Is it safe to take your pet to the groomer despite the risk of injury?

Aimee Tully of Newport Beach poses at home with her three Pomeranians, Ace, left, Myshka and Noel.
Aimee Tully of Newport Beach poses at home with her three Pomeranians, Ace, left, Myshka and Noel. Noel went to the groomer for a bath and ended up with a crushed tail that had to be amputated. Tully and other dog owners filed a class action suit against Healthy Spot, a Culver City-based pet store chain.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Tamara Margolis and Aimee Tully sued Healthy Spot on Monday, alleging the Culver City-based chain of pet stores was responsible for harming their beloved pets.

Charlie, Margolis’ 4-year-old Maltipoo, died after being strangled at the company’s West Los Angeles store by a noose used to control animals during grooming. Noel, Tully’s 10-year-old rescue Pomeranian, had nearly five inches of her tail amputated after she was injured while being groomed at the company’s Costa Mesa store.

Healthy Spot Chief Executive Andrew Kim apologized but defended his company and its groomers.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the thousands of animals under our care every year,” he said. “This lawsuit totally misrepresents who we are and how we operate — and we are confident it will be quickly dismissed.”


But the class action lawsuit raises serious questions about how people can ensure their dogs are safely groomed as well as about why animals should be groomed in the first place.

We tackle some of those issues here, with the help of Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA, Teri DiMarino, president of California Professional Pet Groomers Inc., and their organizations’ websites.

Why do dogs need to be groomed, anyway?

Nachminovitch: “Grooming is more than a beauty thing. It’s comfort. We see so many dogs who go without needed grooming for their health and they get matted and that’s very dangerous — and painful as well.”

(The American Kennel Club lists poodles, Bichon Frise, Afghan hounds, Portuguese water dogs, puli and komondor as the breeds that need the most grooming. The organization’s website devotes much space to answering various grooming questions, including the pressing “Why do wet dogs smell so bad?”)

How prevalent are injuries at grooming salons?

DiMarino: “Thousands and thousands of pets are groomed on a daily basis in California — safely groomed — and accidents are few and far between. ... Nobody gets into this business to hurt dogs.”

Nachminovitch: “There aren’t actual official statistics. We do track incidents, particularly at big box stores, because those are the ones we get the most complaints about. ... [Incidents] are so much more common than you think.”

Are there laws that govern how grooming salons are run?

Nachminovitch: “Anybody can open a storefront and say they’re a groomer or a trainer. There are no requirements or certifications that they have to have. ... We would strongly support regulations to be passed to monitor these places.”

DiMarino: “The state of California already has at least 177 licensing boards. They’re not about to put in another. ... To get a driver’s license you have to take a test and study. Does that make you a good driver?”

What’s a dog owner to do?


Nachminovitch: “We did a whole grooming video on how to do it yourself. It’s definitely worth learning, and your dog is much more comfortable with you. He may not look like a superstar but he’ll be more comfortable. That’s more important than a good haircut. The dog doesn’t care.”

And if you don’t want to — or can’t — groom your pets yourself?

Nachminovitch: “I can tell you that, knowing what I know, I would just not use a groomer who isn’t either with me or in my house or a mobile groomer or someone you know very personally. ... There are mobile groomers who come to your home. That’s most certainly a good option, because you can be there.” “Check to see whether the groomer you are considering is a graduate of a training program and a member of any trade organizations. ... Find a groomer with experience. ... Request references from other clients. ... Ask if any animals have been injured or died in the salon’s care. Also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the facility. ... Request that your dog be hand- or air-dried.”