When Troy Masters, Publisher of the Los Angeles Blade, got a call from the grooming salon manager at a newly opened and prominent West Hollywood adjacent (Beverly Grove) pet store to which he had taken his 1-year old dog Cody, his heart sank. He was told that one of his eyes was extremely red and that he needed to be seen by a vet.
Masters, who was at work, agreed that the manager should rush him to a nearby vet and call as soon as they returned with Cody. Masters says he made a conscious decision to remain calm rather than explore the story of what happened on the spot. The manager seemed to minimize it, saying “this happens to some dogs when they get stressed out,” according to Masters.
“I called the vet the groomers had taken Cody to and had them send me the notes from his visit and it was then that I realized the severity of the injury,” said Masters.“ Severe ecchymosis of the sclera of both eyes,” the report read, “likely due to tugging at the grooming restraints.”
The blood vessel in both of Cody’s eyes had burst.
But Cody’s own veterinarian confirmed Masters’ worst fear — Cody had likely jumped out of the tub during bathing or off of the grooming table, and for a few seconds was left hanging by the noose around his neck. There was no other explanation for the injury, the vet told him.
Masters shared images on Facebook of Cody’s eyes with an explanation of what happened and dozens of people commented online about the trauma. “I was fishing to find out how common the injury is and it was apparently unheard of. People were incredulous that such an injury could happen. Many urged me to sue and some wanted me to name the grooming salon, but I had unfinished business with them,” he said.
“I called upper management and demanded to see video of the entire grooming,” Masters says. “They were cooperative and responsive. What they showed was me was ultimately inadequate because despite having cameras in every corner of the store, they were unable to show me video of the bathing area,” he says. He was told that until this incident they had not realized video was never installed in the bathing area.
“The company admitted the injury happened during the bathing process,” says Masters.
After some back and forth, Masters says they offered to cover vet bills related to the injury, provide food for a year and give free grooming to Cody for one year. “I wanted them to make internal or procedural changes and asked them to promote those changes by purchasing an advertising campaign in this newspaper. I wanted more from them for my dog’s trauma and for my own, certainly not their grooming services.”
The advertising proposal was rejected and withdrawn but the company promised to identify and address the issues that led to the injury. “I wanted them to get ahead of regulatory changes that I decided I would pursue through my contacts but they have a public relations arm,” Masters said.
In nearly all grooming facilities, a groomer’s “noose” is used to restrain an animal during bathing or styling.
West Hollywood Councilmember and former Mayor Lauren Meister has introduced a code that seeks will insist grooming businesses have breakaway collars for dogs, so something like what happened to Cody doesn’t happen again.
Groomers are not required by state law to have certification from an accredited program. Although there have been attempts in the State Legislature to develop a formal, statewide certification process, these attempts have faced opposition from the pet grooming and retailer industry.
A grooming business must hold a license to conduct animal grooming in the City of West Hollywood, but there are currently no requirements for training or certification for groomers or other individuals handling animals.
This new item proposes the City develop amendments to its Municipal Code to require the following:
1. Groomers and anyone involved in the bathing or styling of animals at the facility must be certified by an accredited (or reputable) animal grooming program.
2. Proof of training certification must be required to attain a business license for new businesses or renew a business license for existing businesses.
3. Certificate of completion of training must be displayed at the place of business.
4. Only breakaway groomer’s leashes may be used at bathing stations and styling stations. Standard groomer’s leashes (such as “nooses” or “loops”) do not have a way for the animal to be automatically released in case the animal should jump or fall from the groomer’s table or bathing tub. A breakaway leash may be one that works with Velcro strips along the neck-line or a leash with a buckle that releases when pressure is applied (similar to breakaway collars) or some other similar mechanism that will protect the animal.
5. Video cameras would be required in bathing and styling areas of grooming facilities.
The consent item was approved by the entire City Council and in coming weeks will be open to public comment and debate before being implemented.
“Sparked by Troy’s experience with Cody, and as a dog guardian myself — every time I bring my dog (Spike) in for grooming and see him on that table — and my dog can be a little nutty, I wonder if my dog jumped off what would happen. And if someone isn’t trained to deal with that possibility, we could have more accidents. Although current codes regarding pet grooming in WeHo are very robust, there’s always room for improvement,” Meister says.
“As grooming and doggie day care become more and more popular because people are busy or they can’t do grooming themselves, it’s important for us as Councilmembers to be aware about what’s going on and be flexible to make changes to laws when necessary. And for people who say this might be overkill, well, if it’s your dog and your dog wasn’t being supervised and jumped off a table and the groomer wasn’t trained or wasn’t in the room, then you’d be wishing there was more regulation,” Meister adds.
West Hollywood Councilmember, John D’Amico says the reality of the City is that residents take their pet guardianship very seriously. A prime example is the expansive two new pet areas set to open in January in the West Hollywood Park.
The new areas are all off-leash and furnished with artificial turf. They will be located on either side of the outdoor basketball courts at the north end of West Hollywood Park.
The small dog area will be 4,250 square feet, and the large dog area will be 7,350 square feet.
Each dog park features benches, shade trees, small mounds and turf terraces for romping, and water stations.
“Our city has about 450 kids under the age of 5-years-old and at the time of the West Hollywood Park design, we spent a lot of time and were going to give space to a tot-lot and for many of us it was a completely oddball decision,” D’Amico says.
“We were making a regional park for all the rich people who lived in the Los Angeles Hills, instead of the residents of the City who had dogs and wanted the dog park. There just aren’t that many kids in WeHo. Ultimately it’s a demographic issue of a unique city. The city of L.A. is 40 percent kids, but WeHo has about 5 percent or less. Residents and visitors alike are excited. It’s about community making,” D’Amico adds.
Joshua Schare, Community Manager for the City of West Hollywood, says the City has a deep history advocating for the rights of animals and has been on the leading edge municipal legislation to insure that they’re treated humanely and fairly.
“The city has an ordinance prohibiting the sale of puppies from puppy mills being resold in retail establishments. The city has an ordinance against cat declawing – pet issues and the welfare of animals are at the heart of the city of WeHo,” Schare says.
Meister says her goal is to make the breakaway restraints and other requirements state law.
“If we can get this passed and put something together that works for everyone, then I will go to colleagues outside our city… and once we get other Westside areas on board, we can go to Assembly member Richard Bloom or Senator Ben Allen, and say, ‘Hey, look at what we’ve done — we want this to be statewide. If we can get it there to the state level, I will push for ‘Cody’s Law,’” Meister says.