The horrifying story of a dog that died after being left in a kennel drying machine is a tragic warning about an unregulated industry, an expert said Friday — and a wake-up call to pet owners who need to do their homework about the facilities they trust with their beloved animals.
“Unfortunately, it’s an industry that’s not licensed yet,” groomer and instructor Joey Villani told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Friday. “We’ve been trying for years to get this industry licensed.”
Spurring the segment was a sad story with a personal dimension for Vieira. Recently, her assistant Amanda Bushey and Bushey's husband Keith went on a vacation, leaving their 2-year-old Labrador retriever, Sushi, at their usual boarding facility.
When they returned, they found that a routine bath had ended in tragedy.
“As we were entering the building, we heard screaming from the back. This woman came running out in a panic, on a cell phone,” Amanda Bushey said in a video report. “I looked at her and said, ‘Where is my dog? Where is my dog?’ She said, ‘Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine.’ But clearly everything wasn’t fine.”
Sushi was found lying unconscious in the grooming area. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
100 degrees, 30 minutesThe groomers explained that Sushi had been in a cage dryer — an electronic box with a heating element used to dry a pet after it has had a bath. Vieira reported that Keith Bushey took pictures of the dryer’s control panel, which showed that it had been set at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
“I don’t understand why any animal would go in a machine at 100 degrees for one minute, let alone 30 minutes,” Amanda Bushey continued. “Personally, I don’t see why they’re necessary.”
Kennel dryers, according to animal experts and animal rights groups, are safe if used correctly. They are a convenience because they are faster than towel drying.
“It gives the groomer the availability to do more dogs in a single day,” explained Villani, who is director and owner of the Nash Academy of Animal Arts in New Jersey and a judge on “Groomer Has It,” a TV series on Animal Planet. “Unfortunately, most groomers don’t know how to use them.
“There are certain dogs that can’t go in a [kennel dryer], even without a heating element, like flat-faced dogs like pugs and boxers. They’re not supposed to go in there at all because they can’t breathe when air is blown directly in their face,” he added.
At Villani’s facility, the heating elements in the kennel dryers are actually disconnected as an extra precaution. “It runs on whatever the room temperature is, just so fresh air is blowing over the dog and it’s a comfortable temperature,” he said.
Villani added that a kennel dryer should never go over 85 degrees. “Like a comfortable breeze, if you’re sitting at the beach,” he explained. “But not a real hot, strong breeze.”
Pet safetyVillani encourages every pet owner do research on the facility they’ve chosen before handing over their pooch or kitty. And his tips go beyond inquiring about the usage of kennel dryers.
“You have to ask questions,” he said. “But first, a groomer should really be asking you questions. They should be professional. The place should look and smell clean. They should ask you to tour the facilities. They should show you where the dog is going to be caged, what the procedures are going to be.
“If they don’t, ask them,” Villani continued. “Get a little bit more involved and ask, ‘OK, what’s the procedure here? What are you doing to my dog?’ And if they’re reluctant about showing you the place, walk away.”
In addition, Villani says pet owners should inquire about the products and foods used at a facility. They should also investigate safety procedures, to the point of examining the length of leashes and their safety nooses on grooming decks.
“A lot of people call it a noose, but I call it a safety noose because it sounds better,” he said. “If that’s not adjusted properly and it has a little bit of play in it, when a dog jumps off the table and that snaps, it will break the dog’s neck. Groomers need to be within hands-reach of the dog at all times.”
Vieira asked Villani why the pet grooming industry remains unregulated in light of the type of tragedy that happened to Sushi.
“It goes in front of the states and I just think there’s so much on their plates, it’s pushed to the side,” Villani said.
“As much as we’ve been trying to move forward, it seems like we take three steps back.”