The recent spate of media publicity about groomer negligence has highlighted the need for regulation, which the grooming industry has long called for.

It is wholly appropriate that tragic incidents involving negligent groomers are publicised. That they are reported in a biased manner would imply that these incidents are the norm for the industry, rather than the exception. This is unhelpful. It undermines the intelligence of dog lovers and public confidence in professional grooming. What would be more constructive would be to bring to public attention how the many dog lovers who would like to (or have no alternative but to) use a professional groomer to help them manage their pets’ coats, can make more informed choices about how to choose a professional groomer.

The subject of ‘have-a-go’ groomers is gravely concerning to the many reputable professional groomers who have invested considerable effort, time and money into building their grooming businesses on a foundation of client trust and have worked hard to develop the necessary skills required to be successful commercial groomers.

The economic downturn has seen the ranks of dog groomers swell, fuelled by redundancy payouts. This has been recognised both in the mainstream media and trade publications. A typical profile of a startup groomer is the caring dog lover who grossly underestimates the not insubstantial portfolio of skills required to safely, humanely and efficiently groom on a commercially viable professional basis. The industry as a whole suffers from the high rate of churn which results when naïve but idealistic market entrants either fail commercially or come face to face with the everyday reality of a physically and mentally demanding job. There are easier ways to earn a living than professional grooming.

It is an unfortunate irony that it is all too often the startup groomer, advertising at commercially unsustainable bargain basement prices to gain entry into his or her local market, that attracts initial clients with the pets least suitable to be groomed by an inexperienced (and sometimes untrained) novice – those unused to being handled for grooming or for whom grooming is either a completely novel or unpleasant experience, or who may have developed an aversion to grooming through previous negative experiences at the hands of ‘have-a-go’ groomers who have since disappeared.

Besides creative flair and commercial acumen, professional groomers require an extensive and resourceful toolkit of technical expertise to handle dogs in a groom setting – being a dog lover alone does not necessarily make for a proficient handler. Nor does the ability to wield a pair of clippers or scissors transform one into a groomer capable of styling a living, breathing, moving pet. At least some academic knowledge of canine behaviour helps, as does a basic understanding of canine anatomy and general health issues, including breed- and anatomy specific issues. Finally, without the personal character traits required to groom safely, humanely and efficiently, even the most artistically talented groomer is unlikely to succeed.

Many professional groomers have over the past number of years organised themselves into grassroots networking groups whose aims include continuous improvement. Additional to this they serve some self regulatory function, through the exchange of good practice and peer interaction. These networks thrive on committed memberships which actively promote and endorse formal groomer education as well as continuing professional development.

Some groups have defined codes of professional conduct which members agree to operate under. They organise grooming events and facilitate groomer networking opportunities – including extensive use of social networks like Facebook, web forums and chat groups. One of the original and very successful examples – the English Groomers Group – has an international profile and has motivated the establishment of several more local groups such as Northern Groomers, The Midland Groomers Group, The United Groomers Group, the recently formed Scottish Professional Groomer Network and others. Such is some professional groomers’ appetite for learning and exchanging good practice that it is commonplace for them to be members of multiple groups, committing considerable free time and effort to supporting their peers, exchanging tips and tricks and offering advice.

Groomers too frequently come into contact with dogs injured by accidents inflicted in the course of home grooming attempts by well intentioned owners, who lack the necessary handling skills required to execute the more technically demanding aspects of a professionally turned out groom. A poorly finished trim is the least worst outcome of these attempts. Suppurating or infected wounds inflicted by scissors or clippers during an attempt to trim or style; inflamed or tender skin from efforts to brush out matting and accidentally quicked nails can leave pets traumatised by the very humans they know and trust.

Without groomer intervention the welfare of many more pets could be compromised. Every groomer is familiar with the unnecessary suffering caused by coats which have matted through neglect (or, most commonly, mismanagement). Because matting is not visibly noticeable it is a hidden problem which many otherwise caring and responsible owners are oblivious to. If not dealt with during a grooming appointment the matting may only by chance be recognised when a pet visits a vet, this being another appropriate environment to safely and humanely shave off the fleece straitjacket with a close blade. The health implications associated with matting are entirely preventable with effective day-to-day coat management, which is the responsibility of the pet owner. (Only the most shocking incidents of coat neglect attract media attention and graphically capture public attention. The reality is that a very high proportion of pets presented to groomers for occasional grooming already suffer unnecessarily to some degree from matting.

It would be to the detriment of pets and dog lovers if the entire grooming industry were discredited as a result of the irresponsible actions of a minority of ‘have-a-go’ groomers.

Signed, professional groomers, groomer educators, members of the Scottish Professional Groomer Network and Northern Groomers: Trudy Anderson, Martin Bannatyne, Michelle Barnes, Carol Bennett Miller, Shane Boniface, Lorraine Brackley, Suzanne Bradbury, Jennifer Brennan, Tracy Burns, Pammie Carmichael-Hogg, Katy Dunn, Deborah Forbes, Geraldine Frate, Ruth Graham, Dana Grant, Caroline Gray, Kirstine Hancock, Barbara Handley, Lesley Harpham, Pamela Harris, Susan Horsfall, Caroline Kelly, Shaun Leach, Tracy McCrindle, Denise McGlennon, Gillian Mcnaughton, Gillian Mowat, Agnes Murphy, Sonya Rennie, Shona Robertson, Kim Stark, Vicky-Ann Tompkins, Donna Walters