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Grooming & Regulation
By Lisa Osburn
News Staff Writer
The Birmingham News
When customers walk into Generation Dog in Homewood, the sound of running water coming from the back of the store gives the only clue of a functioning dog salon called Rub-a-Dub Dog Bath House and Spa.
There are no dogs barking. No sounds of kennel dryers. In fact, there are no kennels or cages. Owner Catherine Bres said her two groomers, both with training and years of experience, work with one dog at a time. They hand dry the fur, finish the cut, style and doggie massage, and then the dog is free to roam the gated back room until its pet parent arrives.
As with any grooming business, the standards found at Rub-a-Dub Dog Bath House and Spa are left completely to the owner. Bres chose high ones, she said. But they were certainly not required.
The pet grooming industry in Alabama and across the nation is basically unregulated. Anybody can wake up today and decide to be a dog groomer with no experience or training, said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the National Dog Groomers Association of America. No governing agency inspects the facilities, the grooming equipment, or if groomers are certified with proper training, he said. That responsibility falls completely on the pet owners, who are sometimes unaware of the possible dangers, Reynolds said.
The “Today” show on NBC sparked some interest and outrage last month when host Meredith Vieira had a segment on kennel drying machines. Her assistant's 2-year-old Labrador Retriever, Sushi, was killed in a heated kennel drying machine. Many pet grooming facilities have the machines, which allow groomers to work with several animals at the same time. The dogs are placed in kennels with blowers to dry the fur. In Sushi's case, the blower was set higher than 100 degrees.
Bres had decided long ago she didn't want kennel dryers in her business. The “Today” show segment reminded her why. “Cage dryers are there purely to save time for these places where its all about the volume, not the dogs,” she said. “It doesn't dry the coat better. I'm not an expert on these machines, but for some of these people who do not know what they are doing, it is essentially like putting a dog in an oven.” Bes and Reynolds both say that when used properly, cage dryers can be safe. But many groomers have different opinions of what constitutes safe, Reynolds said. Some do not want any heat mechanism installed in the machine. Others want an automatic shut-off in case the dogs are accidentally forgotten. There are also certain kennels made for the dryers, Reynolds.
Deaths are rare
Kennel drying deaths and all deaths related to grooming are rare, Reynolds said. He suggests pet owners interview perspective groomers to find out their practices concerning kennel dryers and other procedures. And more importantly, they should visit the grooming facility.
“That would be first and foremost,” Reynolds said. “Introduce yourself. Talk about the puppy. Just by looking around you will see if the groomers are dressed professionally. Is the place clean? Does it smell? If it looks dirty and the groomers are smoking and wearing ratty clothing, don't leave your dog.”
Angelia Allen, owner of Posh Pets in Pelham, is one of the few Alabama groomers certified with the National Dog Groomers Association of America, which is one of three certifying agencies, Reynolds said. Allen is shocked that some people will call her shop for the first time and ask that their dog be groomed that day, without visiting or asking for any references.
“Call and interview the person before you trust them with your babies,” she said. “If you drop in during the day, they should be able to give you a tour. There shouldn't be anything hidden. If you get a bad feeling, don't leave your dog there. People need to be more aware of what goes on at a salon. It is just like leaving your children at day care.”
Allen, who also hand dries without using drying kennels, said it is only a matter of time before the industry is regulated. States like Colorado and California have already started, she said. Groomers should get certified, take advantage of the additional training and continuing education clinics, she said. “Methods change, equipment changes,” Allen said. “The whole certification thing is important. I hope it happens in Alabama.”
So is certification
For now, certification for pet groomers is rare. Many times, word-of-mouth references and reputation are much stronger, said Nathan Weaver, with Rocky Ridge Animal Clinic, which offers grooming services. Many of the clinic's grooming clients are more comfortable leaving their pets where veterinarians and technicians are working, eh said. And the vet's office is more likely to follow strict guidelines on vaccinations, making sure one animal does not infect a dozen more.
“If a place does not ask for vaccination records or try to confirm them, that should be a red flag,” Weaver said. Weaver said kennel dryers, when used properly with a timer, can be a “wonderful” time saver for groomers and help dogs who might be frightened by hand dryers. But he also cautions pet owners to ask a lot of questions, specifically about the type of drying kennels used, if they apply heat and if they have an automatic timer. Some breeds with short hair should never need to be placed in them, he said.
And then there is the quality of the haircut, Weaver said. “There are some places who give the same cut to every dog,” he said. “A good groomer needs to know different breeds, know the different styles.” Another sign of a good groomer? “We have two groomers between both locations,” Weaver said. “They stay booked up all week.”