The Kindest Cut

Reprinted with permission from the American Kennel Club, Inc., .

When Nancy Hall, of Madison, Connecticut, arrived at the groomers to pick up Dinah, her Airedale Terrier, the pup was being handled so roughly Hall insisted they release her from the grooming harness immediately. “Dinah’s throat was actually injured, and she was unable to bark or make anything other than a squeaky sound for the next few days,” says Hall, who vowed never to return. 

A month later, she learned police had shut down the shop after two dogs died. 

You might think taking your pup to the groomer is like having your hair done. What’s the worst that can happen, besides a bad ‘do? 

Unfortunately for Dinah and many other dogs, it’s not that simple. While the number of grooming-related pet injuries and deaths is small, there is evidence it’s a growing problem. The Better Business Bureau says that complaints against groomers have jumped more than 50 percent in the last five years. 

Grooming Boom

In 2006, Americans spent a whopping $ 2.7 billion on grooming and boarding services for their pets, an 8 percent increase over the previous year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Increasing demand for pet services has resulted in more inexperienced groomers hanging out a shingle. And it puts established facilities under pressure to get animals in and out faster. 

Serious injuries-and even deaths-have occurred at both small, privately owned salons and at major pet retailers who offer grooming services. These incidents have spurred legislators to consider laws regulating the largely unsupervised petgrooming industry. (For more on legislative issues, see “Your Groomer Isn’t Licensed“.)

Heat Wave

The biggest dangers are posed by dryer cages. Some breeds can take several hours to dry, so dogs are set in a cage with a dryer attached to a timer. They’re often left there while the groomer starts the next client’s bath. Temperatures can soar to 135 degrees inside the cage, and pet advocates say some animals have been left too long or too close to the heat. 

“Pets that are dried in cages cannot get away from the drying source and can be prone to dehydration and even death from overheating,” says Chris Bohman, who teaches grooming at the Thompson School, University of New Hampshire-Durham, which offers a pet-grooming diploma. What’s more, timers can malfunction, and if the groomer isn’t nearby he may not notice a dog in jeopardy. 

The cages could prove too hot for small, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, like Pekingese and Shih Tzu, dogs who may already have compromised airflow. Common sense says groomers should never step away from a dog in a dryer cage, but ringing phones, emergencies, and difficult animals can create dangerous distractions.

An owner’s best bet is to avoid patronizing a facility that uses dryer cages. Owners should insist both orally and in writing that their pup is hand- or air-dried only. To be certain, stay and watch. 

Dryer cages are not the only hazards. Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, of Kansas City, Kansas, took her three Maltese-Angel, Tuffi, and Anastasia-for grooming and flea baths. She left them while she went to work, and when she returned, two had such severe eye irritation that their eyes were swollen shut. Apparently, the groomer left them in a vat of flea dip and went to answer the phone. Campbell was told they had been taken to a vet, but that she wouldn’t be charged the vet bill. 

“I was in such shock I wrote the $80 check out to pay for the grooming and then immediately took them to my own vet. By that time, all three were having problems.” Two came home with head cones to prevent scratching their eyes, and all three needed medicated drops plus follow-up care. Campbell stopped payment on the check but says, “I probably should have sued.” 

Nicks an Cuts

In all fairness, dogs are living, breathing creatures who can move and jerk. Even the most well-trained groomer-and well-trained pup can meet with a wayward clipper or scissors. A groomer who is honest and explains what happened, and acknowledges a cut, scrape, or burn, cares for it properly, and is genuinely apologetic, may deserve a second chance, especially if you have had a good experience with the groomer up to that point. 

“If an injury does happen, the groomer is responsible and must pay the vet bill and inform you immediately,” says Beth Cronk, a New York City groomer and owner of Terrierific, specializing in terriers. If you later find a scrape or cut, tell the groomer. “My clients tell me everything-even that one eyebrow was longer than the other last time.” 

Clipper burn often comes from a dull or overheated blade. 

“Most of the time, clipper burn happens because someone was in a rush and wasn’t paying attention,” she says. 

Keeping coats in good condition helps prevent injuries, too. A dog who needs a complete shaving or removal of large mats may dull and overheat the clipper blade. 

Skin irritation may also result from shampoo residue, excessive brushing, or chemical reactions. “Most of these will not occur with an experienced, conscientious groomer,” says Bohman. Notify your groomer if your pet has allergies, sensitive skin, or needs special products or care. 

When selecting a groomer, do your homework. Look for one who is trained or has completed an apprenticeship. Seek out someone who has been in business in the same place for a long time. Check that the facility is clean and well-maintained, or find a groomer who comes to your home. Dogs are more relaxed in their own environment and likely to have a better experience. 

There are a few red flags when inspecting a facility. Dogs should never be left 
unattended on a grooming table where they can jump or fall, nor should they be 
allowed to roam without supervision. If they are put in holding cages, their collars should be removed since they can snag and cause injury. 

Look for groomers who love what they do and have a rapport with pups. “You have to be able to command respect from animals. If you can’t command respect, you can’t do the job correctly,” says Cronk. Finally, see some examples of the groomer’s work. If you want a breed-specific cut, check how the groomer cuts that breed. 

“Don’t shop for price, shop for experience and quality service,” says Bohman.

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