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April 4, 2020, 9:38 p.m. EDT

‘These dogs have been kissed and cuddled by their owners.’ How is our pet salon still open when human salons are closed?

‘We have no masks or gloves, and are required by the job to spend 15 to 20 minutes at a time interacting face-to-face with each client’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist,

I am a pet stylist. I feel most people would agree that my job definitely falls into the nonessential category and it is, in fact, on the list of nonessential businesses ordered closed by my state and by the town in which I work.

The problem is, I work in a corporate store that sells pet food, which is essential. Our CEO has made the determination that makes our grooming staff exempt from the order, and we are being required to work.

I believe this is a flagrant flouting of the mandate’s wording, and encourages people to violate stay-at-home orders, which have specifically stated that pet grooming is nonessential. I can understand the store being open; people do need their pet food and supplies.

However, the grooming department remaining open only adds to the number of people in the store, and seems to me an absurd risk for the sake of profit. We have already been warned twice by the city for being over the capacity we are allowed at this time, and grooming only adds to it.

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We have no masks or gloves, and are required by the job to spend 15 to 20 minutes at a time interacting face-to-face with each client. We handle the dogs that the owners have been kissing and cuddling. I don’t know who to contact. I don’t know how they’re even being allowed to continue this.

Our CEO has proudly and adamantly declared that we will remain open throughout, and I am not sure what my rights are, if any at all.

I normally love my job, but I am very disturbed by the way this is being handled and am wondering why each individual business is being allowed to make the call independently of any governing body, and even in violation of stated rules. 

Pet Stylist Who Loves Her Job (Usually)

Dear Stylist,

Whatever way you cut it, giving a customer’s pooch a shampoo and blow dry, styling their hair into a cute bob, clipping their nails and finishing them off with a silk bow are not deemed “essential services” under the Essential Services Act of 2013. And I say that as a dog lover.

That act defines the term “ essential employee ” as an employee that “performs work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, as determined by the head of the agency.” In New York, for instance, all eat-in restaurants, clothing stores, cafes and gyms are closed.

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Here are just some of the businesses allowed to remain open: pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, hardware stores, supermarkets, trash and recycling collection, mail and shipping services, laundromats and animal shelters. I don’t see Poppy’s Puppy Playhouse on that list.

There is a reason why people have been encouraged to stay six feet apart. It helps slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease, which is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. It has a serious name because it’s a serious disease. It should be taken seriously.

Unless your boss lives in a world where he envisions all the dogs in the neighborhood standing in line outside his store, while keeping a respectable six-feet distance from each other and resisting the temptation to sniff each other’s butts, I don’t see how in the name of Lassie he could remain open.

Unless your boss lives in a world where he envisions all the dogs in the neighborhood standing in line outside his store, while keeping a respectable six-foot distance from each other and resisting the temptation to sniff each other’s butts, I don’t see how in the name of Lassie he could remain open.

I’m sure he serves high-quality pet food and dogs come from afar to taste his wares. In the meantime, owners can improvise by cooking up a feast for their dogs from an array of ingredients in a supermarket, or buy pet food there. My childhood dog always got leftovers and he ate like the good boy he knew he was! But you’re right: enough is enough.

There are too many companies taking advantage of the lockdown in various states across the country to make an extra buck or two. Maybe your boss is afraid that he will lose his business or customers’ loyalty, and is forging ahead as if nothing happened. But something has happened.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “ general duty ” clause states that an employer should provide a safe environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

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Your boss is putting himself, his customers and his staff at risk of catching this disease by flouting the rules. Dogs don’t buy their own pet food and they’re not usually fussy about what they eat, as long as it’s nutritious and meaty. They like something to chew on. Supermarkets fulfill that role.

In New York, State Attorney General Letitia James has asked consumers whose employers are violating labor laws related to COVID-19 to contact her office . Other states have made similar requests. The New Jersey hotline was so overloaded, it diverted calls to other emergency services.

It’s time to put an end to this “essential services” charade. I actually feel sad that the dogs are being used in this way. Their owners should know better, and their families should be concerned too. The last thing your dogs would want is for their owners to get sick. Who would look after them then?

<STRONG>You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com</STRONG>

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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