A New Jersey woman who was vilified online after reports surfaced that a dog died after getting a trim at her salon is now seeking to clear her name after she was acquitted in court.
"I want to reach every single newspaper and media that had contacted us and published it as if it were true. It was not true," said Sarah Bruccoleri, owner and operator of Crosswicks Clippers in Bordentown, New Jersey, of the charges against her clinic — announced in June 2015.
The Burlington County SPCA charged Bruccoleri's business with causing the death of Harley, a 10-year-old Airedale who walked into Crosswicks Clippers on a leash on Feb. 21, 2015.
Three hours later, when Harley's owner came to pick him up, he couldn't walk and had to be carried into the car. Exactly what caused the decline in Harley's health is unknown. From that point forward, he lost the ability to walk or control his bodily functions, and three months later, the owners decided to euthanize the dog.
"I would equate it with someone walking their child into a day care center, and when they return to get that child, that child cannot walk anymore, and no one accepts responsibility," said Burlington County SPCA Humane Law Enforcement officer Armand King. "The parents of that child would expect answers."
Bruccoleri was acquitted of all charges related to causing the death of an animal on April 27, 2016, in the Municipal Court of Bordentown.
"We were found not guilty on every single charge, no gray area," Bruccoleri said. "It was completely untrue, and we said that from the beginning, and we were willing to go to court and have that proven."
The verdict comes after intense cyberbullying as reports of the accusations percolated on the internet. One outraged animal lover posted pictures of an execution chamber online saying Clippers' owners "should be subjected to that kind of punishment," according to her Bruccoleri's lawyer, Justin Loughry.
"There was some very ugly publicity around this when charges were first made," Loughry said.
"We got questions about it every day for 10 months," Bruccoleri said.
The Burlington County SPCA announced the verdict on its Facebook page on Wednesday — stating that Harley's demise was "due to something that occurred while he was in the care of Crosswicks Clippers," but acknowledging that the exact injury was not known.
"The SPCA believed then and still believes that something did occur to Harley while under the care of Crosswicks Clippers," the organization wrote on Facebook. "However there were health issues with the dog and the possibility that those health issues may have contributed to his condition could not and can not be ignored."
"We did not accuse anyone in particular of killing the dog," King explained. "What we said was something happened to the dog inside the building. The dog walked in, wasn't able to walk out."
Loughry said Harley had significant health problems before he ever walked into Crosswicks Clippers and was already on drugs like Tramadol, Remedol and Basoquin for preexisting conditions, including tearing his ACL after falling down steps.
Testimony at trial included that Harley had benign tumors, Loughry added, and there was no evidence of any specific injury sustained at the groomer's that caused Harley's health to decline.
"He was 11 years old at the time, which is pretty much at the end of the lifespan for that kind of dog," he said. "We had scores of pages of medical records. He was on some pretty heavy medications for a number of years dealing with osteoarthritis and pain. ... On the 22nd of February, the day after whatever happened, they prescribed a muscle relaxer for potential muscle spasms."
Harley's owner could not be tracked down for comment on the dog's medical history.
"They never took him to physical therapy. Three months later, at the end, the owner thought he was suffering too much and had him put down. And ultimately they try to pin that to the door of this pet groomer," Loughry said. "It was a tragic situation, but it would also be tragic for a business to be maligned unfairly."
The Burlington County SPCA said they "accept" the verdict. But they are not keeping quiet about their belief that something happened to Harley at Crosswicks Clippers.
"In this case, in my opinion, it's just an animal, so they don't have to pursue this," King said. "People weren't aware of what was happening in the building? I find that a little hard to believe."