Nancy Pine first began to worry when she realized that her poodle had been at the groomer for five hours - more than twice as long as Rajah's typical visits to be shampooed and clipped and coiffed.
That concern multiplied when, two hours after Pine called to check on her dog, the groomer's fiance knocked on her door and deposited Rajah on the floor of her Baldwin home.
"He couldn't even hold his head up. He was barely conscious," Pine recalled yesterday.
The poodle died about 10 hours later at the Falls Road Animal Hospital and an animal autopsy - called a necropsy - revealed that he had suffered acute liver injuries, broken ribs, and internal bleeding and might have been strangled, according to court records. Yesterday, the groomer, Celeste A. Rainone, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for animal cruelty and animal mutilation.
Rainone, 53, of Shrewsbury, Pa., is scheduled to go to trial next week in another case stemming from injuries sustained by a different dog.
"There must be something wrong in your life or in your head or with you that someone who for 53 years has loved animals" would cause a pet's death, Baltimore County District Judge Barbara R. Jung told the defendant.
The judge also ordered the woman to surrender her grooming license and to pay $2,371 in restitution to cover Pine's veterinary bills and the cost of the necropsy. "It can never, ever, ever compensate her for the loss of Rajah," Jung added.
Rainone is the owner of Grooming By Celeste, a small business in the Hydes area of Baltimore County. In court documents, she indicated that the grooming shop has been open about 11 years, bringing in $10,000 annually.
Although Rainone has repeatedly denied doing anything to injure Rajah, the 14-year-old apricot-colored miniature poodle that died in February, she tearfully apologized yesterday in court.
"I had no intention to hurt Rajah," she said, her voice barely audible through her sobs. "I've never had anything like that happen. I'm sorry that I snapped. I can't control it. It happens when I'm sleeping."
The comments were an apparent reference to the diagnosis of a psychiatrist who evaluated Rainone at the judge's request. Reading from the evaluation in court, defense attorney James Farmer said that his client had surgery in 2004 for a cerebral hemorrhage, has suffered occasional seizures since then and was also diagnosed with a panic disorder.
Farmer said that medical finding fit with the facts of the case and Rainone's assertion that the poodle bit her while she was attempting to groom him.
"She was overcome by it," the defense attorney told the judge. It was not, he added, a matter of Rainone "intentionally harming the dog" or being "mean" to him.
Farmer told the judge that his client has worked with animals nearly all her life, exercising race horses at Pimlico, Laurel and other Maryland tracks before taking a job with a Parkville veterinarian as a groomer and assistant.
He told the judge that Rainone is "still in business - but not by much," explaining that her arrest "has had a devastating effect throughout the community in whether people trust her with their pets."
Pine told the judge that if her poodle had bit the groomer, the "sensible, responsible" thing to do would have been for Rainone to call and ask her to come pick up her pet.
"You don't keep this animal there for five to six hours and beat the dog to death," said Pine, who works as a nurse at the Oak Crest Village retirement community. " ... She needs to be held responsible."
Jung sentenced Rainone to 90 days in the county detention center for animal cruelty and a three-year prison term, which she suspended, on the animal mutilation conviction. She also ordered that the defendant be placed on supervised probation for 18 months after her release.
Jung declined the defense attorney's requests to release Rainone on bail while she appeals the case or to delay the start of the woman's jail term by a week while her fiance undergoes surgery.
In the case scheduled for trial next week, Rainone is accused of injuring a 4-year-old Maltese named Chesney in June 2006. Darlene Andrzejewski, the pet's owner, told police that Chesney returned from the groomer limping and with urine, feces and blood in his fur, court records show.
The groomer told Andrzejewski that the Maltese had bitten her and "needed to be put down," according to the charging documents.