SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – When Julie Lawson’s family rescued their dog Ladybird from a Missouri truck stop years ago, they had no idea one of the things that saved her – a fresh haircut – would also be what they’d associate with her death last fall.

“We had found her at a truck stop in Norwood, Missouri where she had a fresh groom and she was left with a bag of food and a toy,” said Lawson. “My mom fell in love with this little dog and decided to keep her.”

Lawson inherited Ladybird from her mom who passed away in 2021.

“She was a great little guard dog,” said Lawson. “Acted like she was 100 pounds, not 25.”

KOLR 10 Investigates is looking into an oversight void in Missouri’s grooming industry after the dog had to be put down seven days after an accident at a local grooming salon.

The accident

Ladybird went to get groomed the day before Thanksgiving 2022, on Nov. 23. Video taken three days prior on Nov. 20 shows Ladybird running around the yard. The dog had been to The Gentle Touch Grooming twice a year since about 2016. But Lawson recalls this appointment was different.

“Her appointment was 2 p.m. and she does her little run-around thing in the parking lot,” said Lawson. “She was always excited to go in there. I had noted I had never seen so many people in the salon and so many dogs.”

An hour later, Jamie Chance, the dog’s regular groomer who owns The Gentle Touch Grooming, texted Lawson to say that it wasn’t her best haircut, but that she was ready to be picked up. Chance says she’s been grooming for 16 years and often works with area rescue groups like Rescue One.

Lawson was surprised when Ladybird had to be carried out of the salon.

“When I got her home, I got out her blanket and she still couldn’t stand on her own, said Lawson. “I carried her in and tried to stand her on the blanket and then she collapsed.”

Chance said Ladybird slipped and fell in the bathtub during the groom and was unable to stand at all afterward. However, Chance said she believed the sudden change in behavior was because the dog was prescribed a painkiller to minimize arthritis symptoms. Lawson had mentioned the dog’s arthritis diagnosis to Chance when Ladybird was dropped off.

“Nothing occurred that I considered out of the ordinary at the time,” said Chance. “Slipping in the tub is fairly common. It’s a bathtub. Dogs slip.”

Elyse Gotham has been grooming for about 50 years, including several decades spent in the Springfield area and some overlapping time in a previous salon with Chance. She says she’s never seen an accident like this before.

“The dog should have gone to the vet immediately,” said Gotham. “The second she couldn’t stand, she should have been at the vet.”

The Week After the Accident

A photo taken on Nov. 26 shows Ladybird slumped over at the first veterinary appointment her family could get scheduled after Thanksgiving. She still couldn’t stand or walk on her own.

Video taken on Nov. 29 reveals Ladybird’s condition declined dramatically in the week after.
She was in diapers and drinking only through an eye dropper.

An MRI exposed Ladybird had a spinal injury that compressed her vertebrae causing deep pain in all four limbs. Vet records show the vet referred Lawson to a specialty clinic in Columbia, several additional medications, and a $50 laser treatment every other day.

Records show owners spent hundreds of dollars in vet bills to try to save her, but the dog was euthanized within a week.

“I’m realizing that the dog is suffering more and more as the days are going on,” said Lawson. “We put her down the next week. So she was with us seven days after the incident.”

Chance also offered her condolences.

“I’m very sorry about Ladybird passing,” said Chance.

Insurance Involvement

Lawson said she first asked Chance if she had insurance to help cover anticipated vet costs in a phone call on Nov. 25, two days after the slip in the tub and the day after Thanksgiving. Ladybird got into an emergency vet appointment the next day.

Text messages show Chance told Lawson on Tuesday, Nov. 29 that she wanted to speak to the veterinary office that treated Ladybird before deciding whether or not to file an insurance claim. Chance said she’d never used her insurance before.

A week after the bathtub accident on Nov. 30, Chance told Lawson in a text that she filed the incident with insurance that morning. Ladybird was put down the next day on Dec. 1 following a traveling vet’s visit to Lawson’s home. Chance later told Lawson the claim was denied though insurance agents never contacted Lawson.

Gotham, the longtime groomer KOLR 10 Investigates interviewed, said liability insurance is somewhat common in the grooming industry, but it’s not a requirement.

“I got to the point where I carried a $1M liability insurance policy just in case,” said Gotham. “I never had to use it, but I had it.”

Oversight Void

State oversight is regulated through the Missouri Department of Agriculture, but rules only apply to facilities that keep animals overnight like kennels and veterinary offices.

Unlike the human cosmetology industry, there are no rules or regulations to serve as checks and balances over the pet grooming industry.

Lawson filed complaints with the Missouri attorney general and the local Better Business Bureau. Springfield police are also looking into the incident.

There are some cameras in the shop, but they only record at night when the store is closed.

Chance maintains that for all she knows, the injury could have something to do with an undiagnosed preexisting condition.

Calls for Legislative Change

Both Lawson and Gotham plan to spearhead a statewide effort to bring legislation to Missouri’s grooming industry. Gotham already has a few conditions in mind, like regulating the number of pets that a single groomer can book in one day. Gotham also thinks it’s important for groomers to be knowledgeable about pet anatomy and signs of pain or injury.

A few other states have pursued similar legislation following accidents in grooming salons, but so far no state nationwide has regulations in place to oversee groomers.

How to Protect Your Pets

KOLR 10 Investigates compiled tips and questions to ask your groomer in the meantime:

  • How often do accidents happen?
  • How do you document incidents?
  • Do you have liability insurance? If so, what does it cover?
  • What’s your protocol in case of emergencies?
  • Do you have a vet on-hand in case of emergencies?
  • Can I watch my dog’s groom or will you take a video?

Send a tip to KOLR 10 Investigates

Do you have a story you want investigated? Send an email to Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas at lbarnas@kolr10.com. Lauren also regularly monitors social media comments. Anyone with story suggestions can also reach out on Facebook.