A recent column about Animal Law posed the question, “What happens if a groomer injures your pet?” This week’s column examines a proposed law inspired by a little dog named Lucy relating to pet groomers.

Most of the good folks who groom your dogs are professional, skilled and enter this field of work because of their love of animals. But you might be surprised to learn that there are currently no minimum standards to become a groomer in California, there is no required training and no required exam such as the one required for barbers and hair stylists. All anyone has to do to be a groomer is purchase some clippers and shears, obtain a business license and declare themselves to be a groomer. Some of our Coachella Valley residents set out to change that.

Lucy’s Law, California Senate Bill 969, is currently making its way through the complex California legislative process. Last week it was heard in the Appropriations Committee chaired by Senator Kehoe. During the dramatic testimony, Teresa Gilland told about her dog Sadie. Sadie died from a massive heat stroke when she was left in an intense heat blowing dryer cage at a grooming salon. Teresa and her family hope to make a difference for others in her memory by closing the loopholes that allow others to handle your pet claiming to be a groomer without the skills and triaining.

Local animal rescuer and advocate, Jacque Mercier Berman, is the driving force behind Lucy’s Law. Jacque is pictured here with her husband, attorney Martin M. Berman, during one of their trips to our State Capitol to lobby for Lucy’s law. It all began in 2009 with an email Jacque received from David Martin who was on her networking list of “Pet Pals”. Martin wrote of a horrific experience with a groomer who worked on his little Yorkshire Terrier mix dog named Lucy. Martin was shocked when he went to pick up Lucy and found her seriously injured, five of her eight nipples shaved off, one eye injured, and a torn ligament in her hind leg. Lucy sustained significant vision loss and has a permanent limp as a result. At the time, the groomer and salon manager denied causing the injuries, but Martin called the police and their stories quickly changed and the business paid for Lucy’s emergency veterinary treatment. David Martin was surprised when he learned that there were no requirements for someone to work as a dog groomer. He did not want to file a lawsuit but he wanted to make sure that what happened to Lucy didn’t happen to other dogs.

Jacque Mercier Berman carried the banner for Lucy. For the next 2 years she researched the laws in every state concerning grooming and learned there was no law anywhere protecting pets from incompetent and untrained groomers. Her husband helped collect and organize all the documentation. Berman discovered that in California over 1200 cases of groomer inflicted injury and death to pets were reported to various agencies during 2011. She contacted State Senator Juan Vargas, set up a meeting where she provided her research, and he agreed to author the Pet Grooming Bill. An animal lover, Senator Vargas explains why he wanted to get involved, “We need basic safety for our pets. These animals can’t protect themselves”.

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The media and internet attention to the Pet Grooming Bill resulted in the reporting of more pet injuries and deaths by groomers to the Bermans by attorneys, veterinarians, and pet owners. They learned about Rita, a small Bulldog puppy who went to a groomer for her first bath, and ended up strangled to death according the autopsy, most likely by a leash when left unattended at the table…..the dog didn’t die immediately, and yet the salon failed to take her to a vet located right next door. Even more shocking, the groomer was still combing Rita on the table seemingly “pretending” that nothing was wrong when her owner arrived.

The publicity also caught the attention of some pet groomers who were opposed to regulating their field. Some of them showed up the Business and Professions hearing in Sacramento where Berman testified in support of the bill. It was standing room only during the hearing when over 200 groomers showed up. A confrontation occurred in the Capitol hallway between Berman and six irate groomers holding dogs. Berman explained to them that as credentialed groomers they were not part of the problem. She told them that if the bill passes, the untrained and uneducated groomers who stole their title will be out of business as they will not be able to pass the exam. The exam will be developed by a Council consisting of master certified groomers, the Dog Groomers Assocation, the SPCA, the Humane Society of the United States, and an attorney. Amazingly, four of the six groomers are now on board supporting the bill and assisting Senator Vargas.

Ray Johnson, owner of The Grooming Shop in Rancho Mirage, is pictured grooming a rescue dog named Charlie. Johnson, a state certified post-secondary grooming instructor believes that the passage of Lucy’s Law will be good for the industry. Those who are deligent and are skilled in their field want to be a part of an effort to improve that occupation.

Berman tells the story of Lucy’s Law, “We’ve made many friends because of Lucy’s Law…and whom are now all related! SB969 our Pet Grooming Bill was heard last week in the Appropriations Committee, Chaired by Senator Kehoe who was in favor along with Senators Lieu, Alquist, Kehoe, and Price …this is called a landslide!
If it wasn’t for Teresa Gilland, agreeing to sit in and appear for me today in Sacramento and testify about her dog Sadie who died at the hands of negligence, …I am not so sure this Bill would have made it through with such a majority. Teresa and her children and husband grieve for their pet, and grieve more for the loopholes that allow anyone to handle your pet, and claim they are a pet groomer. Next…we go to the Senate floor, so I am back to work with Senator Juan Vargas and his staff, amending and revising to get this Bill finally passed into Law. Owners have the right to ask their groomer or grooming salon for proof of training and how many years of experience they have. Pet owners have the right to watch their animal being bathed and brushed. If a salon won’t let you watch, take your pet somewhere else”.

You can track the progress of SB969 on the website www.sen.ca.gov. The Pet Grooming Bill needs to make it out of the Senate floor and then to the Governor’s desk for signing in order to become law. This column will also provide a status update on Lucy’s Law.

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