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Sarasota dog groomer arrested for animal abuse and cruelty – FOX 13 Tampa

Kimberly Kuizon reports
A dog groomer in Sarasota is accused of punching, shaking and throwing dogs and cats that were in her care. 
Police arrested Diana Stevens, 41, the owner of a Woof Gang Bakery and Dog Grooming franchise located at 1129 S. Tamiami Trail, on multiple counts of animal cruelty and animal abuse charges. 
Officers say former store employees not only saw Stevens abusing animals as she groomed them, but on several instances, they had to intervene. 
Investigators with the Sarasota Police Department said it was all captured on surveillance camera. 
"To press play, rewind, pause and to explain in such detail the violence that was occurring in this business is hard on anybody," said Cynthia McLaughlin with the Sarasota Police Department. 
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One former employee told detectives that she saw Stevens hit cats, jerk them around and flip them over before tethering them to be groomed. The employee said tethering a cat is dangerous because it could break its neck.  
Another former employee went on to tell detectives that she also saw Stevens swing a cat into a wall after the feline scratched her because she was slinging it around. The employee said she intervened, took the cat from Stevens and continued bathing and grooming it.
That witness also told officers that she and Stevens had purchased several puppies, including French bulldogs, to sell. The pair, according to an affidavit, left the French bulldog puppies in a bathtub overnight because Stevens said they would be easier to clean in the morning. 
The report states that puppy pads were placed at the bottom of the tub and a metal crate was put on top of the puppies. The employee says Stevens’ mother contacted her the next day and said one of the French Bulldog puppies had died, and she took it to the vet for a necropsy.  
Stevens was the owner of a Woof Gang Bakery and Dog Grooming franchise. 
A different former employee told detectives that while her co-workers would come in on the weekends to care for the puppies, Stevens would not care for them. 
The former employee added that the puppies were living in unsanitary ‘horrible’ conditions that included staying in their own fecal matter and urine until another groomer cleaned them up. She said the puppy that died had choked, and its body was kept in a box at the store until Stevens figured out what to do with it. 
Another former employee said she also intervened when she saw Stevens being abusive toward the pets. 
She recalled one incident in which Stevens was grooming a red doodle that urinated on itself because it was afraid of the blow-dryer and had to be rewashed. She told officers Stevens became frustrated with the dog, grabbed it by the scruff and threw it into the tub. 
After rewashing the dog, the witness said Stevens grabbed it by the scruff, threw it on a drying table, and forced the blow-dryer into the dog’s face. 
"There’s no way to know how long this has been going on. The 5 incidents we found on surveillance video was just a 17 day period last year," said McLaughlin. 
Customers also reported that their pets behaved abnormally after being picked up from the business.
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Current and past customers said it is a lot to process. 
"I was shocked, and then I was completely devastated, knowing that I had this intuition that my dog’s behavior was acting different when I dropped him off there," said Bethany Simmons. 
Simmons spoke to FOX 13 in hopes of helping other pet owners. 
As a social worker, Simmons detected behaviors that were not naturally normal with her dog. 
She stopped bringing her 5-year-old dog, Mango, to Stevens after noticing his behavior change. 
"With the symptoms of him, he was really shaking when he went in there, which was unusual behavior and there were times he urinated on the floor. That was something I never witnessed. He’s been at other groomers so right there was a little bit of a concern, red flag," said Simmons. 
Detectives, using a search warrant, got video from the store that shows the abuse. They add that the video appears to support allegations that Stevens beat, berated, and tossed animals as she groomed them.
Courtesy: Sarasota Police Department
Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming sent the following statement to FOX 13 in response to Stevens' arrest:
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"The allegations against Ms. Stevens, a former franchisee who independently owned and operated one location in Sarasota, violated every tenant of our mission at Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, as well as our stringent operating procedures. Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of any kind. We want to make it clear that Woof Gang does not condone, tolerate, or in any way endorse such behavior. While we can not comment on the specifics of the police investigation, we can confirm that we were contacted by the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department and took immediate action to terminate Ms. Stevens’ franchise agreement. This location is no longer authorized to operate as a Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming location and is currently in the process of being unbranded. We emphasize that all Woof Gang locations are independently owned and operated. This incident is not reflective of our brand, our franchise owners, or the high standards of love and care for pets that Woof Gang represents across all other locations. As fellow pet owners, we are devoted to the spirit and bond we share with our pets and have always made health and safety our top priority.  Our thoughts are with the community and, most importantly, the pets and pet owners involved."
Stevens was arrested on five counts of felony aggravated animal abuse and five counts of felony animal cruelty. This isn't her first arrest either. Officials said Stevens is from North Fort Myers, where she has a lengthy criminal history, including charges of grand theft, battery and domestic violence. 
Anyone with information on this case is asked to email Detective Sullivan at jessica.sullivan@sarasotaFL.gov or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com
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