Confessions of a Pet Groomer

Ah, I love the smell of wet dog in the morning!

Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 34, I decided to switch careers and become Renee, the dog and cat groomer. I founded Pet-i-Care, my own dog and cat grooming salon in Buffalo, N.Y.

It was the best decision of my life!

Happy to go to work

I look forward to meeting my doggie customers every morning. It is a fun job, a rewarding job and -- sometimes -- even a dangerous job. If my "customers" aren't happy, they don't just complain, they can bite or scratch! But I've mostly been able to successfully read my animal clients' state of mind, cater to their moods and complete their beautifying grooming to their satisfaction and mine. And, oh yes, to their owners satisfaction, too.

I attended the now defunct M & M grooming school in Tonawanda, N.Y., in 1988. I didn't approve of the way the owner/instructor treated the animals, however, so I left before my graduation and finished my training in another groomer's shop.

I think most of the public assumes groomers are somehow certified, but they are not. Actually, there is no license or any kind of certification required to be a groomer anywhere in the United States, nor anywhere else -- which is a big bone of contention in the industry. There are several grooming schools in the United States where you can receive a certificate of graduation, but it doesn't really mean anything.

My employees and I do attend seminars held at the closest school to us (in Rochester, N.Y.) whenever they are offered, which is usually only every other year if we're lucky. There are also many good DVDs available on grooming specific dog breeds and cats, as well as how tos to accomplish "creative" grooming, by using doggie dyes and stencils, etc. Groomer chat rooms and message boards are another good source of new techniques and products, as well as professional publications.

After finishing my training in the private salon, I opened my own grooming shop in December 1988, along with a pet-sitting service that I ran for about eight years. If I lived in a warmer climate, I'd probably still be doing that, but I got tired of going out at 11PM to walk dogs in minus-20-degree weather and two feet of snow in Buffalo. I do it on occasion for a customer in a pinch, however.

A thorough process

To be a successful groomer, a love of all things animal isn't enough. You NEED to be able to handle them with love and understanding -- even when they're trying to bite your hand off! The grooming process is a three-step plan. Each dog or cat is placed on a table to get their nails cut, ears, groin and pads of feet cleaned and a comb-out or a shave. This first step is called the rough cut, as we're not going for beauty on this first part. The hair is removed before the bath as you don't want to wash all that hair you're going to remove anyway. Plus, if you bathe a pet before removing the mats or the undercoat, the water tends to "set" the coat, making it more difficult to remove.

The second step is the bath, with each shampoo chosen for the specific animal's coat needs -- be they dry, oily, fleas, etc. The third step is the finishing cut, which is where the groomer gets to showcase her talents, by smoothing out the haircut and doing the hand scissoring on the feet, tail and, most importantly, the face.

By the way, I actually discourage cat owners from having us give their pets baths, unless absolutely necessary. Most cats don't really need them unless there is a particular skin problem, etc., as they constantly groom themselves. We actually do a lot of cat grooming at my shop, as most salons do not want to do them. It's easier to recover from a Rottweiler bite than a cat bite, believe it or not.

I encourage all new puppy owners to bring in their pet between 9-12 weeks of age, for a free "puppy package" initial groom. The owners stay and wait while we allow the pup to run around the shop, exploring everything and getting used to a new place and new people. Then we cut the nails, clean the ears and do a pretend brush and clipper run. After lots of loving and hugging and a special puppy treat, they go home happy, and hopefully will remember what a fun place our salon is.

Satisfied customers

I have several customers who can only get their dogs to leave the shop while they dangle a treat in front of them. While some owners say they are embarrassed by this, I tell them I'd much rather other people see them dragging their dog OUT, rather than in! Many of our doggie customers, while waiting for their turn on our tables, just jump right up on the table before we're quite ready. That's good for us, as it saves back injuries from lifting the big ones.

As in any profession, groomers need to keep up with the latest trends in hair styles and products. Several years ago we discovered the benefits of unrefined coconut oil for dogs with hot spots due to allergies or some bacterial irritations. It can be applied to the skin topically for a hot spot, or added sparingly to the diet for more extreme cases. We've also improved many ear problems with a gentian violet treatment.

Being a pet groomer is a truly rewarding career that gives back every day in doggie kisses and kitty licks. I don't know what could be a better way to spend the day at work!

Next:10 Jobs That Let You Work With Animals

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