Thomas Bruckner doesn't want his dog to have died in vain.
On Sept. 11 last year, Bruckner, who lives in Point Lookout and teaches astronomy at Nassau Community College, got a frantic call from his girlfriend, Melissa Makarewicz. They had dropped off Bailey, their 2-year-old pug-beagle mix, at Pampered Pooch Doggie Daycare and Spa in Hicksville for play and a bath.
Around 6 p.m., Bruckner said, the parlor called to say that Bailey had collapsed and was having difficulty breathing. At a vet, they learned she had become comatose after she had been put in a drying cage. She died the next morning.
Dr. Jaipal Rana at Woodbury Road Veterinary Hospital in Plainview said Bailey died of heatstroke. Exactly how it happened, Rana said, "was hard to verify."
But Bruckner believes it was because she was put in a drying cage - and now he wants to ban them.
A tube or hair dryer blows air - sometimes hot - into a drying cage or crate. Although many groomers use them, they are controversial. At least a half-dozen dogs nationwide have reportedly died in them. Experts say small, short-haired dogs or those with short snouts - which make it harder to breathe - shouldn't be put in a drying cage or should be closely monitored.
Bruckner said he was dumbfounded. "Why would anyone think it was all right to blow hot air at high speeds on a short-snouted dog?" he said. He sued the groomer and was awarded $1,000 out of court in January.
"To this day, I still feel awful this happened," said Pampered Pooch manager Carlos Garcia. Garcia said Bailey put up a "lot of resistance" during grooming, which may have caused her to overheat. He said she had been put in the drying cage - into which forced compressed air was pumped, but no heat - for less than five minutes. He said the kennel grooms about 30 dogs a week and has had no other grooming-cage problems.
But Bruckner said he wants to ban them and require groomers to be trained and licensed. No state requires pet groomers to get a vocational license, said Stephen Mart, an industry management consultant.
Bruckner has launched badgroomer.com to publicize his mission. And he supports a bill introduced in January by state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), who wants to ban drying cages, require groomers to take exams and license grooming parlors.
Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the National Dog Groomers Association of America in Clark, Pa., said the association is not against regulation, but opposes banning the cages. "They are very useful and every grooming shop has them, but because of a lack of knowledge or common sense, someone will put a tiny dog in the dryer, answer the phone and forget about it," he said.
But Bruckner believes drying cages have no place in grooming shops. "They are dealing with living creatures," he said.