By Mary Oquendo
In part two of this series, focus is on the health and safety of the primary work area. The three important elements are the groomer, the pet, and the environment.
Eat breakfast. Your body has shut down overnight. Breakfast presses the restart button and gets things going. It’s sort of the same way your vehicle works better with gas. I am more efficient and less tired throughout the day when I begin with a meal.
Drink plenty of water. Before my first cup of coffee, I drink a glass of water. I want to start the rehydration process early. We work in dehydrating conditions. If we are not properly hydrated, it fatigues our muscles, reduces coordination, and can cause muscle cramps. Consistently being in a state of dehydration can lead to premature organ failure. Bring several bottles of water to work with you. My basic rule of thumb is eight ounces of water for each pet I groom and more in warmer weather.
Dress professionally and appropriately. I used to love wearing sandals in warmer weather, that is, until the day I ended up with hair splinters in both feet. Now I wear closed toe, waterproof sneakers. I am on my feet all day long. I buy according to quality, not price. In addition, I keep a change of clothing in the event there is a possibility of transmission of an agent between pets. This can occur if a pet with a suspected contagion has rubbed up against me and deposited fomites on my clothing. Fomites are inanimate objects, such as hair, that can transmit infectious diseases.
Safety equipment includes the following:
• Safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris (e.g. nail clippings, dremel shavings, and hair) and face masks to protect your lungs and nasal cavities from airborne contaminants and hair. If you are not certain you really need safety glasses or face masks, take a white paper towel and tape it near the pet you are drying. What shows up on the paper towel is also in your lungs and on your corneas.
• Earplugs to protect your hearing, as the sound of many high-velocity dryers are in the same decibel range as jackhammers.
• Bite Busters is a neoprene sleeve for your arm and is invaluable if you are a cat groomer.
• Clipper Vacs will reduce the amount of flying hair in the environment.
If you have employees, OSHA requires you provide necessary safety equipment.
Change it up. Change your body position throughout the day. Stand a bit, walk around, stretch here and there, work at the right height, and use a stool. Buy quality fatigue mats. The better ones will reduce stress on your musculoskeletal system and last longer. Electric tables enable you to work easily at the correct height.
Mini Meditations. Grooming can be stressful, especially if the pet is unruly or the owner is difficult. Meditation is simply zoning out for a brief period of time to quiet your mind. Barbara Bird’s favorite method of shop meditation is fluff drying a pet. She becomes so focused on the task at hand that all the clutter in the background fades away. I have a guided meditations app on my phone. I put my headset on, and five minutes later, I am a new person. Another method is to breathe deeply while focusing on an object.
Equipment. There are many scissors and clippers to choose from. The variations between your choices can mean the difference between a comfortable and uncomfortable fit. It’s why I like to buy my equipment at trade shows. I can check the weight and feel before I buy. Additionally, I was lucky early on in my career to have a manufacturer’s representative point out that I was holding the scissor incorrectly. Improper finger placement will result in wrist and elbow strain.
Maintain control. Use slip leads for dogs and carriers for cats if they are not on the grooming table or in a crate, as well as keep them in arms’ reach. I never rely on the owner’s leads and collars, as it is too easy for the pet to slip out of them. Pets that are out of control can harm themselves or you. If you cannot safely groom them using humane restraints, then pass on them. The risk of career-ending injury becomes too high.
Pay attention to body language. Most dogs and cats will give signs of impending bites. Many groomers, myself included, have been caught unaware and have been bitten. If you find that you have difficulty reading their body language, classes in behavior and handling techniques are available at many trade shows.
Use quick releases. There are two versions. One has the quick release built into the loop itself, and the other connects the loop to the grooming arm. Either works well if you need to release the loop quickly. Never loop a cat. If a cat needs restraining, use a figure-eight harness.
Special care for elderly pets. I use good quality orthopedic mats on the table and hip supports when grooming elderly dogs. They help to reduce stress on arthritic joints. Use caution with the hip supports. Heavy reliance by the pet on them can cause organ damage by prolonged compression. Work quickly or break up the session. Keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer benefits everybody.
Keep equipment in arms’ reach. I have mounted drawers under my table where I keep any equipment I need for the pet on the table. I have no tools on the table as the pet may kick it off or step on a sharp object and slice a pad.
No distractions. While I keep my cell phone on me, I do not take calls while grooming. If I am talking on the phone, my full attention is no longer on the pet. I may miss an indication of a bite or distress on the part of the pet.
Equipment safety. These are the two best pieces of advice I received as a newbie groomer: know where the tips of my scissors are at all times and where body parts begin and end. (Thanks, Terry and Beth!) Check the clipper blade temperature frequently while clipping. When the blades are too hot, swap them out and place on a piece of ceramic tile to cool.
Special note about cats: Cats can stress fairly quickly, so check for dilated pupils and heavy panting. Break up the grooming session if necessary. Keep in mind that stressors for cats include dogs and other cats.
Provide a stress-free atmosphere. Employee strife leads to a stressful work environment for both pet and employee. Pets can pick up on our moods and react accordingly. Providing locked toolboxes, as well as letting go of a groomer that is instigating the disturbances, may resolve some issues. Pets also respond to music. Jarring, high-energy music that may appeal to us may agitate the pets in your care.
Prominently install video cameras. Laws will vary from state to state as to where you cannot place them. A live feed on your website is a great marketing tool. Having video will also resolve any disputes regarding injury or employee issues.
Prevent sun glare. I used to work in a shop that had a beautiful picture window. The only problem with it was when the sun was shining directly in, it made it hard to see what you were grooming as well as dramatically increased the interior temperature. The problem was solved when the owner installed a tinted film.
Put safety protocols in place. Place MSDS, emergency and disaster procedures, and other safety guidance documents in an easy-to-find binder. Make sure all employees are familiar with it. Every six months, check that the batteries are fresh in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the fire extinguisher is charged, and the first aid kit is fully stocked. Install GFI outlets. Water blown off by high-velocity dryers into the outlets can trip the breakers.
Keep equipment in good repair. Check blades for broken teeth and discard. Clean and oiled scissors and blades last longer and cut better. Cleaning the filters on your dryers and vacuums on a regular basis will protect the motor. Wrapping up cords will prevent trip and falls. Clean and disinfect equipment, tabletops, loops, and leads between pets. Store bandanas and bows in storage containers to prevent cross contamination due to flying hair and other debris.
Keep it clean. Air cleaners work to remove bacteria from the air. There are units designed for buildings and others for small spaces. Avoid the ones that use ozone. The EPA has determined that they are unhealthy for people. Tidy up between pets and clean at the end of the day, including dumping the garbage and vacuums.
In part three of this series, the focus will be the bathing area. ✂