When Anni Sherffius' two "babies" came home from the groomer just before Christmas, their silky hair shone and they smelled clean. But Jasmine, a multicolored...

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When Anni Sherffius’ two “babies” came home from the groomer just before Christmas, their silky hair shone and they smelled clean. But Jasmine, a multicolored 2-year-old Shih Tzu, was acting strange.

Sherffius couldn’t figure out why the dog was trembling, or why she yelped when Sherffius tried to cuddle her or settle her onto her favorite pillow. Stuck inside because of a snowstorm, Sherffius tried to comfort her precious dog the best she could.

When the dog didn’t seem to feel better several days later, Sherffius examined her again. She noticed her ear was “stiff as cardboard,” so she decided to soak it. What happened next horrified the dog owner.

“I put her ear in the water, and it floated away,” she said, sobbing.

Her vet soon told her that she suspected the groomer had cut off Jasmine’s ear and then glued it back on, Sherffius said.

“That dog screamed like a butchered pig,” Sherffius said. “Every time I talk about it, I break down.”

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the groomer, who worked at J’Rae’s Professional Pet Grooming. The company appears to have shut down, and a business phone number has been disconnected. Neither the company’s former registered owner nor the groomer could be reached.

Finding a dog groomer

Dog owners in need of a reputable groomer should follow these tips:

Ask for referrals from your veterinarian, local breeder and other dog owners.

Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints against the groomer.

Take a tour: See how dogs are controlled, and weigh the risks associated with different types of restraints. For example, some owners dislike the idea of cages, but loose dogs underfoot can cause accidents when groomers are working with sharp tools.

Ask whether dogs are groomed on a schedule and returned to the owner promptly or left in the facility all day.

Ask whether there are enough employees on hand to manage all the dogs, monitor the dryers at all times and deal with customer inquiries.

Find out how much experience and training each individual groomer has.

Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The shop, just outside of Gig Harbor, was taken over by a new owner in 2005 and licensed until November, according to the state departments of Revenue and Licensing. There are no reported complaints against the company with the Better Business Bureau.

Pierce County investigators have been unable to contact anyone with the business but haven’t finished looking into the matter, said sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer. Sherffius, a dog lover who has owned and bred Pomeranians, Lhasa apsos and Shih Tzus for almost 30 years, said she is heartbroken over Jasmine’s ordeal.

“These dogs are like my children,” she said. “Wherever I go, they go. I have never heard a dog cry like this.”

Jasmine, whose ear was apparently taken off at the halfway point, was diagnosed with a severe infection and placed on antibiotics, Sherffius said. She was also given pain medication, which she is still taking.

Jacque Schultz, a program adviser with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said it’s not uncommon for pets to sustain injuries during grooming, though she hasn’t heard of an ear being cut off and then glued back.

“We hear about animals dying in the drying cages because of overheating, razor burns, clipper burns. Sometimes it’s the owners who never tell the groomer there is something under the fur and the animal gets injured when they’re cut,” Schultz said.

Sherffius said she’s used J’Rae’s for years, but that recently her regular comber moved to Florida and a new one took over.

Shih Tzus are sometimes cut short like poodles, but those with the characteristic long, silky hair that remains unshorn need frequent combing to prevent tangles. Sherffius normally does much of the work herself, brushing the dogs up to four times a day. But after falling and injuring herself late last year, she decided to get Jasmine and Gizmo some extra professional grooming.

She took them to the new groomer at J’Rae’s about four times and never noticed anything unusual, except that the dogs’ coats didn’t seem to gleam quite as much or hang quite as perfectly as they did after being shampooed and styled by her old comber.

Sherffius said the vet recommended reconstructive surgery for Jasmine’s ear, but she is not sure she wants to put her dog through more pain. She does hope that authorities decide to file criminal charges against the groomer.

“All I want is that she never gets a license, never gets to comb another dog,” Sherffius said. “Who knows what else she’s done to other dogs?”

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporter Brian Alexander and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.