Following heart-wrenching stories of pet owners going to PetSmart to groom their dogs just to have the dogs returned to them dead or severely injured, the state of New Jersey is moving to license pet groomers. Taking action to prevent these tragedies is absolutely justified, but there are already laws to punish groomers who mistreat pets. Requiring groomers to obtain a license will not solve the problem; instead, it will hurt groomers on the lower side of the income scale.

NJ.com has documented dozens of instances of PetSmart groomers harming or killing dogs. Each story is every pet owner’s nightmare. In one instance, an 8-year-old shih tzu named George returned home in visible pain after a visit to the groomer. Veterinarians found that he had sustained a back injury and prescribed him heavy steroids. In another incident, Danielle DiNapoli of Lambertville, New Jersey, dropped off her 8-year-old bulldog Scruffles for a grooming. Later that day, the dog “became unresponsive and was pronounced dead upon arrival at a local animal hospital.”

PetSmart should absolutely be held accountable for these losses. Harming dogs in this way is both unconscionable and illegal. The state of New Jersey ought to step in and investigate. However, a pet grooming license will do little to help protect dogs from negligent or reckless groomers.

The New Jersey bill would require individuals to pass an exam, be at least 18 years of age and “of good moral character” to obtain a groomer license. The problem, however, is that large corporations like PetSmart will have no trouble getting licenses for their groomers. PetSmart is a major company with the financial means to train its staff and ensure that its groomers have licenses. In fact, PetSmart already trains its groomers.

Instead, adding licensing requirements will prevent smaller groomers from practicing — including struggling small businesses, teens who have learned to groom to earn some extra money, and other individual groomers of poorer means who have been grooming pets for years but cannot afford the training.

Unnecessary licensing exists in innumerable industries, from hair braiding to cosmetology to even floristry. Some in government claim that these professions and others cannot be performed safely without a government license. This is simply not true — there exist no data to support the idea that licensing hair braiders, florists or cosmetologists makes people more safe. Instead, licensing requirements push the most vulnerable individuals out of the market.

Worse yet, New Jersey’s proposed bill contains a “good moral character” clause. GMC clauses often contain vague language — in this case, the proposed language simply states that a person must be “of good moral character” to obtain a grooming license. The ambiguity inherent to this kind of requirement allows licensing boards to eliminate from consideration any otherwise qualified applicant by citing “bad” behavior, including behavior that may be entirely unrelated to the responsibilities of the job. GMC clauses hurt many individuals, though perhaps none more so than individuals with criminal records aiming to find stable employment.

What’s more, the boards that evaluate licensing applications are often made up of industry insiders who do not want more competition in the industry. Such boards use arbitrary standards — most notably vague GMC clauses — to keep new competitors out of their industry.

Objecting to onerous licensing restrictions does not indicate a lack of desire to prosecute those accused of animal cruelty. In fact, New Jersey recently passed a law tailored to do just that. The law directs local officials to prosecute animal abuse crimes. It also requires each municipality and police department to designate a humane law enforcement officer and an animal cruelty prosecutor to investigate and prosecute violations of animal cruelty laws. In light of this law, we should allow law enforcement to embrace their newly assigned task of prosecuting animal abusers — a solution that targets the wrongdoers — instead of burdening those who have done nothing wrong with expensive licensing requirements.

Additional regulations often add costs without ensuring safety. Any new approach, therefore, should be narrowly tailored to protect dogs without hurting those who treat their canine clients well. If necessary, a new reporting method and inspections would be better ways to go about ensuring that pets are safe.

If the bill must move forward, it should be revised. One way states have been attempting to limit the negative effects of licensing schemes is by listing past infractions that could disqualify an applicant — and ensuring that these infractions would directly affect the licensed work. Indiana recently passed a law that does just that. In New Jersey’s case, a groomer licensing bill could state that if an individual has been previously convicted of animal abuse, he or she would be ineligible for a grooming license.

While working to ensure greater care for our pets, New Jersey should not impose additional regulatory schemes designed to bar people from otherwise viable professions. Mistreating animals is a defenseless crime, and officials should use their authority to prosecute wrong-doers. State lawmakers, however, should refrain from passing legislation that could potentially harm otherwise exemplary applicants.

Image credit: O_Lypa