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Sophia Belle

On February 28, a dog being trained in our Levittown NY, Sophia Belle, suffered what the veterinarians who have reviewed the case believe to be a fatal cardiac abnormality.  It was a tragic incident that has created some concern and misinformation online, and I wanted to take a moment to provide some details about how Petco handles situations like this one in the rare instances they occur, and how we responded in this case. After a thorough investigation, including review of the training class and conversations with all parties involved, we are confident our trainer and associates acted appropriately, responded quickly and in a caring manner focused on the health and best interest of Sophia Belle. Every Petco store has a relationship with a designated veterinarian partner, and our policy requires that any animal in need be transported as quickly as possible to the closest veterinarian available for immediate care.  In this case, Sophia Belle received extremely prompt veterinary treatment, but sadly, died from what all evidence indicates was a cardiac abnormality. We understand Sophia Belle’s owners believe the death was related to the trainer pulling on her collar when she attempted to go to her owner during the training session.  We investigated this claim seriously and found that all evidence in this case showed no signs of undue force or any injury related to the trainer’s actions.  The trainer involved in this case is a highly qualified, experienced and caring young woman who has been raising and training dogs since she was a young girl, and she too has been devastated by this incident. All of Petco’s certified dog trainers are taught a positive training technique with curriculum created and frequently reviewed by Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists.  Our dog training classes are designed to support healthy pet and pet parent interactions, and are focused on rewarding good behavior and redirecting unwanted behaviors. As a company, we do not train with or endorse force techniques.  Our Dog Trainers are also updated quarterly on the newest safety and positive training guidelines. It is heartbreaking any time a pet is lost unexpectedly and we are tremendously saddened by Sophia Belle’s passing, but we are confident it was not related to the actions of our store team.  We understand there is no way to make up for their loss, but in an effort to help, Petco has paid for all veterinary expenses and offered to assist with finding a new family member when/if the pet parents are ready.  If you have further questions, you can email me at
  • catherine C

    As a bulldog owner, english and french, there are issues. Your trainer, I am sure is familiar with many issues including pulmonic stenosis. As a trainer for your organization, she should have known that there are better restraints for a bulldog than a collar. Perhaps in the future, further educating your staff on the complications of cardiac /respiratory issues of certain breeds along with appropriate restraint devices would undoubtedly be a logical way to move forward.

    A “fatal cardiac abnormality” is not a medical diagnosis – is is a medical term for lack of a specific medical diagnosis – this dog died from her heart failing after severe restraint in a moment of excitement to see her owner. A broken heart.

    I think I will not be shopping at Petco for awhile.

  • Mercedes

    Highly coincidental that the dog had a cardiac issue right after being pulled like that don’t you say? And did they do a full autopsy determining this as a fact? I can believe that what the trainer did caused the incident and instead of trying to take blame from anyone involved with your company you push the blame away from yourselves and blame it on a heart condition that was not even proved. Way to go Petco, I am no longer shopping at your store. I was once a very dedicated customer. Such a shame. had you stepped up and took the blame maybe it would have been a different story with me along with many other customers who will never shop there again. I will share Sophia’s story and hopes that others will stay away.

  • Diana

    I am totally disgusted at you PETCO at saying this was a problem that already existed. When the so called Trainer choked Sophia her little heart shut down. Until you take responsibility for this horrible travesty I will never shop here again and will advise all my friends to do the same!

  • Brian Douglas

    I for one would like to applaud Petco for their release in the findings. I realize I will be in the minority as many will still blindly side with those who cry the loudest, but there were alot more facts here than the owners are presenting and I for one am glad that Petco did do a full investigation and medical review of it.

    For those whom are claiming that the dog’s cardiac abnormality is directly because of any leash pulling.. for any living creature to suffer any kind of cardiac abnormality 99.9% of the time there is always an underlying pre-existing medical condition associated with it and if there was no video evidence that showed the trainer using any excessive force than the facts speak for themselves and this was a sad and tragic death with a young dog who likely had medical issues, as are common with this breed of animal.

    I am glad this issue has been resolved and Petco has paid all of the owner’s expenses. Hopefully everyone can move on in satisfaction and resolution and thoughts with Sophie Bell, her family and the young trainer who is likely traumatized by this event.

  • Valerie

    Is it just a freak coincidence that Sophia suffered this ” fatal cardiac abnormality” moments after being restrained by the trainer? Also, the family claims that the vet bills were not paid after several attempts to contact Petco. This family is grieving and Petco seems to have made the whole situation worse. :((

  • DaveV

    And what who’s vets came to findings, I am sure YOUR OWN paid by YOU vets!

  • Brian Douglas

    @ Valerie, were you aware that there was eyewitness accounts who saw the owner themselves forcefully dragging the dog by the collar around the store prior to the training? perhaps this also contributed to the situation.

  • catherine C

    Again, as a bulldog owner – had I had seen this – I would have said something. You just can’t do that with a bulldog. Blame is pointless – but to avoid this in the future – Perhaps organizations such as Petco can look at the dog training business a little closer and see more than profits. There is something to learn here and make it unlikely for this to happen to someone else’s much loved dog. No one wanted to hurt the dog- there were good intentions all the way around. Just lack of education – which was the whole point of it all.

    Petco needs Io take this and run with it – not post a blog naming the location of the store and explaining it away as an “abnormality”. If this is how they address such issues, imagine how the rest of the company may be run. For example- how do they deal with dog food recalls? What is their procedure? Things like this are now questionable to me, based upon their recent blog.

    That is a whole other issue – but some good can come from this. American business needs to get back into the business of being American.

  • Tryagain

    Nice Try Petco. You can get YOUR “vet” to say anything you pay them to say!

    Sophia’s cause of death is attributable to Non-Cardiogenic Pulmonary Edema (NCPE) or more specifically postobstructive pulmonary edema (POPE) as a result of a “choke” or “restraint.” We had a necropsy done on Sophia’s body as well as a histopathology. The necropsy revealed Sophia died of cardiac arrest and that she was 100% free of any congenital heart defects. The histopathology also did not indicate the presence of any disease. Unfortunately, the necropsy and the histopathology were both “inconclusive” in terms of what lead to the cardiac arrest, other than her lungs filling with blood. Petco expected to find that she had some kind of pre-existing condition that contributed to her death but none was found. When we provided our veterinarian with all of the medical notes from the animal hospital from the night of her death, as well as the necropsy and histopathology, he concluded that the choke caused the vomiting, which likely lead to non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema (NPCE). NCPE was also one of the possible causes of death suggested by the treating veterinarian the night we brought her in to the Animal Hospital. One of the common causes of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema is upper airway obstruction. According to the literature on NCPE, an obstruction may result in NCPE without any evidence of physical trauma or even evidence of what may have been a temporary obstruction, which in this case would have been impossible to ascertain in a post mortem examination. In fact, when NPCE is the result of an upper airway obstruction, it is often referred to as postobstructive pulmonary edema or POPE. Most recently, in November 2012, authors Mike Bachmann, DVM and Jennifer E. Waldrop, DVM, DACVECC, provided a comprehensive review of the literature regarding noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, in the form of a Compendium for According to the piece entitled, Compendium: Continuing Education for Veterinarians®, the authors covered the causes of NPCE, including Upper Airway Obstruction, in which they cited documented instances of NPCE secondary to “transient occlusion” including “strangulation,” “acute occlusion secondary to a foreign body or other mass” and “restraint”:

    NCPE secondary to transient occlusion of the upper airway is also knows an postobstructive pulmonary edema. POPE can have a wide range of causes, including strangulation, airway collapse and acute occlusion secondary to a foreign body or other mass. This is evident after examining the history of the eight animals with POPE in the Drobatz review; specific causes included leash strangulation, nasal occlusion, restraint and brachycephalic disease. Clients of young dogs with POPE typically report low force strangulation or rough play. Pediatric animals may suffer from complete occlusion of the trachea or larynx due to softness of the supporting tissues and cartilage.

    Drobatz KJ, Saunders HM, Pugh CR, et al. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema in dogs and cats: 26 cases (1987-1993). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1995 Jun 1;206(11):1732-6.
    The undeniable fact is that the trainers handling of Sophia immediately resulted in her vomiting several times, followed by obstructed breathing and collapse. Whether the “upper airway obstruction” was a result of the “choke” itself or the vomiting, induced by the “choke,” Sophia was unable to breathe after vomiting. Given that Sophia was an English Bulldog, a brachycephalic breed, and the necropsy indicated that she had an extremely small trachea, again not uncommon for the breed, the conclusion that her death was caused by the actions of Petco’s trainer is the only one that can be supported by both the facts and the literature.

    In an effort to direct the attention away from the conduct of Petco’s trainer and deflect the liability of the company, Petco has suggested that an undiagnosed heart ailment triggered cardiogenic pulmonary edema. However, there is not a shred of evidence to this hyposthesis. The Veterinary notes, the necropsy and even the histopathology are devoid of any facts or observations that support that assertion. Please respect that we do not intend to litigate this through Social Media so it is likely that this is the last comment we will make as to the specifics; however, we felt it necessary to respond to Petco’s claim that Sophia’s death was due to a pre-existing condition.

  • jody

    this is bs…please read what the owners just posted. They have proof their dog had NO pre-existing conditions. Nice PR spin on this. again….never shopping here again. you say you are paying expnses but so far from what they have posted you are stalling them.

  • jody

    Brian- read the owners response on this. They have pretty clear evidence presented in their case. Dog had no pre-existing conditions as proven by vets….

  • Brian Douglas

    oh i read the response.. that is NOT clear evidence.. evidence would be scanning the actual report and posting the actual report. What the owner has done is cleverly tell a story about their interpretation of the report mixed with a whole bunch of literary reference to give false indication that everything he said is credible and factual as it pertains to their case… He is a pretty good lawyer, I will give him that.

  • Brian Douglas

    video evidence and eyewitness accounts state the owner did nothing wrong. People are going around like the owner was dangling and hanging the dog by it’s neck for great length… this was like a split second reaction type of scenario.

  • Brian Douglas

    Here is where I am going to say for sure something aint right here…

    The owner and likely attorney writes…
    “we felt it necessary to respond to Petco’s claim that Sophia’s death was due to a pre-existing condition.”

    go back and read Petco’s statement…

    SHOW ME where in here does it say a thing about a pre-existing condition?

    DOESNT… because that was not Petco’s claim.. Petco’s claim was that
    the dog “suffered what the veterinarians who have reviewed the case
    believe to be a fatal cardiac abnormality.”

    AND THAT’S ALL they are claiming.

    Maybe I said it was possibly a pre existing condition or others have implied it but Petco certainly didnt.

    tell me something why did the owner as an attorney feel it was
    necessary to respond to something that was never even stated by the
    party you are claiming stated it?

    oh that’s right… to distract people with more embellishments and distractions.

  • Lyalya

    I am disgusted with the way your company has handled this matter. Your “trainer” killed a dog. Maybe not on purpose, but Sophia’s death was there fault. Don’t try and spin it into the dog having a previous condition. Sophia Belle was 100% healthy until your “trainer” yanked on her collar and caused her to die. Good job hiring awesome “trainers”. You should be ashamed.

  • catherine C

    Brian – which way is it – video evidence/eyewitness accounts state the “owner did nothing wrong” or “saw the owner themselves forcefully dragging the dog…”. You appear to state both sides. Can you clear this up for all of us reading this post? Thanks.

  • Robin

    Petco…shame…if you reviewed this, then simply post the survielace footage and end the speculation. Let us see what happened, and put the he said/she said to rest. The owners can do the same as some have suggested, and post the medical reports, however; I suppose you could as well as I’m certain you were provided with copies.

    Thirteen years ago I was so pleased to adopt a puppy through one of your stores in Mass and Pawsafe…I know I loved that dog and I paid to bring her to my local Petco also in MA, for training. The first thing the trainer who instructed our class did was require all of us no matter what the breed have a choke collar. I admit I was hessitant but I trusted that a “professional” knew better than I. At no point did anyone other than myself ever pull that collar and I question why you as a company would have your trainer handle anyone’s animal if you are teaching the owner how to train their animal.

    I sincerely hope you as a company would make a better effort to clear this up with release of the store security footage otherwise I’m afraid I have to beleive its corporate spin instead of honest disclosure.

  • Brian Douglas

    my mistake… and apologies..

    let me retype…

    “video evidence and eyewitness accounts state the TRAINER did nothing
    wrong. People are going around like the TRAINER was dangling and hanging
    the dog by it’s neck for great length… this was like a split second
    reaction type of scenario.”

    “Other witnesses saw the OWNER themselves forcefully dragging the dog throughout the store”

    its been a long 4 days and owner / trainer.. i got confused thanks for pointing it out.

  • Brian Douglas

    are you serious?

    post the surveillance footage and end the speculation? Great idea cause that will certainly calm down the angry villagers, showing a video of a dog dying.

    Even if the video shows the trainer did NOTHING wrong.. its still a horrible move as it will only enrage people more to see a dog die.

  • Vegas

    Was the class not on camera??? I think the dog *may* have been unhealthy to begin with. Bulldogs are prone to so many health issues, and where did they get her? I hope not a pet shop or BYB, but even Bulldogs from show breeders can be unhealthy– they are not a healthy breed, ask any vet. I have seen dogs, including bulldogs, pulling until they choke themselves on collars and harnesses, so I doubt this could have killed a dog, not that fast. They seem like over-emotional people. I do not think PetCo is qualified pro trainers by any means, but I also don’t think they’re dangerous. You’re most in danger of your dog not being well trained, considering it’s just treat-training.

  • Lexus

    Dogs don’t just die from being pulled or briefly lifted up on a collar. Not healthy ones. Ever seen a dog getting groomed, they pull all the time, and untrained dogs pull on walks… I have seen dogs pull until they threw up. They need proper training and a prong collar, not a regular collar or harness and treats.

  • Lexus

    You have TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS. Wake up call, there’s more in life than a puppy dying. Bulldogs are not a hearty or healthy breed, sorry.

  • Lexus

    How do you know about video evidence? Thanks. (makes sense, btw)

  • Daisy

    It’s amazing how everyone feels the need to cast judgement. I support the trainer and Petco. They have been convicted in the eyes of social media NOT a fair and impartial jury. Sophia’s family is exploiting the death of their puppy to create a media circus in hopes to gain some sort of restitution from Petco. I’m not a “troll” I’m a person with an opinion, and I support Petco and it’s employees. If anything happens to te trainer as a result of this you should all be held accountable.

  • Ben

    Your ignorance astounds me. All brachycephalic breeds are subject to various breathing problems including easily obstructed airways. The conclusion that the choke induced vomiting which entered the lungs and caused the postobstructive pulmonary edema leading to cardiac arrest is a medically sound conclusion – especially for a bulldog.

    You are defeated by your own statements: you’ve seen dogs pull until they throw up – that’s all it would have taken in this case, a good pop that caused the dog to throw up and breath its own vomit (something not at all difficult for a brachycephalic breed to do).

    Lastly, you include prong collars as “proper” training over treats (which I’ll reword as “reward based training”) based on … I’m guessing personal experience and anecdotal evidence? You are severely misguided if you think that positive punishment works better to train a dog long term than positive reinforcement. It is people like you with your outdated punishment based training models that make the life of a properly certified dog trainer more difficult. You assert things like “dogs need prong collars” without any of the behavioral studies backing you up, and ignorant clients believe you.

    Your opinion and lack of education on these subjects are dangerous, and I suggest you seek education and refrain from discussions on a topic you know dangerously too little about in the future.

  • Brian Douglas

    finally some rational, logical and level minded responses.

  • Brian Douglas

    Just curious.. did you personally perform a medical review of Sophia Belle before she visited Petco? Have you seen the photos that the owners themselves posted showing a tightened collar around their dog’s neck, which is a huge no no for this breed. Many in the medical field would certainly at a minimum include this as a possibly contributor to a respiratory problem.

    So how can you 100% as fact state that Sophia was 100% healthy before she was at Petco? Just curious how you support your claim?

  • Ash

    Even if the trainer has said, “Hey, you should use something other than a collar, like a harness, to restrain your dog so it doesn’t choke her,” does not mean the owners would have taken the advice. Also you have no idea the force the trainer used to restrain the dog, or the amount of time she held the dog back. Honestly there is no way to know how exactly the dog died, because like you said, there is no specific medical diagnosis. I’m sure, however, that the vets could have identified something on the neck that would indicate if the dog was held back in an extreme manor.

  • Ash

    Honestly the owners should have done their research and should have not been using a collar to restrain their dog that is so prone to breathing problems… Especially since the dog obviously pulls. Maybe if the owners had been responsible and use a harness on their dog they would still have a dog…. Maybe they should have educated themselves a little better.

  • Brian Douglas

    Sophia’s parents have since deleted their Facebook memorial page… text book move from someone looking to cover up their tracks and libelous statements they made as well as inciting threats to the store and trainer.. Typical move… create a Facebook page, throw out a bunch of baseless claims, incite an enraged and emotional social media to piggy back onto your efforts and then when your motives and evidence are called into question, completely delete your page. Congrats to all of those who blindly pledged allegiance and support to Michelle and Michael in their carefully crafted and embellished legal tactic.

  • Maria

    First I should say that I am a pet lovers I have two rescues of my own. BUT,I actually side with Petco on this one. It is really easy to get emotional and judge specially when it comes to the death of a puppy. OH and it is sooo easy to blame the big bad corporation for the sole fact that it is a corporation. But after carefully looking at the facts and claims from both sides, it really seems like the couple is making up a lot of it there is a lot of discrepancies in their claims. Also what makes you think you can just quickly judge the trainer with out having any actual facts other that stories you hear, let alone wish all these bad things like suffering, jail and in some cases death! … Do you really think that the answer is more violence? An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. You may think you are doing the right thing but it really is just another form of cyber-bullying. If this really is a murder why hasn’t the couple taken this to court? I think my comment will be met with a lot of anger, but I stand by it. I am sad for the lost of a puppy but I do have enough sense to look at all the fact before judging or throwing accusations around.

  • Brian Douglas

    great answer.

  • Awesomedogs

    If you don’t endorse force training, then I’ll assume that you don’t sell products that support force training? Or, if a dog owner came in, bought a neck collar for a breed prone to issues, you’d refuse to sell it, saying, “No, we refuse to sell you products that are not appropriate for your dog”?

    I’ll assume, having been in multiple pet stores, if I want to buy a product that is wrong for my dog, the sales clerk will sell it to me. They won’t provide warnings. They’ll just take my money.

    I am really having a hard time with “We don’t endorse force, but we’ll sell you the tools.”

  • mamaace

    Thirteen years ago, many trainers were using choke collars. Petco now only uses postive training, which is what the experts recommend. Unfortunately, with certain celebrities getting TV using outdates adversive training techniques, the general public is grossly misinformed. Here is a great little documentary that talks about the history of dog training.

  • dpsayshi

    I’m not either… there is Pet Giant in Levittown I will go to…

  • dpsayshi

    yes… and also saying they would pay for cremation too… and nothing from Petco.. Not a penny… I heard all they want is Petco to just put up Pet CPR posters…and a few other reasonable easy enough to do things in the training area… and Petco wont do any… even if the requests make perfect sense and wont do any harm to the business… and it would only help this issue and the store..and trainers and patrons//

  • dpsayshi

    where is this video evidence so we can all see it..
    Please share… let us all see what really happened and then decide..
    that would be fair to both sides..

  • dpsayshi

    if it was your dog.. I am sure u would not being saying that…

  • dpsayshi

    I would love you to write this again for all to see…in case it was missed…
    I am upset Sophia doesnt have a memorial page any longer..on fb…
    Maybe can be made without talk of the incident… just her memory and some pics…

  • dpsayshi

    u can fall down the stairs.. many people can fall down the stairs… and live…
    It takes one incident.. that a fall can kill ya.. just because it usually doesnt happen…doesnt mean it is impossible…

  • dpsayshi

    BRAVO !!!!!!!!!!

  • dpsayshi

    more violence?? all they want is paid vet bills and cremation that Petco said they would do and never did…and then some more safety measures added to the stores training class…. to help prevent any more accidents…and if there was another kind of accident.. material.. info…etc would be at hand there…
    How is that violence???????????????

  • Brian Douglas

    No company, even if only to prove 100% publicly to the world that they did nothing wrong, would release a video depicting a dog dying. It would be insensitive and in extremely poor taste. If the owner’s wanted to try and subpoena the video and release it themselves publicly that would be a different story.

    Also do you live in the United States? I ask because the onus of providing proof of anything is on the one making claiming, not the other way around. Sadly when there’s emotionally charged situations like this, it’s easier for people to demand the accused prove their innocence than the accuser proving one’s guilt.. Seems kind of backwards, don’t you think?

  • jbob

    This should never have happened. I believe what the owners have said about how the trainer hung the dog whilst pulling up on the leash. If your dog died in such a tragic thing like this, why would you lie about it? But if a dog died in something like this and YOUR company was responsible, wouldn’t you say it wasn’t your fault? Exactly. All Petco cares about is money. They don’t care for the health or well being of the animals! If they did, why would they buy all of their animals from mills? And why would they not care for them properly? It amazes me that stores that probably started out for the love of animals has come to this. And the fact that they LIE about it, as well? It is such a shameful thing and people who support this are either uneducated or selfish and cruel. Places like Petco and Petsmart are only in it for the money. If you think for one second that they actually CARE about the animals they sell, they don’t. They give you booklets on how to care for your animal when they don’t even follow what they wrote in the booklet. And then they lie to you and say “oh yes, we buy our animals from reputable breeders” but they actually buy them from mills, where animals are mistreated, abused, neglected, and killed…for what? For money. Petco knows this, but they pretend like they don’t. They pretend not to see what abuse these animals go through just so they can get more money. And if they do all this then they obviously don’t care WHO they hire to train your dogs. It’s very clear Petco is not fit to “care” for animals of any kind.

  • k9mythbuster

    Brian, since Petco doesn’t require their “trainers” to take any more than their 2-week course to handle these dogs, since they freely sell aversive equipment over the counter, and since I and countless professional trainers have received report after report of the so-called “positive” methods Petco employees promote, including the use of a shock collar on a 4 lb. Yorkshire Terrier when all other punishment-based methods failed (as, in the end, did the shock collar), it is not a stretch to imagine that one of their employees would use a common form of aversive training to stop the dog from barking. It’s also not a stretch to imagine that it’s not the first time that trainer has used such a technique, which means it’s likely that some other Petco employees or managers have witnessed it prior to this incident.

    Further, do you think that Petco might possibly have required the owners to delete the FB page as part of the agreed-upon settlement?

    Bottom line: Petco has no business training dogs.

  • Brian Douglas

    I am glad you are using words like “imagine” because sure… a stretched imagination is capable of coming up with a bunch of different theories to speculate what happened, but that does not change the logical fact that evidence and proof outweigh imagination and speculation.

    In this country, the burden to demonstrate one’s guilt is placed on the person making the accusation. In this case that would be the dog’s owners. It’s real easy to create a Facebook Press Release Page that you hide and unhide every time you want to issue a statement and then run for cover when anyone questions you, but the reality is the owners have not yet produced anything at all of fact, evidence or proof that Petco’s trainer did anything wrong.

    Additionally there have been people on other forums who have stated to being eyewitnesses who have stated they saw the female owner drag the dog by it’s collar as well as a comment from someone who said when the parents initially brought their dog in the trainer recommended they use a harness but the parents said no. Im not saying either of these things alone should stand as 100% fact, however there are way too many unanswered questions for anyone to even begin to place blame on a trainer simply because it is the easy thing to do.

    As far as the page being deleted. I would strongly say no… Even if Petco wanted to take the page down, I dont think they would tell them to take it down completely/ Deleting any disparaging remarks about Petco? Sure, but id imagine even at a minimum they’d allow them to keep the in memory page / photos up as to force them to remove it would be insensitive.

    Also the couple seems to selectively hide and unhide the page every time they want to issue a formal press release and then hide it before anyone question them.

    As far as Petco and training dogs.. I am not qualified enough to comment on that.

  • LISA