Pet groomer bill advances in Suffolk Legislature

Portrait of Laura Hughes with her two Pomeranians Portrait of Laura Hughes with her two Pomeranians in her Medford home on the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2014. Her dogs were sickened after a visit to a mobile pet groomer and she is now pushing for a bill that would regulate dog groomers. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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A Suffolk legislative committee voted unanimously Wednesday to establish a voluntary rating system for pet groomers, after dog owners shared stories of animals that were injured after they were dropped off for hair cuts.

The ratings, performed by a volunteer board that already evaluates pet shops in Suffolk County, would give consumers more information about groomers, said Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue).

Calarco said he wrote the proposed legislation after hearing the story of Laura Hughes of Medford.

Hughes left her Pomeranians with a mobile groomer for shampoos and haircuts in July 2012. But after she picked them up, Gizmo started throwing up and Ginger turned bright red. "She looked like a tomato," said Hughes, 46, who blamed a shampoo product left on too long.

She said that when she called the county and state offices to complain, she found there was no oversight. A call to the groomer was not returned Wednesday.

Mary Aleffi, of Oceanside, testified Wednesday that she picked up her Pomeranian, Rocky, from a groomer in Oceanside in November. When she picked him up, his eyes were bulging and his legs flailing. She said she took him to the emergency room and he had a temperature of 109 degrees; he died shortly after.

"It was a sight that was burned into my memory forever," said Aleffi, noting that the groomer "took the time to place [a] bandanna around Rocky's neck. A call and email to the groomer was not returned Wednesday.

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The full Suffolk Legislature is scheduled to vote on the measure to expand the "Puppy and Dog Protection Rating Program" on Tuesday. Under that program, established in 2011 by the legislature, members of an unpaid board of animal advocates inspect and grade pet stores.

The volunteers, who come from animal rights groups, would ask about training and inspect for cleanliness before giving stores or mobile groomers a ranking, Calarco said.

Stephen Mart, a grooming industry consultant in Washington state and proprietor of PetGroomer.com, said attempts to regulate the grooming business nationally have generally been opposed by groomers, who worry about added costs and government intrusion.

But "there are real safety problems, we have to admit," Mart said. "Anyone can hang out a shingle tomorrow and groom dogs. It's pretty scary when you think about it."Suffolk County's proposal "doesn't sound like the worst idea," Mart said. But, to be effective, Suffolk will have to get buy-in from groomers. "A lot of groomers just probably will ignore it," Mart said.

Legis. Jay H. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) has introduced a more stringent bill to have Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs regulate pet stores, including how animals are housed. The department would do annual inspections of stores.

A state bill before the legislature would license and regulate dog groomers. That bill, which did not make it out of committee last year, was referred to committee in January, according to the state Legislature's website.The National Dog Groomers Association of America did not return calls for comment.

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