For many Sammamish dog owners, grooming their furry companions is an essential routine to keep their pets clean and healthy.
But lately, they have had a tough time getting a grooming appointment at local providers. Count this as another pandemic-induced shortage, especially as demand for grooming services has spiked while supply has decreased due to a labor shortage of groomers.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, many people adopted dogs to help pass the time and acquire an incentive for daily exercise. Dog ownership across the country increased.
Sheila Cole, owner of The Wizard of Paws Pet Salon in Klahanie Village, is seeing about 50 new requests each day. That is just adding to her backlog of appointments, which are now being booked out three to four months in advance. Before the pandemic, the typical wait time was eight weeks.
Some of the initial backlog was due to the lockdown. Wizard of Paws had some catching up to do when the lockdown last year was first lifted. Her staff initially focused on rescheduling cancelled appointments as their regular clientele of dogs were extremely matted due to being behind schedule on their grooming. They worked extra days to get through the backlog.
But their challenge was exacerbated after Wizard of Paws lost four groomers and two shop assistants since August. Cole said the recent increase in traffic led to longer commutes for her workers. The general stress of family obligations was also a factor that caused her workers to quit. It did not help that Sammamish is too expensive for the average groomer, so many of them have to commute from far away.
“It usually takes months of searching to find one groomer who fits the skill level that I need for my shop,” said Cole.
She has put hiring ads on Facebook and Indeed.com and pays about $600 a month to find applicants. But Cole has not been able to fill all of her open grooming positions. She is so far only able to get a part-time assistant manager, who had previously worked with her, and a new full-time shop assistant.
Cole is currently working more than 60 hours a week to fulfill appointments that were made with the groomers who quit. She still had to cancel many appointments.
A similar situation is unfolding at the VCA Animal Hospital in Pine Lake Village, which also offers grooming services.
Lisa Buetlow, a veterinary assistant at VCA, said their backlog has been caused by a mix of the “pandemic puppy boom” and a shortage of staff. This confluence of factors has led to a more than 10-week wait time for grooming.
“In my eight years here, I have never seen it so busy for medical or grooming,” said Buetow.
The challenge is aggravated for owners of large dogs, especially poodles, as they are trickier to groom, according to Buetow. Large dogs usually have more challenging coats, and their owners want to keep their fur at longer lengths, which means service time can last between two to four hours.
The answering machine at the A Fur Affair grooming salon, located in Sammamish Highlands, has been stating for months that they cannot take large dogs at this time.
Anil Reddy, a long-time Sammamish resident, has given up on professional grooming services for his 10-year-old Labrador retriever. Reddy, who is in his 50s, was a regular at the Sammamish location of Petco. But after the churn of groomers he experienced and multiple failed attempts at scheduling an appointment in recent months, he just stopped trying to get an appointment. He believes that the churn in grooming staff made his dog anxious.
“Just as humans, dogs prefer the same consistency and not getting the same groomer each time has made it hard to make my dog go into the salon,” said Reddy.