Pets can be welcome stress-relievers in these trying times. Pet adoptions are soaring nationally as people look for the company of furry friends, in the absence of human ones. One Virginia animal-rescue group told my colleague Gillian White that it now fields as many as 150 adoption applications in the first 24 hours after each virtual meet-and-greet with a new group of puppies.
In addition to being mild anxiolytics, “companion animals” such as dogs and cats show no evidence of being able to spread the coronavirus to people. That might make pet owners think that anything they do with their dogs and cats is safe, including getting them groomed. Going to the groomer right now might even seem like a nice, relaxing activity when almost everything else is forbidden.
But getting a pet groomed inevitably brings people closer together, and raises the risk of coronavirus transmission for both the pet owner and the groomer. Despite nationwide lockdowns, people are having their pets groomed, and pet groomers wish they would stop.
Petco groomers in several states told me the company was keeping its grooming salons open, and those that have closed because of shutdown orders did so only recently—weeks after most states demanded people stay at home other than for essential work and errands. Through the company’s online system, I successfully made an appointment for a haircut for a fake dog, “Bobo,” for today at a Petco near my home. Interviews with half a dozen Petco groomers reveal that some are terrified they’re risking their health by coming in to work, but they worry that they have few other options. The persistence of pet grooming shows that even in the face of a pandemic that’s killed more than 20,000 people in the United States, Americans are continuing to do anything they’re not expressly banned from doing, no matter the infection risks. The situation also reveals an American corporate culture that, workers say, prioritizes profits above employees’ safety. If businesses are open, it seems, the customers will come.