By Mary Oquendo
“There but for the grace of God go I.” -John Bradford
How many times have we said this to ourselves when we hear of a tragedy in another groomer’s shop? But how many of us are really prepared to handle that situation?
Tragedy can come in many different forms:
- Motor vehicle accident (Mobile Groomers)
- Pet escaping from your car
- A pet getting injured, or worse, dying in your facility
- Client injured by any pet, including their own, or tripping and falling on your property
- A groomer heading off to the emergency room due to any number of reasons
- And those are just a couple of possible scenarios.
How Does Tragedy Happen?
• Motor vehicle accidents in your mobile unit happen due to poor road conditions or distracted drivers. I have personally seen people reading books, applying makeup, and playing games on their phone while driving. I try not to drive near them.
• A groomer not paying attention to body language or where our tools begin and the pet ends because they’ve been doing this for so many years and have never had an accident before, and so have become complacent or over confident.
• Inexperienced groomers without proper supervision or education are given tasks that he or she is unprepared for.
• Owners not being truthful about any medical condition, which may be exacerbated by grooming.
• Groomers agreeing to de–mat a pet even though it may be unsafe to do so, not informing the owners of the risks associated, or not requiring owners to sign matted releases.
Shop owners turning a blind eye to possible physical dangers to clients, pets, or employees.
And sometimes, there is no one to blame. Accidents happen.
We can reduce the likelihood of tragedies happening by:
• Mobile groomers paying attention when driving and rescheduling clients when road conditions warrant it. Many times I’m confident in my driving abilities, but not necessarily those of other drivers in poor weather.
• Setting professional boundaries with clients through waivers, intake forms, while clearly communicating precisely what you will and will not do. Because a client wants something doesn’t mean it’s safe to do.
• Performing a nose to tail assessment of a pet in the presence of the owner and discussing any medical conditions that could impact grooming. Suggest a few if nothing comes to their mind. My go to suggestions include: diabetes, allergies, and seizures.
• Doing a walk through of your facility and noting and remedying any hazards such as loose cords, chemical cleaners not properly put away, and stationing an employee to watch over the drying area to ensure heat stroke does not happen.
• Encouraging and offering continuing education. Learning pet first aid, dog and cat behavior, and other safety programs can directly impact the health and wellbeing of your employees and clients, as well as yourself.
• Setting safety policy and procedures for clients, such as cats must be in carriers, no retractable leads for dogs, pick up and drop off times, and so forth.
• Installing clearly identified video cameras to record the grooming process. Laws vary from state to state. Know yours before installation.
• Using groomer safety equipment such as muzzles, Groomers Helper, hip supports, bite busters, and so forth.
Be prepared for a tragedy:
• Detailing the steps in the employee manual for any injuries or escapes that happen in your care, including what needs to be done BEFORE contacting the owner. For example, if a pet escapes your care: contact animal control, post flyers, and set people out looking for the pet first. Then call the owner. You will be able to relay to the owner the steps that you have already taken.
• Talking with your insurance specialist (not agent) at your insurance company to ensure proper and adequate coverage for any and all possibilities.
After tragedy happens:
• Debrief your staff. Early in my career, a young employee was helping me cut an overexcited dog’s nails. I held, she clipped. Well, she clipped so short, the nail had to be cauterized at the vet. She went into shock. Stood there with the nail clippers in hand and didn’t move. The owner and I were busy attending to the pet and didn’t notice her distress. She quit the next day. A debriefing with her before she left for the day would have gone a long way in helping her cope with what happened.
A debriefing is simply discussing the incident, how she felt, and what could have been done to prevent it from happening again. It is feasible for a groomer to experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
• Prepare for social media backlash. If you don’t have a professional social media manager, become friends with one. You will need their advice in such an event. Never respond immediately. That’s the mistake United Airlines made when one of their passengers was beat up when they refused to give up their seat. United disregarded the advice of their social media team and deflected blame right onto the victim. If you feel the need to respond quickly, run your response through the many Facebook groups you belong to first.
If the reactions get out of hand, you may have to retain the services of a lawyer. And yes, there are lawyers who specialize in social media backlash. You may also have the ability to pursue criminal charges. Contact the computer crimes division of your state police. Both will instruct you to take screen shots of everything.
While we all hope something of this nature will never happen to us, remember the Boy Scouts. Their motto is “Be Prepared.” If you prepare for all emergencies, then you won’t get caught off guard. Preparation gives you the tools to handle whatever the situation in a professional manner. ✂