Owner devastated after beloved service dog dies after staying at PetSmart hotel

Elise Solé

A service dog died after she stayed at a PetSmart hotel — and his owner is demanding answers. 

On Sunday, Corey Dixon, a Canadian actor and motivational speaker, announced on Twitter that his black Labrador, Aspen, had passed away after a week-long stay at a PetSmart hotel in Toronto.

Corey Dixon with his service dog, Aspen. (Photo: Courtesy of Corey Dixon).

“It is heartbreaking to say that Aspen has passed away,” he tweeted. “My heart is crushed. She was loved by many. The remaining gofundme money will be put towards her remaining vet bills as well as her funeral costs. We will always love you Aspen. Thank you for being there by my side.”

The 23-year-old had owned Aspen since January and used her as a service dog due to his heart arrhythmia, a suspected hereditary condition that makes driving impossible. Whenever Aspen sensed Dixon was about to fall ill, she barked loudly to alert help.

Before leaving for a week-long getaway with friends, and with the blessing of a service dog trainer, Dixon took Aspen to the vet, who gave her a “clean bill of health” and boarded her at the hotel, paying around $400 for a premium package that included daily walks.

“I was nervous to part with Aspen, but I was surrounded by people who could help in an emergency and I didn’t want to risk her getting a tick bite,” Dixon told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Throughout the week, I called the hotel to check in regularly and was told everything was fine.”

On July 8, the day of Dixon’s return, he says he received a call from the hotel that Aspen had vomited once but that she was doing OK. However, when he arrived to pick her up, something was clearly wrong.

“After I paid, they brought out Aspen and she had drool and vomit on her face,” he says. “She was shaking so badly she could hardly walk and had clearly lost an extreme amount of weight. I was told that Aspen had been vomiting for two days — and no one told me.”

Aspen the service dog. (Photo: Courtesy of Corey Dixon).

Dixon rushed Aspen to the emergency room where she was given IV fluids and antibiotics. However, she had caught aspiration pneumonia and was sent to the ICU. Her condition quickly worsened and on Sunday, Dixon was advised to put her down.

PetSmart released a statement to Canadian website Global News which read, “We are deeply saddened to learn of Aspen’s unfortunate passing. The treating veterinarian reported the cause of death as a pre-existing autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis, an illness completely unrelated to Aspen’s stay at PetSmart. We’ll continue to stay in contact with the pet parent during this difficult time.”

However, Dixon insists that the tests for myasthenia gravis haven’t returned yet, making a diagnosis impossible. According to VCA Animal Hospital, black labs can have the condition due to hormonal, environmental, or infectious influences, and can sometimes succumb to aspiration pneumonia. However, the illness can be treated with medication.

Thomas A Clare, an attorney at Clare Locke LLP who represents PetSmart, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Corey Dixon’s refusal to release Aspen’s post-mortem records should cast significant doubt on the credibility of his points. We have urged him to release records to confirm or refute his claims and he’s refused.” 

Dixon says that “legal action against PetSmart is in the works” and that he is unable to share Aspen’s post-mortem medical records until all her bloodwork is finalized. He doesn’t refute the possibility that Aspen had myasthenia gravis, however, he says PetSmart should have administered medical treatment to the dog if she was sick for more than 24 hours. 

The stress of losing Aspen has been tough on Dixon, both physically and emotionally. “I haven’t yet gotten a new service dog, but the reality is, I need one,” he says. “She was a family member, and I’m devastated.”

Dixon has created the hashtag #JusticeForAspen, and people on Twitter have been sharing their sorrow.

According to Patch, in January, New Jersey resident Danielle DiNapoli dropped off her 8-year-old dog, Scruffles, at a Petsmart in Flemington for a grooming session, and less than one hour later, received a call that the dog had been hospitalized. DiNapoli later learned he was dead on arrival. 

A PetSmart rep told Patch that staff had followed “all policies and procedures,” adding “Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Scruffles’s family, and we continue to be in contact with them during this difficult time.” NJ.com reported that in 2017, another dog died and one was injured at the Flemington location.

In April, People reported that a man named Chuck Crawford had dropped off his two corgis named Abby and Harley at a Toms River, N.J., store, only to be told that Abby died during a grooming session. Crawford told NJ.com that he was given little info about her death. 

“I have extreme anger and extreme grief. I don’t know what happened with Abby, there were no health issues whatsoever,” Crawford told the website. “I went through absolute hell that day. She’s my little sweetheart.”

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