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Tampa Bay pet groomers react to non-essential designation

Florida’s safe-at-home order forced pet groomers to close, affecting their businesses for at least the next month.
Bo, the Bark Life St. Pete shop dog.
Bo, the Bark Life St. Pete shop dog. [ LISA LAUTTENBACH | Courtesy of Bark Life St. Pete ]
Published Apr. 13, 2020
Updated Apr. 14, 2020

Amid the confusion that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home order caused when it came on April 1 was whether pet grooming would be considered an essential service.

It is not, according to the mandate.

Pinellas County authorities were quick to accept all terms of the order, and groomers began canceling appointments before April 3, the day the order was to go into effect. Many are rescheduling the appointments for May, when they hope the order will be lifted.

Related: What does Gov. Ron DeSantis’ safer-at-home order mean?

In Hillsborough County, things have been cloudier. Mayor Jane Castor had already implemented a stay-at-home mandate that had a more lenient list of permitted services, which included grooming. But at a meeting with the county’s Emergency Policy Group on April 6, County Attorney Christine Beck made it clear that DeSantis’ order replaced the county’s order.

For Kelly Sousa, owner of A Dog’s Life, a dog and cat grooming business in Tampa, shutting down is a significant blow.

“Almost 100 percent of my income comes from grooming,” she said.

The mother of three said she is not eligible for federal small business loans and grants.

Related: Hillsborough leaders want DeSantis to act against rent increases

Bark Life St. Pete owner Mary Shealey had her staff cancel upcoming grooming appointments by April 3. But because the St. Pete spot is also a pet store that sells food, they can still be open, for delivery or curbside pickup.

Shealey said the first week without grooming services was “painfully slow," but is hopeful things will pick up when people need to restock their pet food.

She immediately applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program so that she can hopefully continue to pay her groomers.

“We’re adjusting to this new reality,” she said.

Leslie Dover, owner of Two Mutts and a Poodle in St. Petersburg, knew weeks ago that she would have to close for a while.

“We tend to have a little bit more interaction than most places,” Dover said. “It’s really hard to separate ourselves from our clients, in the hand-off of dogs.”

She said that canceling 500 appointments meant that 1,000 interactions were avoided. With a staff of five, many of whom have kids, the risk was too great.

“We kind of prepared for the worst and hoped for the best,” she said.

Social media is helping the business owners stay connected with their clients and offer tips. Bark Life St. Pete shared a grooming tutorial made at the store’s Seminole location on their Facebook page.

All three owners said that there are simple ways to care for your pet during this time, if you’re used to bringing them to a groomer. Keep them bathed and brushed. And walk them on concrete or asphalt to help keep their nails filed.

Dover is generally against people trying to shave their dogs at home because of the amount of hair that goes flying, although she is considering making a video of giving her dog a haircut. She also thinks people should resist the urge to trim dogs’ hair that grows down to cover their eyes, suggesting they sweep it up into a ponytail instead.

“Just hang in there, and we’ll be back to get them pretty when we re-open,” she said.

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