By Daryl Conner
An obviously upset groomer recently contacted me via social media. She had accidentally nicked a dog while grooming. I have had similar experiences on more than one occasion during the past 30 years, and could well empathize with her. I vividly remember the first time a dog I was grooming required medical care. I worked for a veterinarian at the time, and as I was beating myself up about the accident, he looked at me calmly and said, “Groomers work with sharp tools on moving targets. Frankly, I’m surprised there are not more injuries than there are.” Those words resonated with me. They made me feel better and I have never forgotten them. Of course we are and should be very careful as we work, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is – accidents happen.
If you are a groomer reading this, and have never had the unfortunate experience of injuring a pet, congratulations! But don’t feel too superior, because a “moving target” may fall victim to your sharp tools at any time. If you have caused an irritation, abrasion or nick, then you well know that sick-to-the-stomach feeling that goes along with the experience. That feeling? It is horrible. But it means that you have a conscience and that you care about the animals in your charge. So feel it – be glad you are a good human – and know that in time it will ease up. Take the opportunity to review what caused the problem. Were you using an inappropriate tool for the job at hand? Could you have done something differently to prevent the problem? If so, make a note and learn from the experience.
So, what is the best way to proceed if an animal is injured while in your care? Here are some guidelines:
Keep accurate records
In the event that an animal is injured, you will want to have an up to date phone number so you can reach the pet owner. People sometimes change their numbers, so make a policy of asking every six months to one year if the contact information you have is accurate. Or you can simply ask, each time they drop the pet off, “What is the best number to reach you today?” and jot it down. It is also good to have the name and number of their pet’s veterinarian on file.
Have a good first aid kit within reach
And know how to use it. Pet Tech offers a wonderful course on animal first aid, and the Red Cross offers one as well.
Let’s say you are trying to scoop a mat out from under the dog’s front leg and your clipper nips that little pesky flap of skin that is tucked up there. The pet barely notices, there is little blood, but there is a slice to the skin. This is not life threatening, but does require medical treatment. You need to decide if you are going to transport the pet or wait for the owner to do so. It’s time to make that difficult phone call.
Watch your language
The words you choose and the tone you use are important. Be professional, be calm, and be matter-of-fact. If your voice is shaking because you are upset, hum a little before you call, this will relax your vocal cords. Your conversation may go something like this, “Hi Mrs. Brown, this is Trina calling from Puppy Cuts. Bonkers is fine but he did get a little nick under his leg where he was very matted. I’d feel better if he saw his vet. Would you like to take him or would you prefer I do it?” At some point you will want to apologize for the accident. Your apology should be heartfelt, but again, keep it professional. Something like, “Thankfully, accidents are rare, but it always upsets me when they happen. I am very sorry it happened to Bonkers.”
Have a plan in place
When a more serious emergency happens, now is not the time to try to figure out a course of action. Think ahead and write down the steps to take if you need to act. A piece of paper with numbers for local veterinarians and a simple pre-planned outline is all you need. Put some thought into how you would like to proceed. Will you call the closest veterinarian or the pets own veterinarian? If you work alone, write a legible note that you can affix to the door in case you need to leave your shop to take an animal for care. It should have a simple explanation such as, “Due to an animal emergency, I have had to leave the building.
Please call me at: _________ for more information.” and include your cell phone number. Keeping all of this in your first aid kit will help you remember where it is.
Now for the tricky part. Who pays for that veterinary bill?
Grooming educator Debi Hilley says, “I have a rule. You have to return the dog in as good or better condition that you received it in. An accident may not have been your fault, but because the pet was in your care it was your responsibility.” Let’s look at a couple of examples. A young, untrained dog becomes agitated during the bath. It flails and flips, snapping uncontrollably at the person bathing it and in general having a tantrum. Due to its behavior, it injures its leg, and ends the groom with a limp. The dog’s own behavior caused the injury, but since it was in your care, paying the veterinary bill is a show of good will. A more obvious example is if you are scissoring along the edge of a Scottie’s ear and it flings its head when it hears a bug, just as you close the scissors. A nick requiring a veterinary visit and a little glue ensues. You were controlling the dog, and the scissors, it seems logical that you would pay the bill.
Now, what if you are a business owner and a groomer that you employ is responsible for an injury? It is illegal for you to withhold money from their pay to take care of the bill. If they repeatedly injure dogs, cost you money, and perhaps damage the reputation of your business – it might be time to find a new groomer.
What about charging for the grooming?
If the injury is minor (e.g. a scrape, a nick that does not require medical care, or brush/clipper irritation) should you expect the owner to pay for the grooming? This should be judged on a case by case basis, but if the groom was completed and the animal is basically fine, then in most cases I would expect the owner to compensate the groomer for the work done. On the other hand, if you think the person is going to throw an epic fit and start an internet hate campaign, if you can mollify them with a free groom – that would make good business sense. These are things to think about before you need to so you have an idea how you would like to proceed.
Many groomers have customers sign a release form when they first bring a pet in for grooming. This can be a good way to establish expectations and open up communication. However, it is a mistake for groomers to assume that if a customer has signed a release that they will be protected from a law suit. Attorney David Knoll (Texas) said, “In general, enforceability of a release form can vary greatly from state to state, so I would recommend using a local lawyer to draft one. While having a client sign a release might discourage the client from suing if the pet suffers an injury, if the release does not provide an adequate description of the risks involved, the client could argue that she did not assume the risk because the risks weren’t clearly explained to her.” He recommends that groomers can do further research on this topic by looking up “enforceability of releases” on the internet. You could also consider having a discussion with your insurance agent about release forms to see if they can offer advice. Insurance companies have lawyers on staff and could be an excellent source of information.
The Best Policy
We have all heard the old saying, “honesty is the best policy.” If a pet is injured while you are grooming it, tell the owner. Don’t let them go home and discover the dogs paw pad was snipped with scissors when the dog cavorts through the house bleeding on the antique oriental carpet. The discussions can be difficult, but it is important to have them. Tell the truth and don’t place blame – act like the professional you are. “Mr. Wiggles kicked his little foot when I was trimming the hair there and the edge of the scissor damaged his pad. It bled a little, but I applied first aid and he seems perfectly fine now.” Show the customer what the injury looks like so they see that all is well. Then if the dog goes home and causes further damage to the paw by running or licking, the customer knows just what the site looked like when they picked the dog up. Taking pictures for your records can be a very good idea as well. Make a note in the file about the incident and what was said to the owner so if there is problem down the road, you will be able to remember what was said and done. Most pet owners are rational people who can deal with incidents in a mature way. Of course, there are those that can’t, but that is a topic for an entirely different article.
None of us like it, but accidents happen. Be as careful as you can be but be prepared in case an emergency happens. Because being a prepared groomer matters.