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Ontario changes rules allowing pet groomers to open under restrictions

The provincial government says it will allow pet grooming businesses to open under a curbside drop-off and pickup model. Grooming must also be necessary to prevent an animal from requiring veterinary care.

Grooming must prevent an animal from requiring veterinary care, ministry says

Nearby municipalities have stopped enforcing provincial rules keeping pet grooming businesses closed. This photo was taken prior to pandemic. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

The provincial government says it's amending its rules to allow pet groomers across Ontario to operate under some restrictions as of Thursday. 

In an email to CBC News, the press secretary for the Ministry of the Solicitor General said grooming businesses are allowed to open if they are "strictly necessary to prevent an animal from requiring foreseeable and reasonably imminent veterinary care."

Groomers can also open if they are "providing services that an animal owner has been required to obtain pursuant to an order issued under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019."

Grooming sessions must be scheduled appointments, and only one appointment is permitted for one animal at a time. Businesses have to operate through a curbside pickup and drop-off model.

Pet groomers across Ontario were forced to close in December as part of the provincial government's lockdown measures. But surrounding municipalities had taken an opposing stance by ceasing enforcement of the rule. 

Burlington, Guelph, and Mississauga were among communities saying they would not be sending their bylaw officers to ticket pet groomers. 

Pet owners in Hamilton started taking their business elsewhere, said one city councillor, because Hamilton wouldn't be flexible and follow in the footsteps of these municipalities. 

Coun. Judi Partridge (Ward 15) said residents in her ward were concerned about their pets, and visited Burlington and Guelph for grooming services. 

"These are not 'let's go get a haircut' type of appointments," she said. "In some cases dogs are matted [and] getting nails cut can be an important issue with animals."

"How do we help these people?" she asked, noting she's received significant pushback from local dog groomers. 

Prior to the change, the city said it wouldn't be bending the rules.

City will follow the Reopening Ontario Act

Paul Johnson, head of the city's emergency operations centre, said staff talked about the issue and were wholly in agreement that there wasn't a "grey area."

"Pet grooming services were explicitly removed from the [provincial government's] Reopening Ontario Act. So this was an intentional change of language," he said in a general issues committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The provincial government previously said "other businesses" that provide services to animals that are necessary for their health and welfare could stay open, such as farms and stables. A spokesperson for Guelph told CBC News that it interpreted "other businesses" as including groomers.

Johnson said veterinary services were open for "real health and safety issues." The province also previously told CBC News that vets were exempted and could provide grooming for health and welfare. 

The province's prerogative

"If the province wishes to be more explicit or add this back in, then that would be their prerogative," Johnson said. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said the topic was raised at a recent GTHA mayors meeting. As of Feb. 1, the GTHA mayors group said it was also calling on clarity from the province. 

"We are thankful the provincial government has provided clarity on this issue as requested by municipal leaders across the province," Eisenberger said on Thursday.

"I am pleased pet grooming services will be permitted and conducted in a manner that follows public health guidelines ensuring the safety of the public and the health of our furry friends."

At the general issues committee meeting on Wednesday, he noted he was "not at all pleased" with Mississauga's approach.

"I really don't understand how or why these other municipalities are taking a different stance," he said.

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward issued a statement on Tuesday saying that city staff won't be issuing violations for dog groomers, until such time as the province provides clear and consistent instructions. 

Eisenberger said the pressure to open businesses isn't a unique request. The decision not to enforce, he said, was  a "slippery slope."

'We need to stay united'

"It's the wrong thing to do on this point," he said of selectively enforcing rules. "We need to stay united on some of the very important things that will help avoid spread of this virus."

Eisenberger said Toronto had also "alluded" to making the change. He was concerned that if the city decided not to enforce the closures, it wouldn't necessarily mean businesses would be allowed to open.

He said the city would be setting residents up for potential charges from provincial inspectors.

Ken Leendertse, director of licensing and bylaw services with the city, said provincial officers are in the community every week working on labour and high-risk issues. He agreed it wouldn't stop officers from enforcing provincial orders. 

"I'm certainly sure if this became one of their focuses … they could order [pet groomers] closed, but they could also lay an $880 charge against them for being a non-essential business that is opening."

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