Groomer to Groomer

The Grooming Industry's Favorite Trade Magazine!

Mistakes Present
an Opportunity to Grow

Paw Inspiring

By Missi Salzberg


The stylist was finishing my haircut, and we were shooting the breeze and catching up since my last appointment. She was scissoring around my ears, and I cracked a joke about not leaving me with “whitewalls,” which is when they trim your hair above your ears too high and expose that little strip of skin that has never seen the light of day! Then suddenly – snip! – off came a little piece of the top of my ear! Apparently this little spot is quite vascular, because it started bleeding like crazy. The stylist completely freaked and even began to cry, but I told her I was fine, mistakes happen, and asked “Do you have any styptic powder?”

The stylist apologized profusely, took full responsibility, and offered to waive the charge for my haircut, which I refused. Mistakes do happen. That’s a fact. When you have live, animated beings surrounded by sharp, snipping metal, it’s only a matter of time. Mind you, I was sitting still, not barking, not jumping or struggling like many of the dogs that pass through the grooming salon, but even still, forgiveness is pretty easy when someone is genuine and cops to their mistakes.

Perhaps I was quick to forgive because I have been in this similar situation in my own salon. It is no secret to any of us that, once in a while, a dog moves at the exact wrong time. No matter how careful, loving, skilled, and respectful we are, accidents do happen.

“Mistakes are a fact of life: It is the response to the error that counts.”
— Nikki Giovanni

How do we handle the situation when an animal is injured in our care? I can tell you how not to handle it! Do not be defensive, do not make excuses, and do not cast blame on any level at the pet. This is an opportunity, in my mind, to learn, to grow, and to connect with your client. The response to a mistake makes a statement about your business and your brand. I am going to take you through an experience I had recently with a customer whose little dog got a small cut and required a stitch, and I will comment about why I responded the way I did. Before I begin, let me tell you she is more loyal and more of a fan of The Village Groomer than she was before this happened.

“Although actions may speak louder than words, it is our intentions that reveal our soul.”
— Hal Elrod

The groomer informed me immediately that the dog had been injured. When I examined the cut, it was not severe, but it was in a place the dog could easily reach with his back paws. The small cut could be made significantly worse if he did dig. I decided immediately to take him to my veterinarian if the customer gave me permission.

Owning It

I called the client and calmly said, “Hi. It’s Missi at The Village Groomer. Your baby is fine, but we did have an incident, and I want to take care of this. I am so sorry, and I am with him right now. He is sitting on my lap. He got a small cut near his eye, and he is fine, but I would like my vet to take a look at it so we know everything is okay. I could also take him to your vet, but my vet is very close by and will see me immediately if that is okay with you. Would that be all right?”

What I wanted to do, in a genuine and calm way, was to communicate to the owner that I was in control, we had injured her dog, he was okay and being taken care of, and I would be treating him as if he were my own dog. I did not say that he jerked or was wild on the table, which he was, but that is not of any relevance when an animal is injured. Taking care of the dog is first, and taking care of the customer is second. This entire conversation was very calm, very soft, and not dramatic.

The customer’s response was also very calm, albeit concerned, but she said, “I trust you, Missi. Will you call me and let me know what’s going on?” I assured her that tending to him was my sole priority, and I would touch base from the vet’s office. There were no excuses and no long explanations. This happened, I am on it, and I will take great care of your baby.

Making It Right

I called ahead to the vet, and off we went. Once we arrived at the vet’s office (I have a great relationship with them, and they understand how deeply I love my customers), we quickly decided that based on where the cut was, it would be best to put one stitch in to keep it closed and administer pain meds and injectable antibiotics. This, of course, had to be approved by the owner, so I called her back.

I explained that it was a small cut, but due to its location, we decided one stitch would really ensure it staying closed. Her dog would have to be sedated. She asked a few questions, and I offered her the opportunity to speak with the vet, which she declined. When I felt comfortable that she really was feeling safe and taken care of, I told her I would buy her a shirt I saw recently with a dog in a cone, which said, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone!” I told her I would be waiting at the office for him to come out of sedation and would call her back as soon as he was up and about.

Communicating to the owner that we had discussed the best option for her dog and that this was the safest course of action made her feel taken care of. I expressed to her that he was my only focus, and I would be waiting for him when he woke up. I told her he was wagging his tail, which he was, and even with a boo-boo, he was still being a rotten little boy, which he is (and she loves that about him).

She made a remark about how she doesn’t know how we groom him in the first place, because he is such a wild man. At this point, she agreed to our plan, and off he went into surgery. Throughout this entire conversation, I stayed centered in a place of love and compassion and kept an awareness of how I would feel if this were my dog. What would I need to feel taken care of? How could I make this right?

Going the Extra Mile

With one small stitch in place, the pup woke up, and I held him in my lap for about 45 minutes until he was able to stand and walk in a straight line. He was wagging his tail and clearly coming out of sedation, and after a final check by the vet, I called from the animal hospital one more time. I informed the owner that he was fine, quickly went over his post-surgical care plan, and told her I would explain everything in person when I saw her. I offered again to let her speak to the vet, but she was fine speaking with me. We agreed she would meet me at the store at 3 o’clock.

When she arrived, her dog was playing with my Chihuahua cross, and they were zooming around my office. She was relieved, and he was so happy to see her. The vet did such a great job that she couldn’t even find the stitch. The worst news was the cone head and the antibiotic, because he is truly a wild little guy!

I offered to take him back for his recheck and told her that she was more than welcome to drop him off at the store for the next few days so I could watch him while she was at work. She did take me up on this offer, and he spent a few days hanging with my dogs in my office and having a very good time. I also gave her my cell number and told her to call me if anything came up. Of course, we paid the entire vet bill and refused to be paid for the grooming. Before she left the office, I apologized again, expressed how hard it is for all of us when an animal gets hurt, and asked her if there was anything else I could do. She thanked me, gave me a big hug, told me she had to rebook him, and wished me luck babysitting him the next day.

The most important priority in this whole scenario is obviously the care of the pet, but I knew right away he would be fine. The emotional care of the customer, however, was the wild card, because you really never know how someone will react to the news that their pet has been injured. What I do know, however, is that if you are genuine, honest, and take full responsibility for what has happened, people are generally willing to forgive. The process of being present and real with them deepens their trust.

“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity, and accountability.”
— Simon Mainwaring

Try to never lose sight that this pet is someone’s world and the awareness of how you feel about your own babies. This business of pet grooming is about beauty and care, but it is about so much more. It is about trust and understanding the deep connection people have with their animals. Mistakes will happen, but how you choose to respond to these incidents is completely up to you. I don’t think you can go wrong from a place of honesty and responsibility. ✂

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
– Unknown