On February 2, Jennifer’s husband Rudolph Walsh took their beloved French bulldog, Otis, to a new groomer in Montecito, California. Inside, the place was packed with 15 other pups roaming freely. Patrick Walsh asked if it was still a good time, even though he had an appointment, and the barber assured him that everything was fine.
The next time Jennifer and Patrick saw Otis, it was at the local animal hospital, where they recovered his body. Otis had died within two hours of being left to be fixed.
While the circumstances leading up to his death are unclear, it’s clear why Otis died: he overheated. French bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed, with a wide, short skull and a flat face. “Brachycephalic breeds have uniquely structured heads and may have difficulty panting enough to cool off,” according to the american kennel club. Their tendency to overheat requires owners to be extra vigilant on hot, humid days, and groomers to take special care when drying them. The barber Otis was taken to says he was not placed in a drying rack, a piece of equipment that speeds up the drying process with heat. The Walshes aren’t so sure.
In the end, the details don’t matter much, says Jennifer. Her goal now is to help prevent harm to other dogs at groomers, which do not require a license to operate, a fact most people don’t realize. When dog-loving Oprah heard the news, she wanted to do everything she could to raise awareness.
As a devoted dog lover, I’m on my 21stSt. furrier friend: I have great compassion and empathy for anyone who unexpectedly loses a dog. I’ve lost two that way, and it’s particularly difficult. Devastating, really. So naturally, I was heartbroken when my friend Jennifer told me the Otis story. She surprised me so much that she wanted to share it with all of you.
Each of my own dogs taught me a lesson. Some big, some small. When I asked Jennifer what she learned from raising Otis and this experience, she said, “Otis was always able to bring people together. That was the joy of it. I always want reciprocity in my life, but I just really like the giving part. As I tell people about the dangers of unregulated hairdressers and sometimes overwhelmed or neglectful hairdressers, I am learning not only to give love, but to receive love and support on a deep level. This is how this has changed me.”
He was unaware of the extent of concerns common to bulldogs and French bulldogs. I knew they had some trouble breathing, but I didn’t realize they can easily overheat. I learned that even walking down the street on a balmy 65 degree day, they may not get enough air and die. That is very scary. These dogs are sensitive and require special care.
Jennifer tells me that Otis was actually a healthy little boy. He had no anxieties, he was outgoing and even liked to sit in the sun. Of course, if she’d known there was even the slightest chance he was in danger, she wouldn’t have taken him to get ready. Whether or not he’s been put in a drying crate, there needs to be more oversight in the pet care industry to make these establishments safe for brachycephalic dogs, and indeed all breeds.
I realized many years ago that the power of a soul is defined by the extent of its reach and impact. Now I see that little Otis had a big soul. We are still talking about him days after his death. And I hope the message of his untimely death can save the life of another furry friend. I know Jennifer and Patrick feel the same way.
EXPERT TIPS ON DOG STYLING
Of course, there are excellent groomers out there, but it’s important to know that the experience can still be exhausting for your dog. Here are some tips to help mitigate potential problems and help protect your pet.
Visit the hairdresser alone. “The first thing I always say to my patients’ owners is ‘Walk her dog away before you go on an appointment,'” says veterinarian Nancy Katz, VMD, owner of Katz & Dogs Animal Hospital in Montclair, NJ . “When you walk in with your dog, you’ll be more focused on him, which you should be, but there may be subtle things you don’t notice.”
Look around. If they don’t let you, then that could be a signal to walk away. “You want it to be an open, clean environment, and you want the groomer to let the dog take breaks,” says Katz. Grooming requires a lot of standing time, which can make some dogs anxious.
Ask questions. Ask your groomer for a step-by-step guide on what will be done to your dog and what is used, suggests Katz. It’s also a good idea to ask how many dogs will be there, he says, so he can consider factors like your pet’s anxiety level, the possibility of contagious diseases and the length of your dog’s appointment. Also, the American Kennel Club suggests asking things like “Do you have experience with my dog’s breed?” before scheduling an appointment with a new barber. Check out their full list of 11 questions to ask a potential hairdresser.
communicate expectations. “Make it clear to your groomer that you are comfortable with them stopping if you feel the dog is stressed in any way,” says Katz. The groomer may feel a responsibility to get the job done, but discussing expectations gets you both on the same page: The dog’s safety comes first, and it’s okay if grooming needs to be done in stages every couple of weeks, maybe.
Consider home care. Regular brushing and grooming at home can make getting to the groomer easier, which means less agitation for your dog, suggests Katz. If you’re going to go for a total DIY job, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a guide for safely groom your pet at homewhich includes instructions for bathing and brushing teeth, giving your dog an eye exam, and spotting problems that require a trip to the vet.
Check the credentials. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gives advice on how to help prevent accidents. First on the list is to find a hairdresser who is certificate. While certification isn’t a requirement, having graduated from a training program or being a member of a trade organization like the National Association of Dog Groomers “often indicates professionalism,” says PETA. “Evidence of participation in industry seminars is also a good sign.”
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