In the dog house

Last week, Popular Information reported that Petsmart, the largest pet retailer in the United States, reopened most of its dog grooming salons on April 6. With COVID-19 still spreading rapidly in most areas of the country and most businesses closed, Petsmart decided that getting your dog "ready for spring with a new do" is an essential service. The company drove demand for its salons with a multi-million dollar ad campaign

In a private Facebook group, dozens of Petsmart groomers expressed alarm at the decision, fearing for their safety — and the safety of Petsmart customers. Groomers say, "there is no way to perform their jobs without coming into close physical contact with pet owners and other workers, which risks spreading the virus." Petsmart's own internal guidance for dog groomers, obtained by Popular Information last week, contemplates situations where social distancing is not possible.

Petsmart says it is operating "in accordance with government orders." But, last week, the company was still operating its dog grooming salons in Los Angeles, despite a city order which explicitly banned pet grooming. In response to an inquiry from Popular Information, the company said it would close its dog salons in its Los Angeles locations

But Los Angeles wasn't the only place where Petsmart is running into issues. In Ohio, two Petsmart locations have been issued cease-and-desist orders. Petsmart stopped operating those salons after receiving the orders

Petsmart is continuing to operate its dog grooming salons in two states where Popular Information was told it was prohibited.

ALABAMA: A state employee told Popular Information over email that "pet grooming services are non-essential." 

INDIANA: A state employee told Popular Information over email that "pet groomers are not considered essential business under the Governor’s Executive Order 20-18, which took effect Monday, April 6, at 11:59 p.m., and should remain closed during this time."

In Michigan, Petsmart continues to operate its dog salons even though the state's executive order only permits in-person visits with a veterinarian for essential services — and only when telemedicine options are exhausted. The executive order does not address dog grooming directly.

A Petsmart representative told Popular Information that these three states "do not prohibit pet grooming salons from operating." According to the company, the fact that it was necessary to contact the state for clarification is proof that "none of the orders specifically address whether grooming salons must close." Further, Petsmart says, "we have received guidance — verbally and in writing — from state and local law enforcement representatives to confirm that we remain in compliance with the various stay-at-home orders that may apply to our salons and stores."

As of Monday, dog grooming services were listed as available on the Petsmart website in three other states where Popular Information was told dog grooming was prohibited.

COLORADO: The state operates a hotline to answer questions about its stay-at-home order. A representative told Popular Information that pet grooming is considered non-essential. 

MAINE: The state specifically lists dog grooming as non-essential.

MINNESOTA: A state employee told Popular Information over email that "pet grooming is not exempt at this time."

A Petsmart representative told Popular Information that Petsmart "has closed all of its salons" in Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota.

Petco stays open in LA and elsewhere 

Petsmart temporarily closed its dog grooming salons on March 21 before reopening them earlier this month. And while Petsmart is abiding by the Los Angeles city order to close its grooming salons, Petco is ignoring it. Instead, they distributed a memo to its California locations calling the operations of its pet salons "essential." 

Keeping a pet well-groomed, such as with services provided by professional groomers, is essential. Without proper grooming care, pets can be at risk for negative effects on their health. Grooming pets is different from human haircuts – pets can be groomed while adhering to applicable social distancing guidelines.

Why are Petsmart and Petco so desperate to groom dogs?

Both Petsmart and Petco seem determined to give dogs haircuts during a pandemic. Why? First, dog grooming services are very profitable. The margins on a bag of dog food are small — and chains like Petsmart and Petco have to compete with grocery stores and online options. Dog grooming has less competition and higher profit margins. 

Petsmart and Petco are sensitive to their profitability because they are both owned by private equity firms. Petsmart was acquired by the private equity firm BC Partners in 2014 for $8.2 billion. Petco was acquired by the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners in 2015 for $4.6 billion.  

Private equity firms typically do not hold assets for the long-term. Rather they hope to increase the value of acquired companies and then sell them (or take them public) in 3-5 years. That means that, for both companies, the clock is ticking. Both are trying to maintain their profitable dog grooming business, even if it may put the health of their employees and customers at risk. 

Photo credit: John Price

Meet the new White House Press Secretary

Last week, Trump named a new White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who previously served as a spokesperson for his campaign. McEnany replaces Stephanie Grisham, who left her post without having ever briefed the press. Trump has assumed that role for himself. 

Still, the White House Press Secretary is a powerful position, and McEnany is expected to appear frequently on TV defending Trump. That's why McEnany's appointment generated extensive press coverage. What was ignored is McEnany's history of publishing and promoting racist commentary. 

McEnany operated a now-defunct website, Although it is now off-line, the Twitter account @RzstProgramming uncovered an archived version. In February 2013, McEnany published and promoted a piece called "The Case Against Black History Month." 

The article, written by "Jack from Manhattan," claims that celebrating Black History Month "promotes racial separatism" and is an opportunity "for the left to tell black people that we are all victims of America again." The piece goes on to argue that "it's incredibly contradictory" for people to say that "black people should be treated like everyone else" and also have "a special month to learn how we are still perpetual victims." It goes on to criticize "black Americans" for pushing for "special treatment under the law, usually at the expense of whites." 

McEnany also tweeted out a "joke" about how Obama's brother lives in a hut in Kenya.

In another defunct website operated by McEnany, Political Prospect, she authored a piece calling Obama the first "white" African-American president. The piece criticized media coverage of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin.

Her extreme antipathy for Obama continues to the present day. "We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here...and isn't it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama," McEnany said on February 25

There are now over 583,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, which have resulted in more than 23,000 deaths. But that didn't stop McEnany from defending her remarks as accurate and criticizing the media for taking them out of "context." She'll fit right in as part of the Trump administration. 

In April, Popular Information will donate 25% of all revenue to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

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