07th January 2022
Harry died aged just nine months old as a direct result of negligence by his trusted groomer. We successfully settled his owner’s claim for economic loss, but Harry’s heartbroken family are still tortured by the knowledge of his suffering. Now Harry’s owner Lisa is raising awareness of the dangers of heated cage-dryers and the lack of any legal requirement for groomers to tell dog-owners about them.
Harry went to his forever home with Lisa when he was 8 weeks old. He was playful, affectionate, and loving. He loved peanut butter, cuddles with his family, and his favourite toy was his ball. His family watched him grow. They came to know and love his personality and peculiar puppy traits.
Harry’s family treated him to his first puppy groom in February 2020. In May 2020 his second groom was arranged with the same groomer in the expectation that they would take good care of him. Lisa trusted the groomer implicitly and not being a qualified groomer herself, saw no reason to question the methods of the professionals. Lisa was not advised that a heated cage dryer would be used and was not notified of the dangers, nor was she asked whether she consented to this process.
Harry was locked inside a heated drying cage, unattended and unable to escape, for thirty excruciating minutes. He collapsed from heatstroke. Harry’s groomer explained that they realised something was wrong and checked on Harry only when he “went quiet”. Those words will forever haunt Harry’s family; the implication being that his suffering and cries for help ignored.
Harry was in critical condition. He suffered multiorgan failure. His blood was so damaged that life-saving surgery could not be performed. The damage to Harry’s body illustrates the suffering he endured. Despite several agonising days of specialist treatment, Harry could not be saved. His family were left with no choice but to show him the kindness of putting him to sleep.
Like many new dog owners, our client carried out due diligence in checking the reputation and reviews for several groomers before selecting one, but she knew nothing of the equipment used. Naturally she envisaged that some type of specialised drying equipment must feature, but all that was visible in the salon was a table and a standard doghair dryer; the concept of a cage dryer became known to Lisa only when it was too late.
Our client has never received an explanation as to why grooming staff ignored Harry’s cries, why they left him unattended, why he was locked inside a heated cage for such an excessive length of time, or why the cage dryer was used at all. Harry’s age, grooming inexperience and type of coat, as well as his apparent distress, all rendered him unsuitable. The inordinate length of time remains unexplained. Why two staff, one a qualified groomer, cruelly ignored Harry’s cries is unknown. No responsible groomer acting with skill and care would leave any dog, let alone a puppy, in a heated cage dryer for thirty minutes. It is unquestionably negligent, at best.
Groomers are not legally required to tell owners what drying equipment they intend to use. They do not require consent. They should consider breed, age, grooming experience, coat type, and other factors specific to each dog, but there is nothing which requires them to do so. They do not require to regularly test to ensure equipment is free from defect, despite it being known that mechanical defects can occur. Thermostats can break causing temperatures of heated dryers to be too high. Timers can be faulty or break, meaning dogs are exposed to heat for too long. Human error in setting timers or temperatures can be dangerous, and this does not consider other inexplicable acts of negligence such as occurred in our client’s case.
Despite the known and obvious risks, groomers are not obliged to inform owners or to seek their consent before exposing dogs to the dangers of heated cage dryers. There are non-heated cage dryers available which use room temperature air only. Even so, there are certain breeds which are simply not suitable for any type of dryer due to their breathing capacity. Regulation of the industry could either outlaw heated dryers altogether, since non-heated dryers do the same job with reduced risk, or it could at the very least regulate the use of such dryers.
Lisa is raising awareness of the dangers of cage-dryers and the likelihood that owners across Scotland are completely unaware that they are being used. At present, the only means by which dog owners can make an informed decision about whether or not their dog is exposed to the dangers of cage dryers, is if they ask the right questions. Without regulation, the onus is on dog-owners, not groomers, to ensure that they expose their family pet only to safe grooming practices.
Our client is unlikely ever to truly understand why there was such blatant disregard for Harry’s wellbeing and safety by those responsible for him that day, but this case is a symptom of a long-standing problem in Scotland; namely, the failure to properly regulate the pet industry.
The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 gave Scottish Ministers the power to introduce Regulations to licence pet activities. It has taken fifteen years for Scottish Ministers to use these powers to introduce tighter Regulations for the licensing of dog breeders in Scotland. In that time, the industry which breeds puppies with more consideration for profit than animal welfare has benefitted, with the puppy farming industry so lucrative that the tortured, sickly, desperate dogs it produces have crippled pet-welfare and rescue charities.
The greater regulation offered by the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Scotland) Regulations 2021 is welcome but tardy. It will force those who breed three or more litters in a 12-month period to be licensed and will put an end to third party sellers who often inadvertently, or knowingly, disguise horrific welfare conditions from buyers. Would-be buyers must now deal directly with breeders and this, combined with greater public awareness of how to identify when a breeder may in fact be an irresponsible puppy farmer, should lead to safer breeding practices and better animal welfare.
However, when will Scottish Ministers turn their attention to groomers? In Scotland almost 1 in 4 of us are dog-owners. The grooming industry is thriving following the coronavirus puppy boom. Despite this, it remains completely unregulated. From the dangers of the equipment which will be used to the identity of the staff member who will be doing the grooming; by law, groomers have no obligation to inform owners.
On the day of Harry’s fatal injury his owner understood that he would be groomed by the owner of the salon, as per the previous occasion. This was not in fact the case and the owner was not on the premises. Had she known this, Lisa could have made an informed decision about whether or not to leave Harry with less experienced grooming staff, but the salon was under no legal obligation to tell her.
The Dogs Trust recently published their “Pawlicy priorities for Scotland” and accurately posited that grooming activities have the potential to “seriously impact dog welfare”.
Harry’s case is the perfect example of how dog welfare is at risk from rogue groomers and poor practices. Until the law changes to offer protection for animals being groomed and regulation of this industry, owners should protect their pets by asking about grooming practices. Ask who will be grooming the pet. Ask about their qualifications and experience. Ask about drying methods. Ask to see the facilities. Responsible groomers will not be perturbed by this; they will welcome the animal welfare questions. Animals are, after all, their business, and if animal welfare does not concern them, they should not be in business. Responsible groomers will benefit from greater regulation of the industry because whilst their businesses grow, rogue and unscrupulous groomers would fail to meet the standards necessary to maintain a licence in a properly regulated grooming industry.
Harry’s death was senseless and avoidable. In the weeks that followed Harry’s death, both members of staff involved were dismissed. It is not known whether they are now employed elsewhere but in an unregulated industry there is nothing to prevent them from continuing to groom animals. They do not require to be licensed. They are not subject to any checks. Dog owners everywhere would be well-advised to check their groomer’s credentials and practices before handing over their beloved family pet.
Sign the Pawtection Petition to protect our pets by regulating the grooming industry: https://chng.it/HgdDyCPJVc
Written by Pamela Rodgers, Senior Associate at PBW Law.