Pet groomers would need a license under N.J. bill

By Matt Friedman NJ Advance Media

Rosemary Marchetto said she took her shih tzu, Bijou, to PetSmart for a routine grooming.

"The pet groomer told me ‘I hope this dog doesn’t give me a hard time. I’ve had a hard day,’” Marchetto, a Northvale resident, told the Assembly Regulatory Professions Committee today. “Forty-five minutes later they called me and told me 'the dog is dead.'”

The committee today debated a bill Marchetto has been lobbying for: “Bijou’s law,” which would require pet groomers in New Jersey to be licensed.

“I’m pleading with you to please make pet grooming a registered profession,” Marchetto said.

Under the bill (A2264) – which the committee discussed but did not vote on – groomers would have to be at least 18, pass an exam approved by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and “be of good moral character.” 

Applicants would have to pay a fee that would be determined by the board.

"I did some of my own homework and investigation. There have been multiple injuries and deaths related to dog grooming,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the bill’s sponsor. “And when you look at the rest of the professions, whether they are nail salons or any type of profession that serves the public, there needs to be oversight.”

Huttle said that pet groomers are currently unregulated, and that no state currently has such a law, though she said New York City and Miami-Dade County, Florida do regulate them. 

Pet grooming businesses would also need to prove they have liability insurance and keep “incident files” and submit them annually to the veterinary board. Their workplaces would have to be sanitary and have water for the animals. And the groomers would be barred from using drying cages, which are kennels in which warm air is circulated.

Marchetto said that she settled out of court with PetSmart, and that while her lawyer knows exactly how BiJou died, she chose not to know. 

The bill was opposed by several groomers who showed up to testify.

“Most of the groomers that I know that I deal with are very compassionate, caring people,” said Charles Simons, owner of The Pet Salon in Margate. “They would not be in this industry and be bitten every day and scratched every day unless they had a passion for the pet grooming and the pets. Of course, in any industry you’re going to find accidents.”

Joseph Villani, a groomer who goes by “The Dogfather” on an XM Radio show he hosts, said he agrees with the concept of licenses but not the specifics of the bill. He said costs associated with getting the licenses would ultimately be passed on to customers, and that giving the veterinary board oversight could pose a conflict because many veterinary offices offer grooming services.

“They’d be playing with house money,” he said.

Huttle said she was willing to work with supporters and opponents of the bill to amend it before it gets a vote.