It was May, 1996. Star pupil Jennifer Hecker was three days away from graduating from grooming school and I was still very much a hands-on Director of The Paragon School of Pet Grooming.
I remember walking into the lobby during check-in. The front staff was just greeting a new client with a very large Bouvier des Flandres. I looked at the dog and immediately sensed something was off. The dog came in willingly enough, but its body language and eyes were telling me to be very, very careful with this dog.
Once the owner was gone, I told the front staff to attach the dog to a wall tether. I sensed we could have a real problem if we tried to place that dog in a kennel. Being out on the practical skills floor where we could closely observe this dog without the housing restriction was much safer. I suggested that the instructors place a muzzle on the dog before they attempted to do any grooming, just in case.
Because we didn’t see that many Bouvier’s at the Paragon Training Center, it was assigned to Jennifer, one of our most advanced students. At that time, Jennifer had shown Giant Schnauzers and had advanced one of them through the highest levels of French Ring Sport. She was not intimidated by the size or the potential attitude of this dog.
Not 15 minutes into the class, someone raced into my office and told me I’d better get out to the practical skills floor – fast. Someone had been hurt. Seconds later, I was on the practical skills floor. The first thing I noticed was how empty and quiet the room was.
The second was the blood trail.
It led diagonally across the space towards the bathing room. There was a crowd of people around a small prep sink. One person in particular was obviously in great distress – Jennifer.
Our general manager was holding her hand under cold water and asking her series of questions. One of the questions still haunts me today…
“Can you feel your fingers?”
I got a glimpse of Jennifer’s hand. Place a quarter on the meatiest part of the heel of your hand. Now imagine that area… gone.
The Bouvier had done exactly what I had feared. The instructor and Jennifer had done what I had requested. They had muzzled the dog before team-lifting it onto the table. That’s when it struck. Unbelievably, it bit Jennifer through a muzzle. It was a nylon muzzle that was open at the end of the mouth so the dog could breathe freely. This type of muzzle can be effective as long as it fits snugly. In this case, they had selected a muzzle that was slightly too large. Even though the dog was muzzled, it could still open its mouth just enough to grab the heel of her hand to chew through her flesh…
…and it did.
We raced Jennifer to the medical treatment center. The local med-station felt that they could handle this wound despite the fact that she had lost sensation in her little finger – or maybe the pain was so great – she couldn’t be sure. They stitched her up, bandaged her, pumped her up with antibiotics, and sent her home.
The following day she was she was back at the doctor, but this time to see a hand specialist. They ripped out all the stitches from the night before and started over. Jennifer was looking at a long recovery period.
Jennifer had such a great attitude towards this whole thing – it was hard to believe. Even though she missed the last three days of class, she still graduated with very high grades. However, finding a grooming job was certainly out of the question for her – at least for a while. We ended up hiring Jennifer for our front office at Paragon while she healed.
As Jennifer’s medical bills mounted, we collected everything and turned them into our insurance company. However, our carrier did not feel the situation warranted a payout on their behalf.
That’s when we learned that in the state of Michigan a pet owner is ultimately responsible for their dog – even if they are not with it. The insurance company went after the pet owner. They were able to collect from their homeowner’s policy. That was news to me and served as a lesson to all of us.
As the story unfolded, we got more information that was unnerving. My initial gut reaction was well-founded. This was the third reported bite case for this dog – and the third owner. Of course the owner never bothered to share that information with us upon check-in. The dog was destroyed after this third incident with Jennifer.
We learned 5 lessons through this unfortunate event.
- Trust your gut. Never do a dog that you feel is dangerous to you, your team, or itself.
- Use muzzles when necessary and make sure they fit properly (we changed to full basket-style muzzles).
- The pet owner is ultimately responsible for their pet regardless of whether they are with them or not.
- In the state of Michigan, if the dog creates an insurance situation, the pet owner’s homeowner’s policy will be responsible for paying any damages or claims.
- Love and passion for dogs can still shine through despite severe injuries inflicted by them and long recovery periods.
Jennifer has been grooming with us for over 18 years. I’m fortunate that she is still on my team. She has become one of our most talented and productive pet stylists. She grooms every day at our luxury kennel, Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa. Plus, Jennifer has been one of our talented Training Partners on Learn2GroomDogs.com since the beginning.
We just filmed her for Learn2GroomDogs.com. We had been looking for someone to do a traditional style grooming lesson on a Bouvier des Flandres for a very long time. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect Jennifer Hecker to step up to the grooming table for this lesson! I’m so glad she did. Her love and compassion for all dogs is clearly evident – even for the Bouvier des Flandres.