I-Team: After dog's death, push for new laws on pet groomers

Woman campaigning for more regulation of industry

ALVA, Fla. - A Florida woman is fighting to change the way pet groomers run their businesses in Florida. She started the campaign after the death of her 4-year old dog, Rocky.

Cell phone videos show his deteriorating health over the course of a year.

Near the end of his life, Rocky is seen unable to walk in a straight line, wobbly on his feet. Deb Speelman says she needed to bring him to work and carry him near the end of his life.

"It was heartbreaking. He went from a very vital, energetic puppy, to a 4-year old man who could no longer walk steadily," Speelman said.

Eventually, Rocky had to be put down.

Speelman lives in Alva, east of Ft. Myers. She believes Rocky's neurological problems started after she walked into a horrific sight at her pet groomer's.

"My dog, a 60-pound dog, was hanging from the noose when I walked in the door. The groomer was nowhere to be seen. I ran over there, got him off, and then she runs in and says, "I'm so sorry, my son wasn't here to help me," Speelman claims.

Speelman says her vet told her Rocky's declining health could have been caused by a neck injury. We spoke with the groomer, who strongly denies the incident ever took place. But Speelman says she is certain Rocky's health problems were caused by negligence by the groomer.

Speelman did not try to sue the groomer.  Instead, she set her sights higher.  She has started a petition and she's writing lawmakers to get Florida to regulate and license pet groomers.

You can view the petition here:   http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-groomers-from-killing-our-dogs

"There's no oversight, there's no regulation. You can just open up a grooming salon with no education," Speelman said.

A small number of states, such as Connecticut and Colorado, currently license pet groomers. Licensing often means groomers need to pass a written test, pass regular inspections, have training, and standards are set out in the law. For example, in Colorado, groomers aren't allowed to leave a pet alone on a grooming table.

Some local groomers take the extra step of getting hands-on training, even though it isn't required. Shan Sparshott of Tampa Bay Pet Grooming Academy says she trains groomers to prevent tragedies like the one Speelman says happened to Rocky.

"You're going to need to know how to control a dog on a table, which you cannot learn in an online class. You need to know how to prep a dog for a bath, and get them into a bath," Sparshott said.

Local consumer protection agencies tell us complaints against groomers are rare. Sparshott believes regulations and inspections would only force extra costs on business owners.

"I don't really think it's necessary. I think a dog owner needs to be very proactive upon the groomer they select," she said.

She recommends pet owners ask about the groomer's education credentials, and ask to walk through the shop to check cleanliness. She also says word of mouth or a vet's recommendation are two ways to locate a reliable groomer.

Deb Speelman doesn't think that's enough. She says she will continue to push for a law change in Rocky's memory, and she hopes pet owners become more aware.

"Stay there and watch them being groomed. Had I stayed there with Rocky, he would be alive today," Speelman said.

The National Dog Groomers Association of America has a search website to look up groomers they have certified in your area.

The search engine can be found at: http://www.nationaldoggroomers.com/locator/

If you have a tip for the I-Team, you can reach them at iteam@abcactionnews.com .

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