When I attended grooming school, I was taught how to give a bath and fluff dry. I learned how to pluck and clean ears, clip nails, and give haircuts to the dogs or kitties on my grooming table. With time, I have learned that these are not the only tasks that are a part of our profession; there is an emotional and spiritual connection that comes with being a pet stylist.

This connection cannot be avoided. It is obvious that the creature on our table has a heartbeat and soul, and most are loved and cherished by their owner. These individuals come to us, not just to make their furry friend clean and cute, but because pet groomers are caretakers. Caretakers care. The word is defined as “a person employed to look after people or animals.” This is what we do.

Effective caretaking is best when done with an emotional and spiritual connection. In most situations our work can be symbolized by a triangle; composed of the groomer, the owner, and the pet. With each visit, the connections grow stronger. This was the unwritten chapter of my education I learned on my own – the hard way.

It all began with Betty back in the early days of my mobile grooming business. Betty’s adult daughter, who volunteered at a shelter, came upon Rocky, a Lhasa Apso.  She thought he would be the perfect companion for her elderly mother, who lived alone.

Over the next two years, I saw Betty and Rocky every six weeks like clockwork. With each passing visit, we shared more laughs about Rocky and his antics. He had his Mom wrapped around his paw. How I looked forward to this appointment! Every time I arrived at her home I had a big smile on my face. One day, Betty was not feeling well. The next visit, she had a caretaker. At the following appointment, when I brought Rocky into her house, Betty was sitting in a wheelchair and did not recognize me. When I returned to my grooming van, I broke down in tears. I knew I would never see her again and I didn’t. Ten years later, I still think of her. Every time I drive past her street, the memories come flooding back. I will never forget Betty and Rocky.

How many times have you read on social media the heartbreak of a groomer losing a beloved pet client? As soon as a comment is posted everyone commiserates. There is not one groomer I know that has not been touched by this. We take dogs and cats through their lifespan, from puppies and kittens through middle age to the final stages of life. Caring for elderly pets, especially those with serious and life threatening conditions, is truly a privilege. As sad as it sounds, this is one of my greatest pleasures and accomplishments.

As I looked into the eyes of my new client, Petey the beagle, I knew something was wrong.  The owner had mentioned they had an appointment with the veterinarian to have the swelling on the bridge of his nose checked. I had a feeling the news was not going to be good. I was right; it was cancer. As Petey became ill it was so difficult. This was my first experience with terminal illness. It broke my heart to see him, but I returned monthly to bathe and groom that sweetie with tender, loving care. I kissed the top of his head and massaged his ears as I talked softly to him. We shared very special one-on-one cherished time, important to his well being, as he entered the final stages of his life. This provided a tremendous amount of comfort for his loving owner who only wanted the very best for Petey.

Volunteering outside of pet styling can be equally traumatic. Groomers are often “first responders” for shut down puppy mills and hoarders; they see a lot of horrific situations, up close and personal. Talk about heartbreak! Some of these situations can give you nightmares. Groomers put those feelings into a little box, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. They know they can make a difference one pet at a time and they do. Oftentimes, groomers can sense the pet’s gratitude. If they could only speak! The dog or kitty would say, “Thank you for helping me feel better.“

Homeless pets, shelter dogs and cats are often matted to the bone. It is very difficult to see animals in such poor condition. Who steps up and comes to their rescue? Groomers! They know that the probability of the pet being adopted will increase dramatically if they are clean, cute, and cuddly. No matter how distressing it is, groomers can see past the greasy ears, long nails, and dirty hair. With loving care, they help these furry friends find a forever home.

I have learned many valuable life lessons though grooming.

It has shown me how to connect with and support my clients and their pets through good and bad times. I consulted groomers on the Internet, interested in knowing how other pet stylists feel about this topic. It has made Victoria Gabay more patient, Sherri Wilson more kind, and Lori Bowman more compassionate. Kayla Swisher sees every situation as an opportunity and a challenge to grow as a groomer and a person. Felicia Moran states, “The more you are willing to put into it, the more satisfaction and opportunities you will have.” Samantha Agner feels grooming is all about heart and passion. For Linda Wilson grooming it is a gift.  I have always felt that pet grooming has helped me become a better person. When I attended grooming school I thought pet grooming was about a haircut and a bath; I could not have been more wrong. Grooming is all about love.

Ellen Ehrlich is a mobile pet stylist who loves to think, talk, read, and write about pet grooming. Next to grooming, Ellen loves to empower, motivate, and inspire other groomers to be the best they can be. She is the author of The Successful Pet Groomer, Go Mobile And Succeed, and 49 Essays On Pet Grooming. For more information go to: www.gomobileandsucceed.com