frequently groomed by Juan.

They say he took the job at PetSmart after working as a washer at a cat and dog boarding and training facility in San Francisco.

Roberto tells ABC7 News that the PetSmart job was a good one and that Juan liked it there.

Juan was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of felony animal cruelty. The 1-year-old dachshund called Henry died within minutes of being in his care.

An x-ray showed two broken ribs and a punctured lung. The Peninsula Humane Society conducted a necropsy sending tissue samples to a lab that will determine the exact cause of death.

PetSmart has said it takes full responsibility for the pets in their care. A few pet owners had not heard about the incident until we told them.

When asked if she had any concerns, dog owner Tobin Short said, "Well, now I do. Maybe I'll go ask them what happened."

Some are calling for legislation to require that all groomers be certified.

"I think they definitely should have background checks, yeah," said dog owner Amy Magpayo. "Certified would certainly be a step in the right direction, too."

The case has been given to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office and handed over to a prosecutor with vast experience in animal abuse cases.