Fox 5 D.C. news correspondent Sierra Fox seemed to think the public would be shocked to discover that businesses didn't have to get state permission in order to groom pets and that viewers might be "concerned after hearing that."
Anybody who is familiar with the fearmongering tactics of local TV news outlets may have assumed that her coverage would lead to a lot of public handwringing that everybody's beloved French bulldogs and labradoodles were in grave danger. But when Fox tweeted a preview of her piece, she was instead inundated with responses from people who understand how our overreliance on government-mandated occupational licensing cuts off avenues of economic opportunity for low-income people without making us any safer:
No, I'm not concerned at all. I am concerned that requirements for occupational licensing have run amuck, severely limiting the entry of financially handicapped folks into many low risk jobs.
— Space Crab Spiff (@pickingcrabs) July 29, 2021
Fox's investigation was inspired by a story from earlier in the week of a family who took their dog, Stardust, to a local pet groomer to get her nails trimmed. Something went wrong and the dog died. How the dog died is unclear and it's not certain that it was directly related to the grooming. A technician told the family that the dog had a seizure. The dog grooming shop, named Life of Riley, told Fox 5 that the dog died of heatstroke.
It's a tragedy, for certain. However, it's not yet clear that the groomer was responsible. Nevertheless, Fox decided to delve further and discovered that just anybody can call themselves a dog groomer without getting permission from the government. She spoke with a representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who said they get weekly complaints of grooming abuse and accidents and encouraged concerned residents to contact lawmakers if they want to demand groomers get licensed.
But Fox's attempts to actually draw outrage from pet owners seem to have fallen flat. She went to Happy Grooming in Arlington, Virginia, and found pet owners who gave the shop great reviews and said they never have problems, despite the lack of state licensing mandates. And the owner of the shop told Fox that she didn't think licensing actually was necessary because it's "just a piece of paper" and noted that many professional groomers have been working for decades without a license and without complaints.
This is not the first time an isolated case of a pet death or two has inspired fear-driven calls for occupational licensing. Shoshana Weissmann, a fellow with free market think tank R Street and an expert analyst on occupational licensing, wrote in 2018 about a New Jersey bill that would have introduced dog grooming regulations there. The inspiration was apparently several dogs being injured or dying after visiting with pet groomers at PetSmart stores.
Weissmann noted at the time that demanding dog grooming licenses wouldn't actually resolve the problem because PetSmart could easily afford to pay for the training. But there would be completely unrelated consequences. The irony here is that occupational licensing would likely harm PetSmart's smaller independent competitors:
[A]dding 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.
She repeated her concerns today to Reason in response to Fox's fearmongering.
"People babysit without a license," she points out. "Licensing was not the issue with the grooming. If you harm the dog, either the dog had some sort of issue or you're out to hurt dogs." Grooming licenses wouldn't fix either issue, "it will just put people out of business."
Rather than relying on government licensing, Weissmann encouraged pet owners to engage in a bit of research and due diligence for the pet groomers near them. Ask friends and look for online reviews. Even without the government mandates, there are voluntary pet grooming certification programs for professionals, and pet owners can ask for proof of training.
Weismann says she loved seeing all the tweets back to Fox criticizing her piece, though Weismann wishes folks were a bit nicer to the reporter in their responses.
"I wish [Fox] had reached out more," Weissmann says. "It was nice to see people on both the left and the right criticize it. It was nice to see people realize this is ridiculous."