When Ontario went into lockdown on Dec. 26, the provincial government decided that pet grooming would be classified as a non-essential service, leaving local pet owners and groomers frustrated - again.
Mimi Walsh, owner of Mimi’s Pet Grooming, says she finds it challenging to understand why the government would not deem pet grooming an essential service.
“We could do curbside pick-up and drop-off for animals. We don’t have to be in contact with the customer ... we could very easily make it work,” she said.
“We could have picked up dogs using a crate, we could have used e-transfer for payments, there are so many things we could have done to make this work, and they didn’t even give us a chance.”
The biggest concern Walsh has relates to the health and well-being of her clients' pets.
“There are now animals out there who are suffering and can’t get the help they need,” she explained.
“They get very matted and their coats can’t breathe, they get sores, their nails grow too long, they curl and then they can’t walk properly. People are calling me crying, begging for me to cut their dogs' nails, and I can’t do anything to help them," lamented Walsh.
Dianne Wall, owner of ShamPooch Dog Grooming on Peter Street, agrees.
"When we groom a dog, we aren’t just giving them a bath and a pretty haircut," she says. "We are going over every inch of the dog's body and paying attention to a dog's behaviour."
She said groomers who have repeat customers can often detect if there's something not quite right with a pet.
"We can tell where a new lump or bump has grown and let them know that they should consider calling a vet. We can tell when a coat has turned dry and brittle or the skin has become very oily, and then we let the owner know they should consider calling their vet," explained Wall.
"I cannot begin to tell you how many times us groomers have had owners call us letting us know that that lump we found was cancer, and it was detected early enough that it was removed and the dog will be perfectly fine," Wall said. "Or that the dry brittle coat and drastic weight gain is because of a thyroid issue."
She said they can see things an owner might not notice.
"When the owners live with their dog every day, they adapt to what they see, and can’t really tell what is new or out of the norm because it isn’t a change that happened all of a sudden. It was gradual," she explained.
Wall said some pet owners have decided to take things into their own hands - which is not recommended.
"Brushing and combing a dog is something that every owner should be doing daily. However, cutting the dog's hair and nails, and shaving their sanitary areas are things that, if not trained properly, can seriously injure a dog," said Wall.
"When we reopened in the spring (after the first lockdown), the wounds that we saw on our clients' dogs were quite horrific. We understand that the owners have their dogs best interest at heart, but you wouldn’t change the oil in your car if you didn’t even know how to open the hood, right?"
Because of that and due to the lockdown, Walsh expects to be backlogged by at least two months when the government lifts the restrictions.
“Every job that we do is going to take twice as long because the dogs are going to be in rough shape,” she said.
Walsh called the government hotline for clarity, but she was only told that pet grooming had been ‘revoked’, and she was not given an explanation as to why. Wall encountered similar frustrations, saying she got different answers from different people.
Walsh says the lockdown could put her out of business.
“This is devastating. It’s the second time we’ve been shut down, and I just relocated from being a home business to a double commercial business with big rent to pay,” she explained.
“We are hoping and praying we will make it through, but there is no guarantee when they will let us open again, and we are really hoping the lockdown doesn’t get extended.”
Walsh was forced to lay off all four of her staff members and has applied for rent relief which she has yet to be approved for, but her biggest concern is the health and safety of the animals which she provides care for.
Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop says the provincial government is trying to send a message to people by keeping the majority of businesses and services closed or restricted.
“The general message is we want people to stay home. The more things that we offer and make available, the more people are encouraged to go out,” she said.
Dunlop says her office has received phone calls from concerned individuals who are worried about the health and safety of their pets without grooming services, but the issue seemed like it was a bigger concern during the initial lockdown.
“Looking back to the spring, we heard from a lot of people that were considering pet grooming a health concern for certain types of breeds,” she said.
“We haven’t received many calls this time, maybe that’s because being winter and a little cooler people aren’t necessarily trimming their dogs like they would be doing in the spring," she said.
Dunlop says she is working with Barrie-Oro-Medonte-Springwater MPP Doug Downey and Barrie MPP Andrea Khanjin to bring the issue to the health table to be re-considered.
“Collectively, we have reached out to ask the health table to consider pet grooming to be an essential service for the certain breeds that it is necessary for,” she explained.
Dunlop says there is no timeline on when the health table may make a decision.