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Pet grooming is an unregulated industry | Here are ways to find a reputable dog groomer

“He’s changed the names of his businesses 2 or 3 times as the negative comments come on Yelp,” said David Miner. “I can’t believe he’s gotten away with it.”

SAN DIEGO — Here’s something you may not know, anyone with a business license can be a dog groomer and open a grooming business. There’s no license. No regulations. But what if something happens to your pet?

On September 13, Josh, the owner of Goldendoodle named Kugel, posted about an experience he had with Tony Choi of the “Your Neighborhood Groomer- Mobile Dog Grooming San Diego.”

Josh’s post said the following:

“Yesterday, I needed a last-minute grooming appointment, and this was the only one I could find available. I sent him photos and gave instructions, but he essentially just shaved my entire dog. Moreover, my dog has cuts on his body and has been acting strange now. I am wondering if something bad happened inside that mobile grooming van. Has anyone else had experiences with this groomer?” 

He received dozens of comments, directing him to reviews from other businesses owned and operated by the same Tony Choi. One was called “Bark Mobile”. The other was “Your Fairy Dogmother”.

CBS 8’s Anna Laurel saw Josh’s post and discovered a mountain of bad reviews. 

She spoke with David Miner, who was one of the first to post about his Golden Retriever, Dixie’s experience with Tony when it was “Your Fairy Dogmother” back in 2020.

“He’s changed the names of his businesses 2 or 3 times as the negative comments come on Yelp,” said David Miner. “I can’t believe he’s gotten away with it.” 

Miner says he lived near where Tony parked his van. His dog Dixie would not walk by the van once she was groomed by Tony.

“I don’t even want to think about what happened in that van. She had several cuts in her skin and razor burns from gouging into her skin,” said Miner. “I said to him, it’s obvious you have no idea what you’re doing.”  

Norman Ratner had taken their family dog, Toodles to the vet after he hired Tony during the pandemic.

“I wanted to make sure he didn’t have an infection. It was just raw skin around his ears and his rectum, rear end, and the underbelly was just raw too.” said Ratner.

Ratner says Toodles grooming usually takes 1 to 2 hours, but Tony took 4 hours. He says Toodles was traumatized. 

Rikki Apple says she had an almost identical experience with her little Yorkie Maltese named Otis.

“I opened up his belly and I could really see the scrapes from the razor that he used, and it was on his genitals too,” said Apple.

Apple says she took Otis to the vet, and he had a bacterial infection.

She posted about it on NextDoor and says Tony reached out to her and paid her for the vet visit.

Apple also called the Humane Society. She says they told her that doesn’t really constitute abuse, but she could write a report and send in pictures, so she did.

CBS 8 called Tony and he agreed to speak with on camera. He admits he changed the name of his business because of the bad reviews and that those reviews have hurt his business.

“I can’t do anything about it either except get more positive reviews. I went to Florida and came back, and I got more schooling there, unfortunately they still find me,” said Tony. “My goal is to never injure a dog, that’s my number one safety concern is safety for the dog. They’re wiggly. Some dogs are wiggly and sometimes I get them too close to the skin and I got mentored since and I figured out why I did that is because I was too close to their skin. So, with a slight skimming of the fur without so much hand pressure is something I learned to improve on so not so hard, heavy handed to the fur.”

Tony says he loves dogs and says they’re easier to get along with than people and they make him happy. According to Tony, he went through a 200+ hour program at Merryfield Grooming Academy in Florida.

We googled it, there’s a Merryfield School of Pet Grooming in Fort Lauderdale.

According to the San Diego Humane Society, the only thing someone must have to run a grooming business or to be a groomer is a business license.

Captain Danee Cook says groomers fall under business license rules because there is no regulatory body that licenses dog groomers. She says San Diego Penal Code 597 looks at what constitutes abuse and there must be evidence to show intent.

“Where there’s actual neglect or intentional cruelty going on, we’d have to see actual evidence of that for us to pursue charges on a groomer,” said Cook.

She says pet owners should file complaints with Consumer Affairs. Build a paper trail with a history of concerns.

“If we had multiple complaints for a specific individual, I do think it’s possible that we could maybe put together a case for cruelty and neglect,” said Cook. “We’d have to have pretty strong evidence.”

So how can pet owners know if their groomer is good and safe for their pet? Capt. Cook says, “You’ve got to use those yelp reviews. You’ve got to use those reviews and those referrals.” She says if you call a groomer and they can get you in quick, that can be a red flag.

She says the Humane Society investigates every report they get.

David Miner wants pet owners to know this: “If you haven't used his services please don’t, don't do this to your animal. And if you have, you've had a bad experience, please bring it to the attention of the Humane Society. It was terrible. It really was.” 

The following information, reported by CBS 8's Anna Laurel, was added Wednesday, October 12, 2022.

California Pet Groomers Association provides groomers safety and care guidelines to voluntarily follow. On their website, they have a “Find A Groomer” tool. 

Experts suggest you should still check for reviews of every groomer you find, as pet grooming is an unregulated industry.

If your pet gets injured in what’s supposed to be a routine grooming appointment, contact the Humane Society to file a formal complaint and they can investigate. Captain Cook is with San Diego Humane Society Humane Law Enforcement and said: “We need a fairly significant trail of complaints and concerns on a groomer to look into whether there's actual animal cruelty. It would be hard for us to prove that it was malicious intent as opposed to accidental and poor grooming.” She added that not every injury to an animal is abuse or cruelty, it comes down to the person’s intent. 

So how do you find a good dog groomer? Captain Cook said: “Do your research, look at reviews, get those referrals. You don't want to just go in cold and you want to be concerned if you don't have a booked up groomer right now.” She said groomers she knows in San Diego County are booked up weeks in advance, and some aren’t taking on new clients. If you can get an appointment the same day, that’s a red flag.  Another red flag? She said if they don’t have any reviews at all because even new dog groomers try to get reviews up right away.  

WATCH RELATED: Law enforcement searching for owners of dog found with chain embedded in his neck (September 2022)

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