A third of Welsh families own a dog and a growing number of owners now take their pooches to be pampered at a dog grooming salon. There are three thousand grooming businesses in the UK, but it's an unregulated industry. Salons are not inspected and groomers aren't required to have any qualifications.
The Cutz for Mutz salon in Llanelli calls itself 'the most successful dog grooming academy in the UK' and charges students up to £3600 to train there. Last year, owner Mandy Miller won an award for new business of the year.
However, some customers aren't impressed. Clive Davies's dog Fat Boy went to Cutz 4 Mutz last September. He told X-Ray, "My daughter took him there on a student training day and it was free. He ended up being shaven and cut under the leg." Clive says that the salon didn't mention the cut when the dog was collected but when his daughter spotted it she phoned to complain. "The salon said it was because the dog wouldn't stay still and they forgot to mention it," Clive said.
Salon owner Mandy Miller says she has no record of the complaint and says Fat Boy was shaved because his fur was badly matted - something Clive denies.
Caroline Rees's Yorkshire Terrier Fizzy also visited Cutz 4 Mutz. Caroline explained, "Mandy Miller the owner said we've had a bit of an accident, we've nicked Fizzy's leg". After taking Fizzy home, Caroline says she noticed that the dog was uncomfortable. "She kept licking her leg," she explained. "And underneath it was like a hole had been gouged out of her leg. I took her down to the vet and she needed three stitches in her leg. I went back to the salon and asked if she was going to pay the vet's bill but she said no."
Mandy Miller claims Fizzy's coat was in a terrible state when she arrived at Cutz 4 Mutz and insists the dog wasn't cut but had a burst abscess. Caroline disputes this and there's no mention of an abscess on the vets record.
So how common are accidents in the dog grooming industry? Karen Wright runs a salon in Cardiff and explained, "Dogs move, they fidget, we use big sharp scissors, we use clippers, all these things have a potential to harm in theory."
As Cutz 4 Mutz is a training academy, some of the grooming is carried out by students. Karen Wright believes it is especially important for trainees to be well-supervised. "It's everything really," she said. "There is no such thing as anything being the trainees' fault, ultimately until they are qualified and you deem they are ready, the salon owner is always responsible for them."
In the last year, sixty one students have paid more than £150,000 to train at the Cutz 4 Mutz academy in Llanelli, some funded by the Welsh government. Trainees are told that the courses lead to a "recognised qualification". However, Lantra Awards, which accredits the courses, insist that's not true and they've told the salon to remove the claim from their website.
Mandy Miller also insists trainees are "constantly supervised" - but not all her customers are convinced. Mark Bull took his dog Arthur, a Bichon Frise, to the salon in January this year on a student training day. At first he thought everything was fine. "He had nice green bows in his fur and looked pretty, we were happy", he explained. But the following morning Mark had a shock.
"Arthur was wincing, whimpering and shaking his head", he told X-Ray. "I was horrified when I saw two bands with green bows were tied around his ears, instead of in the fur. I tried to cut the bows off but he was going for me, he was in pain, howling. I took him back to the salon and the manageress cut the bows out and said he'd be all right."
However, within a couple of days Arthur's ears swelled up and began to turn black. The vet then had to amputate three quarters of one ear. Mark says he complained to Cutz 4 Mutz and says the salon owner Mandy Miller asked him to keep quiet about the incident, which he wasn't prepared to do. He posted comments on Facebook and was then shocked by what happened next.
"The police have visited twice, saying I was threatening", said Mark. "I've had solicitor's letters too. I feel really angry and aggrieved that I put trust in having my dog groomed and he's had his ear amputated, it should never have happened."
Cutz 4 Mutz told us that they do not accept blame for Arthur's injury and say he should have been taken to the vets sooner. They insist that the student who groomed Arthur didn't tie bows around his ears and that someone else must have done it after the dog left the salon - something Arthur's owner Mark denies.
Salon owner Mandy Miller also points out that she has hundreds of happy customers and makes every effort to follow health and safety standards. She also put X-Ray in touch with former students who said they were well-supervised during their training courses.
Meanwhile Lantra, the awarding body which approves the training courses at Cutz 4 Mutz, has temporarily suspended its links with Cutz for Mutz. They plan to carry out their own investigation and will visit the salon in April.
N.B. Cutz 4 Mutz in Llanelli is not connected with any other salon of the same name.