Niagara-on-the-Lake dog groomers have once again been struggling with provincial restrictions, trying to understand why they are not allowed to open.
Liz Chorney, of the Grooming Boutique in Virgil, is not alone in her frustration, having created a safe “curbside” service for her canine clients last spring, during the first shut-down, only to be told the recent stay-at-home order does not permit her to operate.
There has been some confusion about the interpretation of the provincial order, which allows for businesses that provide health and wellness services for animals to continue, and which some Niagara municipalities say encompasses dog grooming.
Town CAO Marnie Cluckie briefly discussed the issue during Monday’s committee meeting of councillors, saying she has received a “huge number of questions regarding dog grooming” since the provincial state of emergency and stay-at-home orders.
“Our interpretation is that it’s not permissible,” she said.
“We’re not permitting dog grooming.” But she added staff would approach the ministry in an attempt to get more information.
Unfortunately for Chorney, other locals in that industry and their clients, the town has chosen to interpret dog grooming as a non-essential business, despite what she considers a clear health and wellness aspect of their work.
That decision, says Chorney, seems to have been made with no understanding of her industry.
“We’re not looking at opening for a free-for-all,” she says, by which she means taking appointments for dogs who require grooming purely for aesthetic reasons.
“We’re looking at our clients we know need it for health and wellness issues.”
The fact that other municipalities in Niagara, such as Niagara Falls and Lincoln, are considering that an essential service, while NOTL is not, is “extremely frustrating,” she says. “We can’t wrap our heads around it. We’re prepared for curbside service, and we have no plans for non-essential appointments, but for those clients with a health and wellness issue, it just doesn’t make sense.”
During the first shut-down last spring, Chorney 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, let the dog enter, and close it, at which point the dog owner can leave safely, and the pet’s treatment begins. There is no physical contact with dog owners, says Chorney.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero explains each municipality is left to interpret provincial orders, and they may not end up with the same interpretation.
She finds it frustrating that Public Health won’t get more involved and offer an interpretation to be followed across the region, but even in one occasion where that occurred, regarding the opening of indoor ice rinks and the number of people allowed in the building, not all 12 municipalities chose the same route, she says.
In NOTL, the town’s planning director Craig Larmour saw no room for interpretation, Disero says. To him, it was a straight no to all dog grooming. His reasoning was that previous grey zone lockdown orders allowed dog grooming with curbside service, but although many of today’s restrictions are the same, dog grooming is to him one of the exceptions. He points to it being omitted from the current list of essential services as evidence of the province’s intention to prohibit it, says Disero.
“It was deleted, and to him, that means you can’t do it, and there is no room for interpretation.”
And there isn’t “an easy mechanism” for getting an answer from the province, she says, although she thinks it would be easier across the region if Public Health weighed in. “It’s not as easy to get an interpretation from them as I’d like it to be.”
Chorney says that’s where the lack of understanding her industry comes in, and the difference between grooming for aesthetics and grooming for health and wellness issues that need to be taken care of regularly, or they will worsen.
She also points to the lack of statistics that show cases of COVID spread through grooming — there are none, she says.
“Where are the facts?”
Meanwhile, she lives with the uncertainty and confusion of many small businesses, hers closed because of an interpretation of a provincial order that changes from one municipality to another, and nobody to reach out to for a definitive answer.
Disero understands Chorney’s frustration.
She helps care for her mother’s dog, and with groomers closed, she is one of the many clients left bathing the dog herself.
“I wish they were allowed open for curbside service,” she says.
After Monday’s promise from the town CAO to seek clarification from the province about regulations concerning dog grooming, Chorney said Tuesday morning she’s hoping to hear some good news soon.
Although The Local goes to press Tuesday afternoon, we’ll keep readers updated on notllocal.com and our NOTL Local facebook page.