Imagine this: a careless line cook at your favorite burger joint fails to follow basic food safety protocol and dozens of customers become sick. There is no state that requires an occupational license to be a fry cook, but that doesn’t mean the food service industry is “unregulated.” State or local departments of health regulate these establishments across the country, mostly successfully, and even in cases where regulators fail to protect consumers, the go-to response shouldn’t be to require employees to receive permission from the state to practice their trade.
Moving from the hypothetical to the real world, New Jersey is looking to create a new licensing requirement for pet groomers:
The Pet Grooming Licensing Act was pushed through after an investigation by NJ Advance Media documented dozens of cases of dogs dying shortly after groomings at PetSmart. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle introduced the bill in 2014.
“Everyone I tell, they’re surprised groomers don’t require licensing,” she said. “There’s room for regulation. No one is against safety. It’s time to put pets over profits.”
The bill, known as Bijou’s Law, would establish a Pet Groomers Advisory Committee within the Division of Consumer Affairs and require groomers pass an exam for a license. The groomer would also need to be at least 18 years of age and “be of good moral character.”
You can read the text of the bill here.
The claim that the pet grooming industry is “unregulated” is an exaggeration. Businesses, such as pet groomers, in New Jersey are required to register with the state. And, while a (brief) search of the New Jersey Administrative Code didn’t turn up any specific regulations directed at grooming facilities, there are regulations related to kennels, shelters, and pet shops (most big-box pet groomers are part of a larger pet store).
There are other ways to address this problem. First is more traditional command-and-control style regulations that other pet care providers in New Jersey are subject to. Another option would be to require pet groomers be bonded (similar to malpractice for doctors), introducing a market-friendly mechanism for pet safety.
There are also a number of grooming schools and certification programs available in the Garden State.
Don’t confuse this with being blasé about pet safety. As a dog dad (and New Jerseyan), this story is deeply concerning, and negligence on the part of those entrusted with the health and safety of man’s best friend should be punished. On the need for basic consumer protections in this (and other) markets almost everyone agrees, but the “don’t just stand there, do something!” approach to regulation leads to overreaction and diverts resources from more efficient methods of regulation.
This isn’t a question of being pro- or anti-regulation. It’s a question of what regulatory regime best balances efficiency with pet safety.