By Kimberly Winters
At 10:06 a.m. on Friday Feb. 26, a call from Horsham Veterinary Hospital interrupted Lisa DeMarco’s Florida vacation. The news was that her four-year-old dog Buddy died while staying at an award-winning dog kennel. Devastated, DeMarco ended her trip early and returned home to Bucks County.
While picking up her other dog, Lady, from the kennel, DeMarco asked the owner to walk her through Buddy’s death.
The shepherd/ collie mix had been fine while bathing. Then, a worker placed the dog in an enclosed dryer cage with metal sides and a glass door like a microwave.
There, Buddy, who had been active and healthy and could learn a new trick in fifteen minutes, “just stopped breathing,” according to the kennel worker. DeMarco is awaiting autopsy results from the University of Pennsylvania before pursuing legal action against the kennel and the dryer cage company.
The company’s website describes its dryer cages as a timesaver for groomers and a pleasant experience for their doggy clientele, “Almost as nice as napping in the sunshine.” It lists an array of safety features: temperature controls, uniform heating, safety sensors and automatic shutoffs.
Still, the company warns users to “Physically check on the animal in the Cage Dryer every 10 minutes for any signs of possible problems,” especially for smaller dogs who “overheat more easily.” Buddy weighed 26 pounds.
This is not the first dog death linked to dryer cages. Back in 2008, six-year-old Lhasa Apso Sadie died in
a Calif. Petco. According to a Consumerist article, the dog suffered “internal burns and bleeding.” Her owner unsuccessfully campaigned to ban dryer cages.
Last June, two-year-old golden retriever Colby Jack died from heat stroke while in a Va. Petco’s drying cage (this one unheated). In a press release, the company stated, “our animal care protocols were not followed” and promised to stop using the “type of kennel dryer Colby was housed in.”
Arizona groomer of 45 years Barbara Bird, owner of Transformation Pet Center and co-host of the Groom Pod Weekly Podcast, said, “We need to draw attention to the hazards of heated dryer cages, but it needs to be put in perspective.”
The real hazard, in Bird’s opinion, is inattention. Back room workers are often undertrained and disinterested teens with part time jobs or people new to the business. In a busy and stressful environment, workers could become distracted for 10 or 20 minutes, long enough for a dog to quietly succumb to the building heat of an enclosed cage.
Dogs are naturally prone to overheating, as panting isn’t a very efficient cooldown method, but groomers need to watch out for riskier clients: dogs who are short-snouted, obese, stressed out, already overly warm or have preexisting conditions. Bird recalled a client whose terrier had a preexisting respiratory condition. The small dog dangerously overheated before she even got in the tub.
“Anyone can hang out a shingle and open up a grooming shop,” according to Bird. She recommends that pet owners visit a salon with at least one Certified Master Groomer on staff.
Groomers earn this title through programs taught by professional organizations such as the National Dog Groomer’s Association of America (NDGAA) and International Professional Groomer’s Inc. In addition to classes on breed-specific haircuts, these programs increasingly focus on “safety, health, sanitation and groomer ethics,” according to IPG.
Unfortunately, warnings about certifications or the dangers of heat and inattention are too late to save dogs like Buddy.
DeMarco just spoke to Pa. state lawmakers during 2016’s Pennsylvania Humane Lobby Day in Harrisburg. Although she’s not comfortable with public speaking, she feels compelled to fight against further tragedies. “I have to be a voice for Buddy,” DeMarco said.