Grooming At Westminster

By Mary Oquendo

The Westminster Dog Show is held every year in mid–February in NYC. I’ve always loved going, especially as it’s just a train ride away. Last year I shadowed Leah Shirokoff and Finn. As I walked through the staging area, I realized I knew half of the groomers from our own trade shows. No wonder these dogs look so good!

Mackensie Murphy was kind enough to allow me to interview her.

When did you decide you were going to be a groomer?

Mackensie: I’m not positive I decided to be a groomer or if my mother (Jodi Murphy) and her industry peers decided for me. I was a bather for my mother and tagging along to competition and dog shows well before I was even in high school. I even tried my hand at bathing at a local Petsmart when I was 18 and on my own. I quickly realized grooming was going to be a much better and more rewarding fit for me, even though I tried to deny it as the rebellious teen that I was. At the time I was struggling through art school and couldn’t find a genre that fit for me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that grooming would fill that niche.

We’re pretty sure your career path was chosen for you. I remember your mother posting a picture of a dog you had groomed on your own. She was so proud of you. So, tell us about your grooming career.

Mackensie: My grooming career has been quite an adventure. I started grooming in Cincinnati, Ohio at local salons here and there. Strictly basic pet grooms. After watching my mother climb the ranks with Groom Team USA, I finally decided it was time to perfect my skills. I began to study under some of our industry legends. I begged Karla Addington– Smith and Diane Betalak for jobs. I spent Saturday nights with Judy Hudson, who I credit for my work ethic. And let’s not forget irreplaceable lessons on technique in the middle of our kitchen with my mom. In addition, I tagged along with as many different breeders and handlers to dog shows as I could to really learn each breed in and out. I jumped into the contest ring in 2011, and haven’t come up for air since. I’ve ranked in the top ten for Groom Team USA from that first year on. In 2016, I made the Groom Team USA travel team, ranking number two in the country. That year, we brought home the silver medal after beating out 21 other countries. I currently work in NYC with an amazing clientele that vary from show dogs, pets, and the occasional celebrity client. This year I’ve been doing seminars and workshops, and have been named an Andis Global Ambassador. I’m excited to be representing the United States in Belgium at the world tournament this October with Groom Team USA.

Good luck in Belgium! What would say has been the highlight of your career to date?

Mackensie: Bringing home a silver medal from Italy at our world tournament was by far the highlight of my career. I never thought I would be standing next to some of the world’s best groomers in that tournament. Being a part of that team with girls that share the same insane passion that I have was something I will never forget.

How did you get from Groom Team to Westminster?

Mackensie: I couldn’t believe it when I started to receive grooming inquiries for Westminster alongside my success in the grooming industry competition ring. These breeders and handlers wanted me to groom some of the country’s top winning show dogs. I was beyond flattered and excited.

I can’t imagine how exciting it would be to groom here at Westminster. How do you prepare for a show of this order?

Mackensie: Once I know which dogs I am taking on for the show, I figure out how long each would take to groom in their entirety. Then, I need to know the amount of time to coordinate each dog to be ring ready at the proper time. Timing is very important.

I pack a bag with every imaginable tool and product I could possibly ever need. With the help of my awesome friends, we meet each dog at my salon in Manhattan. They are bathed, blown out, and receive the most perfect groom that I could possibly manage. Then, they are sent back with their handlers to their hotels until they actually have to be benched at the piers and ready to show. I meet with each dog at their set up about 45 min before their ring times to do any last minute touch ups and prepping. My trusty assistant and good friend, Anne Francis makes sure to keep me focused and on time as we bounce from set up to set up prepping multiple breeds for their classes. Once every dog was groomed, prepped and had finished showing at the piers, my grooming day was over. We have maybe a half hour of down time before Groups and Best In Show began at Madison Square Garden later that night.

The magnitude of work that goes into getting dogs ready for a show like this is crazy. Not just for me, but also for the handlers, breeders, assistants, and the supportive spouses that are trying to stay out of the way. Sitting in Madison Square Garden when the entire place lights up with purple and gold, watching some of the most gorgeous dogs in the world do what they love, all the while knowing you’re one of the few who can make them look like that, makes it all worth it.

I know you have future plans. Can you share them?

Mackensie: In a few years I’d love to still have a foot in the contest ring, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that phase in my career to completely be over. I want to inspire and educate groomers around the world in whatever way I can. I never want to stop learning and am deeply appreciative of all our industry leaders who take the time to share their expertise.

It’s been a pleasure to watch your career from the time you were that rebellious teenager to that motivated, responsible adult you have become. I’m sure I speak for the entire industry when I say how proud we are of you. ✂