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 April 13, 2020|Updated April 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.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.
Subscribers Only

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

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

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Tampa Bay, six days a week

UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits

CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus

MEET THE HELPERS: Highlighting Tampa Bay’s everyday heroes in this crisis

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.