Once word was out Niagara-on-the-Lake dog groomers were back in business, Liz Chorney’s phone started to go crazy.
By Saturday, the local groomer had about 200 phone messages from clients who couldn’t wait to have their pets bathed, de-matted, nails trimmed, looking and feeling great.
It’s been two months since appointments had to be cancelled, says Chorney, and March, when groomers were classified non-essential and had to close their doors, is the busiest time of year for them.
“We call it ‘matted March,’’ she says, when dogs’ hair has grown out since their Christmas cut. Many pet owners prefer to leave their dogs’ fur longer during the coldest months, and by March, when the weather warms up, it creates wet and mucky situations for dogs who are beginning to spend more time outdoors. That’s when they most need a trip to their groomer the most, she says.
Since closure was imposed on groomers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chorney has received phone calls every day from clients desperate to have their dogs cleaned up.
It’s not just about pets having pretty hair styles or smelling good, she says, it’s about treating their skin conditions, trimming long nails that can curve so much they grow into paw pads, which she knew was happening, checking for ear infections, and feeling for “lumps and bumps” that could be cancer.
She points out that groomers see their clients anywhere from every three weeks to twice a year, more often than they see their veterinarians, and during their visit, she goes over them “from nose to tail” to ensure they’re healthy. “We check their ears for infection, and go over every inch of their skin. We’re the first line of defence,” say Chorney. Groomers are often the ones to catch problems that require a visit to a vet, she adds.
“We give them more than a hair cut.”
Chorney says it’s been very hard having to say no to clients, especially the older ones, and some with disabilities, who are physically unable to bathe and care for their pets themselves.
“And some dogs are just difficult. They make great pets, but they’re difficult to groom.
Some veterinarians were offering health and welfare grooming, and some were not, she adds.
“I was devastated when I heard the Province had lumped us all in the same category of non-essential businesses,” she says.
The phone calls from clients who were equally devastated, she says, was hard on her.
“Your heart is breaking, because you know what they’re going through.”
Groomers don’t go into business to make a lot of money, she added — they do it because they love caring for animals.
In recent weeks, she and other locals have been lobbying the municipality and MPP Wayne Gates to have groomers considered an essential business. Chorney says she and other local groomers couldn’t have been happier to hear the news from Lord Mayor Betty Disero last Wednesday, May 13, that animal grooming could be considered essential for urgent care necessary for an animal’s health and welfare, taking effect immediately. That meant Chorney and others could look after pets with the most serious needs, such as skin problems, fur that required shaving due to matting, and nail trimming.
And then, the icing on the cake came the next day, when the Province said groomers could open for business, without restrictions on the kind of care they could provide, this Tuesday.
With safety guidelines to follow, it’s far from business as usual, but Chorney and others are grateful to get back to caring for their customers.
She says she started going through her records last Wednesday, notifying the clients whose pets have the worst skin issues. She began seeing them Thursday, and then spent a good portion of the weekend returning the many phone calls she’s received since the welcome news from the Province.
She has been in contact with others who are members of groups for groomers, and there has been a lot of excitement and talk of preparing for the guidelines that come with reopening, she says.
One local groomer made it known she would not be comfortable with opening, for the safety of her and her family, with her business taking place in her home.
Everyone has to make their own decision, in every business, about what they are comfortable with, says Chorney, and she respects that, but the majority of groomers she has spoken to have been anxious to get back to work, and were behind the efforts to lobby politicians to have their practices open.
She has worked hard to ensure her Grooming Boutique in Virgil would be ready to open safely, she says. She had a two-compartment receiving area built for pets, with gates to each section.
Pet owners enter through the first gate and close it. Inside there is a second gate which they open, remove the collar and leash from their dog, let the dog through the second gate and close it, at which point the dog owner can leave safely, and the pet goes straight into the tub for a nice soapy bath.
“It’s safer than the grocery store or pharmacy. There is zero contact,” she says.
There are other protocols in place for the safety of pet owners, pets and groomers, about picking up animals and payment, and Chorney says she has worn a mask before in her practice, because of pet hair and dander, but will now all the time, with a shield as well. “I quite like them. They keep the hair out of my eyes. I wish I had thought of that before this.”
She’s not at all nervous for her own safety, she says. “I think we are very well set up.”
Lisa, a long-time client of Chorney’s, was her first appointment Thursday morning. Chorney knew Lisa’s mother’s dog Enzo, a cockapoo, would be in rough shape, and called her first. Enzo is 16 years old, and has several health issues, including ear infections and some serious skin problems that could easily become infected without proper attention.
Neither Lisa nor her mother can groom him. “He’s a cranky old man,” she says, and Chorney has always been great with him.
“Liz just works her magic and gets it done.”
She can’t say enough about the importance of having a good groomer, and Chorney is that, and more.
Lisa, who didn’t want her last name published, says she felt “100 per cent” comfortable with the receiving area and other measures Chorney is taking for the safety of all.
“Liz’s set up should be the gold standard for grooming safety. It’s a great setup.”
And after his session with Chorney, Enzo, she says, “must feel like a million dollars.”