House-Call Grooming in a COVID-19 World
By Deborah Hansen
The world has changed greatly since I wrote my last article on house–call grooming. Many of us have experienced Stay–at–Home orders and closures for being considered non–essential businesses. We have new terms in our vocabulary such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). Heroes have been redefined.
Regardless of how your local government handled COVID–19, what does the actual virus mean for those of us who love and strongly believe house–call grooming is the best environment to groom the pets we serve? There are many things to consider moving forward as a house–call groomer. The most important consideration is how to keep yourself safe and protect your livelihood.
I am in an area that issued a Safer–at–Home order and grooming is not considered essential. I made the final decision to close around 5 a.m. on March 13, 2020 after I serviced the cats of two separate families that had just returned from two separate cruises. My official statement to my clients was, I spend hours on scheduling and disinfecting to prevent cross–contamination for the kitties I service, I need time to learn more about how COVID–19 spreads so I can put the same diligence into preventing cross–contamination for the human families.
As a former elementary educator, I knew that most viruses are contagious just before symptoms are observed. My concern was that I would be unknowingly exposed by my clients that love to travel and I would bring it into a home with clients that have pre–existing conditions. Most of my clients travel often and have elderly parents or people with serious medical conditions in their home.
When I was ready to entertain the idea of reopening, the first step I took was to contact my insurance company. In servicing the high–risk population my grooming business caters to, I wanted to be sure I understood how my insurance worked if I was blamed for bringing COVID–19 into a home. If you have not talked to your insurance company, I recommend you make the call. It is important to understand what your business’s insurance policy will provide in the event of a client concern.
The next step you need to take is to talk to an attorney about the possibility of accusations. Make sure your business structure is one that will best protect your assets in the event of an allegation that you brought the virus into someone’s home.
When speaking to your attorney, ask if it is a good idea to have a waiver of liability for your clients to sign in case you unknowingly bring COVID–19 into a home you service. If it is the recommendation of your attorney to have that layer of protection, having their law office draft one for you will be an easy next step.
After knowing where the continuation of your business stands legally, you can then make the decision on how to proceed. I still believe house–call grooming is the best environment to groom a feline. When a cat is groomed where they live you have a longer time period in which they are cooperative. The cat is less stressed and returns to normal faster when the grooming process takes place in their home. Many owners also prefer the cat being groomed in the home so they do not have to put the cat into a carrier, or listen to the infamous cat car song. However, in a COVID–19 world, it may not be best from a legal standpoint.
When you know all your facts, it may be time to change from house–call to a mobile or salon model. This move may be temporary until the virus is better understood, there are effective ways to treat the virus or there is a vaccine. Or you may decide the risk of house–call grooming is too great and the change to a salon or mobile may be a permanent decision.
Another consideration that needs to be addressed is that you will be exposed to what is in the homes you service. If you are going into six to eight homes a day, you have the possibility of picking up any viruses the family members and visitors to that home have. You need to have a plan in place to keep yourself safe.
My business has always encouraged feline owners to watch, take pictures and visit with me while I groom. I have always done the majority of my work in the smallest bathroom; social distancing in a powder room is not physically possible. If you decide to remain as a house–call grooming business, you will need to decide if you will still work in the smallest bathroom, if you will allow owners to sit with you, if you need to add additional layers to your personal protection and if you want to enhance your final clean–up procedures.
If you remain house–call, or if you change to salon or mobile, I expect a high turnover rate of regular clients after reopening. While many people have lost their jobs, many others are scared. Fear plus the change of income will most likely change the every–four–week client into a random client. The difference is, these clients know the benefit of regular grooming. Not keeping a regular schedule will most likely cause added stress on these families.
In this time of uncertainly, it is important that you understand where you stand legally and add new safety protocols to keep the pet owners and yourself safe from COVID–19. Many of our clients are scared and they need reassurance that you are doing your due diligence in keeping the humans we serve healthy.
The focus on house–call grooming is no longer just about safe, gentle and caring ways to manage pets. We still need to demonstrate that every day, but now we must also add what we are doing to protect the pet owners themselves. ✂️