The Groom Reaper

When You Are the Bearer of Bad News

By Kathy Hosler

Little Sammy Jo was one of my favorites, and I had been grooming her since she was a puppy. When she came in ‘that day’ I felt marble-like lumps in her throat area that were never there before. When her owners came to pick her up, I showed them what I had found and suggested that Sammy Jo should be seen by her veterinarian.

They took Sammy Jo straight from my salon to their veterinarian. A diagnosis of Lymphoma was made and Sammy Jo underwent treatments. They had several more wonderful years with Sammy Jo because of the treatments.

Every time she came in to be groomed, they thanked me profusely for alerting them to a problem with Sammy that they had never noticed. And, even after Sammy Jo passed away, they sent me Christmas cards and kept in touch.

It happens almost every day—we groomers find lumps and growths and things that just don’t seem ‘right’ on the pets that we groom. Our hands are all over the pets and when we are bathing and drying them, we see it all.

“I found a very small black lump on the tail of a two year old Golden Retriever,” says Mary Arnold. “I saw it when the HV (high-velocity) dryer parted the hair and exposed the skin. It was found to be a very aggressive melanoma. It was removed and the dog lived to be sixteen. The Golden’s veterinarian said that there was no way that would have happened if the melanoma had gone undetected for another few weeks.”

“I was bathing an elderly cat when I was a House Call groomer,” shares Daryl Connor. “I found an odd, hard little lump under the cat’s ‘armpit’ area…not a spot most owners stroke. The owner took the cat to the veterinarian who told her if I had not found the lump, the cat would have died within months. As it was, we had a couple more good years of baths and purring combing sessions.”

Sometimes abnormalities that groomers notice are not ‘life or death’, but they are things that owners may never pick up on.

“I have pointed out coat changes in several dogs that I groom,” says Lisa Cerone. “They ended up being diagnosed with Cushings.”

We get to know the pets that we groom and how they react to everything during the grooming process.

“One day, a dog that had always been fine for grooming, didn’t want me to brush her face,” says Linda Trader. “Sadly, she was found to have mouth cancer.”

The stories about the things that we groomers find are endless. When it happens to you, you need to know how to handle it.

The first thing that you need to do is document your findings in the pet’s record. You might even want to take a picture of it. It’s usually best to inform the pet owner of your findings when they pickup their pet – then you can show them exactly what you found. Of course, if it is an emergency situation, such as a dog that gets a nosebleed without warning and it won’t stop, then you must contact the owner immediately.

Besides documenting what you find in the pet’s records, you need to write it down for the pet’s owner. When it is in writing, they won’t be confused about what you said or forget what you told them.

Barbara Hoover has cards printed up that she gives to the pet owners. They say… On_______(date) I noticed_________ on__________(pet’s name). Then it has Barb’s contact information on the bottom of the card.

“I give the owners a ‘Please take this card to your veterinarian’ referral card,” says Peg Giordano. “I list whatever – skin issues, ear infections, lumps, leaky urine, bad teeth, eye problems, fleas…the local vets love me!”

Whether you purchase Vet Ref cards (Barkleigh makes one called a PetRef card), or make your own, the information that you put on them can be crucial to your clients. Remember, NEVER make a diagnosis, just alert the pet owner and inform them of your findings. Documenting your findings also protects you. If an owner calls you two weeks after their pet was groomed and says that their pet got fleas at your salon, you can look in your files and remind them that you gave them a written notice that their pet had fleas when it came in for its grooming appointment—and—that it did not have fleas when it left!

When you are grooming a pet and you find something out of the ordinary, how do you tell the pet parent? I usually tell them in person when they pick up their pet. I am always calm and try not to alarm the owner. I say something like – “Fluffy’s groom went well today, but I want to show you something that I found.” Then I put Fluffy on the grooming table and let them see the problem. I am always professional yet compassionate. Then I give them the note I have written and suggest that they consult with their veterinarian. Unfortunately, some veterinarians are reluctant to give credit to groomers when they discover problems…

“I found what was pretty clearly a dental abscess on the muzzle of a Scottish Terrier,” says Daryl Connor. “I recommended a vet check. The vet said, ‘I HATE to admit it, but your groomer is right.’ One dental surgery later, the dog was in fine shape (Hate to admit it! Yeesh!).”

Groomers that are affiliated with veterinary clinics might handle these situations a little bit differently. “I work at a vet clinic,” says Deanne Morris. “When I find something, I look at the pet’s file and see if it has ever been noted before. If not, I make a note in the file and let the receptionist know so they can call the owner and see if they want the doctor to look at it.”

Sadly, not every finding that groomers report to owners has a happy ending.

“I found lumps that I figured were Lymphoma on a Golden,” shares Linda Trader. “I urged the owner to get her to the veterinarian. It was confirmed, but the owner can’t afford to treat her —so now he’s unhappy and grieving, and her prognosis is the same. I’m conflicted about that; I didn’t help by telling him to get her vetted. It wasn’t the ending I expected.”

It’s never easy to be the bearer of potentially bad news—no one wants to be a ‘Groom Reaper’. But even so, most pet parents are grateful when you detect a problem with their beloved pet. They can’t treat something if they don’t know it exists.

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