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NJ lawmakers look to put pet groomers under watchful eye

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Scruffles, an English bulldog, died after being left in the care of a Fleming PetSmart.
Scruffles, an English bulldog, died after being left in the care of a Fleming PetSmart. - ()

Lawmakers are mulling over a series of potentially conflicting measures on how to ramp up scrutiny of the state's pet groomers, following the deaths of several dogs at different pet salons in New Jersey.

A bill unveiled by Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney, R-40th District, on Thursday would require a pet groomer to register with the state Division of Consumer Affairs, if they’ve had three or more complaints lodged against them, within a one-year period, over pet injury, illness or death.

Any pet groomer who is registered with consumer affairs would have to notify any patron who seeks their services, and in addition, post a notice in their place of business that they’ve been place on the registration list. For every day the pet groomer doesn’t register with consumer affairs, they’ll face an additional $1,000 fine.

Rooney’s office said the proposals help keep negligent and reckless pet groomers accountable, without placing onerous restrictions on small business and family-run pet grooming services.

His proposal, Assembly Bill 4055, stops short of the proposal to require licensure and training for New Jersey’s pet groomers, a measure introduced by Rooney’s Republican colleague, Sen. Kip Bateman, R-16th District, saying it goes too far.

“Most are mom and pop main street shops who are reliable and survive by having strong relationships with their customers,” Rooney said. “Requiring them to be licensed in New Jersey would create another unnecessary burden on small businesses. At the same time, we need to provide a level of regulation to ensure the safety of pets in their care. This bill provides the right balance.”

Bateman’s proposal, Senate Bill 2514, unveiled a series of regulations for pet groomers, which would be managed by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

The bill was dubbed “Bijou’s Law,” named after Bijou, a normal and healthy Shitzu who in 2011, after being dropped off at a Paramus PetSmart, died in the care of the groomer.  

“People take their dog to the groomers with the reasonable expectation that their pets will be treated properly and returned to them clean and healthy, and not in a box,” Bateman said in a statement.

Under the measure, a pet groomer would have to be at least 18 years old and pass an examination passed by the state veterinary board; pet grooming would be prohibited otherwise.

If while being groomed the pet escapes, sustains injuries, needs to visit a vet, contracts an illness or dies, the business would have to maintain an incident file with the board, according to the bill.

The board can revoke or suspend the license for a variety of violations, including failure to keep up with sanitary conditions, a lack of liability insurance and failure to maintain incident files.

Rooney, in a statement, said that regulatory proposals penalize groomers at the “actions of a few.”

But Bateman’s chief of staff, Rosanne Brown, said she acknowledged the bill wasn’t perfect, and that amendments and changes would almost certainly be added.

Bijou, a shih tzu who died in 2011 while being left in the care of pet groomers at a Paramus PetSmart.
Bijou, a shih tzu who died in 2011 while being left in the care of pet groomers at a Paramus PetSmart. - ()

“What we’ve been doing is meeting with the different stakeholders to get their input on the bill,” Brown said. “There’ll be amendments on this bill. So hopefully it will satisfy everyone. As it stands right now, it’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a start.”

Rooney’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

A third piece of legislation was introduced by Daryl Kipnis, attorney for danielle DiNapoli, whose English bulldog, Scruffles, died after being dropped off for grooming at a Flemington PetSmart.

Dubbed “Scruffles’ Law,” the measure would provide legal resource for a pet owner if their pet dies or becomes injured while under the groomer’s care; including up to $10,000 in punitive damages.

“Currently pet owners and pets have no real recourse in the event of gross negligence and

recklessness to their pets in others care,” DiNapoli said in a press release by Kipnis’ Congressional campaign office.

Nancy E. Halpern, a Princeton attorney on animal law, said that lacking any state regulations, Trenton needs to put something in place. Right now, that falls onto individual towns.

“They might have to, depending on the type of business, they might have to be licensed or registered with a municipality,” Halpern said.

Some things to consider with proposals, Halpern suggested: which board controls the groomer credentials and the standards of review.

One thing is almost certain, according to Brown. Don’t expect anything to come out of Trenton before the summer break.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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