Briefing Report: Licensing Pet Groomers Is Not Such a Fetching Idea

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Revenue shortfalls, high levels of debt, extreme cutbacks in state government programs, and high unemployment are all reasons why California legislators should be focused on the state’s critical financial crisis.  However, a “crisis” of another sort has gained traction within the media and under the dome.  Americans are spending unprecedented amounts on services for their pets -- about $3.65 billion on grooming and boarding services in 2011, up from $3.51 billion in 2010, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.[1]  In the 62% of U.S. households that own a pet, or about 72.9 million American homes,[2] pets are part of the family and treated as such.  This has led one lawmaker to call for tougher standards to be placed on those who pamper, primp and polish California’s furry and feathered friends.

This briefing report is designed to provide background on the pet grooming industry, as lawmakers will soon be considering whether to make California the first and only state in the nation to require vocational licenses for pet groomers.  (More information on occupational licensure may be found at /content/briefing-report-license-kill-jobs-look-occupational-regulation-california)

Groomer Guidelines

Groomers are animal caretakers who specialize in maintaining a pet’s appearance.  Most groom dogs, however, some groom other animals, such as cats, birds, and horses.  Some groomers work in kennels, veterinary clinics, animal shelters, or pet supply stores.  Others operate their own grooming business, typically at a salon or, increasingly, by making house calls.  Such mobile services are growing rapidly because they offer convenience for pet owners, flexibility of schedules for groomers, and minimal trauma for pets resulting from their being in unfamiliar surroundings.

Grooming a pet typically involves several steps: an initial brush-out is followed by a clipping of hair with combs and grooming shears; the groomer then cuts the animal’s nails, cleans the ears, bathes and blow-dries the animal, and ends with a final trim and styling.  Groomers clean and sanitize equipment to prevent the spread of disease, as well as to maintain a clean and safe environment for the animals.  Groomers also schedule appointments, discuss grooming needs with clients, and collect general information on the pet’s health and behavior.  In some cases, groomers might be the first to notice a medical problem, such as an ear or skin infection, that requires veterinary care.

Under the guidance of an experienced groomer, pet groomers typically learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship usually lasting 6 to 10 weeks.  Prospective groomers also may attend one of the 50 State-licensed grooming schools throughout the country, with programs varying in length from 2 to 18 weeks.  Beginning groomers often start by taking on one duty, such as bathing and drying the pet.  They eventually assume responsibility for the entire grooming process, from the initial brush-out to the final clipping. [3]  Some pet grooming salons, including those found in larger retailers like PetSmart and PETCO, provide their own training program for groomers.  PetSmart requires that groomers complete a 12-week course to become certified PetSmart PetStylists™.  The course provides more than 400 hours of technical and safety training.  In addition, PetSmart requires every PetStylist™ to recertify in safety on an annual basis.[4]  PETCO has a similar mentorship program, in which “…pet stylists learn about safety, customer service, and grooming skills.” [5]

Pet Population Provides Professional Positions

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of animal care and service workers (which includes pet groomers) is expected to grow 21% over the 2008–2018 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations.  The companion pet population, which drives employment of animal caretakers in kennels, grooming shops, animal shelters, and veterinary clinics and hospitals, is anticipated to increase.  Pet owners—including a large number of baby boomers, whose disposable income is expected to increase as they age—are expected to increasingly purchase grooming services, daily and overnight boarding services, training services, and veterinary services, resulting in more jobs for animal care and service workers.  As more pet owners consider their pets part of the family, demand for luxury animal services and the willingness to spend greater amounts of money on pets should continue to grow. [6]  Pet groomers who work in large retail establishments or kennels may move into supervisory or managerial positions, and many experienced groomers often choose to open their own salons or mobile grooming business.

Wages in this industry are relatively low.  Median annual wages of nonfarm animal caretakers were $19,360 in May 2008.  The middle 50% earned between $16,720 and $24,300.  The bottom 10% earned less than $15,140, and the top 10% earned more than $31,590. [7]

Should Licensure Put a Leash On This Industry?

Given the relatively low wages and the self-regulation that already occurs in the industry, some may question why an effort is underway to license pet groomers.  Occupational licensing has always been justified to the public as a form of consumer protection, an assurance that somebody with a license will be competent and accountable for the services they provide.  In this case, proponents of licensing this industry claim licensing requirements are needed to protect the public (as well as its animal companions) from unscrupulous, incompetent, or dangerous practitioners.  However, the main effect is simply to restrict entry and reduce competition in the licensed occupation, in this case pet grooming.  Licensing fees and stricter regulations will price otherwise good groomers out of the market.  Less competition for licensees means less pressure to offer higher quality at lower prices to attract business.  As a result, consumers are left with the choice of either paying higher prices for a licensed practitioner or do-it-yourself grooming, which may expose pets to even more harm since owners are not trained to do this.  Finally, licensing reduces consumer choice not only by the fact that licensing means there will be fewer practitioners in business, but also because the one-size-fits-all licensing requirements imposed by the government discourage specialization and varying levels of service.

Some may question if pets are any safer in the hands of a “government licensed” professional than they are in the hands of a “certified” professional.  The answer is “No”.  Voluntary (private) certification allows practitioners who meet the criteria of a certification organization to advertise their certification to signify to customers that they offer high-quality services, while leaving consumers and non-certified practitioners free to do business if they so choose.  Pet grooming organizations such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America, National Cat Groomers Institute of America, International Professional Groomers and International Society of Canine Cosmetologists have their own testing and other certification requirements and offer workshops, seminars and other events to provide groomers and consumers more information about their members’ qualifications.[8]  The certification programs and workshops put on by these organizations allow groomers to voluntarily enhance their grooming skills, stay current with industry trends, and exchange ideas, methods, and opinions with others in the industry.  These organizations provide look-up services, which allow consumers to search for certified groomers in their area.

“There still ought to be a law!”

While it’s no secret that licensing regulations impose significant costs on employees, business owners, and consumers alike, there continues to be those who call for licensing of this industry.  This year, Senator Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) has answered that call by introducing SB 969, “Lucy’s Law.”  According to information provided by the author’s office, “Lucy’s law originated from the story of Lucy, a small Yorkshire terrier mix that suffered multiple injuries at the hands of a groomer in Palm Springs.  Among these injuries were: a detached retina, a severed ligament in her leg, and lacerations to five of her eight nipples.”  SB 969 would require that any person engaged in pet grooming be licensed and regulated by the Veterinary Medical Board.  Licensees would have to pass a test, pay a fee, and maintain insurance.  In addition, they would be required to keep a record of every pet they serviced for two years, including the name of the pet, the name and address of the owner and the pet’s veterinarian, and any special needs the pet may have or allergies and a list of all chemicals used on the pet.  The author believes that the requirements put forth in the bill will “…ensure safe grooming for all pets in California.”

This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have barked up this tree.  In 2003, the City of West Hollywood began taking a closer look at pet grooming businesses after two dogs died, and another was seriously injured, at the same West Hollywood salon.  West Hollywood has been at the forefront of animal rights causes for some time, recently becoming the first city in the nation to ban the sale of fur clothing.  The city has also already banned the sale of cats and dogs in stores and was the first in the nation to ban the declawing of cats. [9]  On October 20, 2003, the City Council directed “…appropriate staff to develop a revocable ‘discretionary license’ for pet grooming to be added to the Business License Code.”[10]  The City Council solicited input from the Southern California Professional Groomers Association, the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control, and other professional associations, before tightening its rules for grooming facilities and mandating that dryers be monitored at all times. [11]  The cities’ actions provided the backdrop for AB 762 (2005) by Assemblyman Koretz, which would have, among other things, set specified standards for a person that operates an animal grooming facility and called for educational, training, and licensing or certification standards for groomers.  The bill was surrounded by controversy, in part because a person who violated the grooming standards called for in the bill would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding 90 days, or by both.  The bill was referred to the Assembly Business & Professions Committee, however, it proved to be all bark and no bite and a hearing was never held on the measure.

Put This Idea In A Doggie Bag

While we love our pets dearly and want to protect them from harm, mandatory state licensing is not the answer.  In an industry that depends on repeat business, the marketplace will take care of bad pet groomers.  Groomers who harm pets can already be prosecuted under laws against negligence and fraud, as with any other case of poor service or breach of contract.  Further, if a groomer regularly injures pets, it is unlikely that customers will continue going back to that groomer for services.  As a result, the groomer will go out of business and good groomers will continue to prosper without the state stepping in to put a muzzle on the pet grooming industry.

For more information on this report or other Business, Professions and Economic Development issues, contact Amber Alexander, Senate Republican Office of Policy at 916/651-1501.

[1]2011-12 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.
[2] ibid
[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.  Animal Care and Service Workers
[4] PetSmart Pet Grooming.  Pet Grooming FAQ.
[5] PETCO.  Educated and Dedicated Pet Stylists- Video.
[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.  Animal Care and Service Workers:
[7] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition.  Animal Care and Service Workers.
[8] Summers, Adam. “State is barking up wrong tree on pet grooming licensing.” San Diego Union-Tribune.  February 24, 2012.
[9] “WeHo Becomes First In Nation to Ban Fur Sales.”  KTLA 5- Los Angeles.
[10] City of West Hollywood City.  Council Minutes.  October 20, 2003.  Page 18.
[11] Munoz, Sarah Schaefer.  “Deadly incidents prompt concern about pet salons.”  The Wall Street Journal.  August 2, 2006.