By Melissa Viera
Photos Provided by Mark Imhof
Grooming can make a big difference in the lives of pets, and in some cases, it may even save lives. For New York dog and cat groomer, Mark Imhof, also known as “Mark the Dog Guy,” It was a pit bull named Cleo that started him on the path to becoming a groomer for shelter animals in desperate need of his services.
Imhof and his fiance had two small dogs when they decided to adopt a third dog. “We adopted our first pit bull through Susie’s Senior Dogs,” says Imhof. Susie’s Senior Dogs is an organization with a mission to bring awareness to overlooked senior pets in need of a home.
After bringing Cleo home, Imhof quickly realized that she would need a bath sooner than later. “When we brought her home, she was just filthy,” he says. “So, the first thing that I did was give her a bath.” Washing Cleo in his tub and seeing the difference that a good bath made for her was a transformative process that gave Imhof an idea which stayed with him. Imhof thought about the difference that grooming could make for shelter dogs and how it could potentially even make them more adoptable.
When the couple adopted another pit bull named Fenton, Imhof yet again brought home a sweet dog in need of a good scrub. At the time, Imhof was coming to the end of a consulting job and his fiance saw how happy the dogs made him. He found joy in washing the dogs and with support and encouragement from his fiance, Imhof decided to go a step further than washing his own dogs at home and learn all about grooming by attending grooming school. It was a big change and he had a lot to learn.
“I went through the American Academy of Pet Grooming,” says Imhof. During his time in school, Imhof would spend full days working with dogs. When he started the program he was taught the basics of grooming from the ground up, learning how to wash, dry, prep, and handle dogs. Learning about breed standard cuts, anatomy, health, and safety were also important parts of his schooling. Imhof soon began clipping dogs and doing full haircuts.
Imhof found that he enjoyed grooming, but even more than that, he enjoyed seeing how much of a difference grooming made for animals. He knew he had to go on to help animals in need. After graduating from grooming school, Imhof approached the Animal Care Center where he had adopted Fenton, his second pit bull from, offering his grooming services on a volunteer basis.
The first dog he volunteered to groom for the Animal Care Center was severely matted and clearly uncomfortable. “He was totally hunched over. He couldn’t walk very well,” says Imhof. “Once I got under that matted fur and started cutting it away he started to relax.”
At that moment Imhof knew that there was no turning back. Since then, he has helped hundreds of shelter animals, and his work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Upworthy, and many others. Seeing how the dogs transform after they are groomed is more than enough motivation for him to keep volunteering and doing whatever he can to help animals in need.
Grooming shelter animals is far from an easy job. The animals come from all different situations and many times when they end up at the shelter they are in very poor condition. Dogs that are matted to the skin and afraid to be handled are a common challenge, but Imhof has found ways to help the dogs cope with the process.
“If I’m calm, then the dog will be calm,” he explains. “I have done some meditation classes,” he says. While grooming, Imhof thinks back to the techniques that are involved with mediating to keep himself in a totally calm state of mind.
Currently, Imhof spends a lot of his time volunteering to groom shelter animals and is even an on–call groomer for area shelters. He also balances work as a Certified Public Accountant and grooms professionally for customers in the comfort of their own homes.
“The feeling I get working with the animals is just such a gratification and joy,” says Imhof. Sometimes the animals are not easy to groom but even if they try to bite or scratch, Imhof remains calm knowing that he will be able to help them. His job is to free them of painful mats and help them feel better than they may have felt in a very long time.
Imhof’s reason for learning to groom was inspired by his desire to help shelter animals and he has no regrets for making the choice to pursue it. When it comes to grooming, his advice for anyone considering it for a career is simple. “Follow your heart,” he says. There are hundreds of animals and there will be many others that are fortunate that Imhof did just that. ✂