TAMPA — Jan Holtz is not a veterinarian, but she knows that puppies aren't supposed to die from having their ears cleaned.
So a few weeks ago, when Holtz lost her 10-week-old French bulldog during an ear-cleaning procedure, she was stunned.
On Feb. 7, Holtz brought the dog, named Lilly, to the Banfield Pet Hospital inside the PetSmart at 1540 N Dale Mabry Highway. Two veterinary technicians were supposed to place drops in the dog's ears and wipe them with cotton swabs.
A half-hour later, Holtz was called to the clinic and told her puppy was having breathing problems. A half-hour after that, Holtz learned the problem had worsened and that Lilly might not make it.
Holtz demanded to see Lilly. The 10-pound black-and-white puppy lay motionless on a stainless steel table, covered in an orange blanket, with a tube in her mouth, Holtz said. An hour later, Lilly was dead.
Holtz said the incident left her grief-stricken and horrified, but frustration followed. Banfield and the pet store denied responsibility. The clinic tried to charge her $500 for the dog's medical treatment.
Holtz insisted her puppy was in good health prior to coming to the clinic.
"I brought in a healthy dog and it just didn't die from ear cleaning," she said.
Holtz, 53, a nanny who lives in South Tampa, said she's raised dogs her entire life. Her last dog, a mutt, had recently died and on her daughter's recommendation, she decided to buy a pure-bred French bulldog for $2,500.
Holtz enrolled the dog in the store's puppy program for shots and routine medical care. Lilly had ear mites, and after purchasing ear-cleaning solution and prescription pills for $200, Holtz said she decided to let the store's vet technicians administer the daily drops.
It was during the second visit that the dog died. Holtz said she was walking around the store when she heard her name on the loudspeaker. She went to the clinic at the back of the store and couldn't believe what she was told.
In the end, it took a necropsy to confirm what Holtz had suspected. The cause of death, she said, was choking. Holtz said she was told there was bruising around the neck.
After that result, Banfield agreed to reimburse Holtz. Last week, she was supposed to get a check for about $3,000 to cover the cost of the dog and any previous treatments, she said.
PetSmart referred comment to Banfield, which is based in Portland, Ore. Banfield operates more than 770 clinics, the majority in PetSmart stores.
Karen Johnson, vice president and client advocate at Banfield, issued a statement that read, in part:
"Our thoughts go out to Ms. Holtz for the loss of her dog, Lilly. As a practice, we have policies and training procedures in place to ensure safety when restraining certain breeds, such as bulldogs, which by nature of their anatomy, are at higher risk for respiratory complications when restrained. We are reviewing these policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again."
Holtz said the experience has soured her on Banfield and PetSmart, but she has since purchased another French bulldog.
"They're great little dogs. They're mellow and docile," she said. "All they want to do is sit on your lap."