By Suesan Watson
Living at home with six siblings, you grow up very quickly, and you learn how to do things on your own at an even quicker rate. Otherwise, you would never accomplish anything. When I groomed my first dog at the age of 13, I didn’t wait to be taught or supervised; I just did it. I had watched my mother and grandmother do it so many times. I just felt confident I could, and I did! I did such a nice job that when my mother returned home, she was sure that I must have had someone help me even though there was no one home at the time.
During the summer of that year, I worked in the grooming shop. My grandmother had only learned how to groom Poodles, so she couldn’t teach me any other breeds. That didn’t stop me from looking at pictures in books or watching people at dog shows grooming all different kinds of dogs.
When I was 14, I learned how to hand-strip when I got a Wire Fox Terrier from a handler who was showing one of our Borzoi at the time. I didn’t even know you could groom a dog by pulling its hair out. Then I got a Smooth Fox Terrier. Who knew you could reshape your whole dog by carding out coat? Wow!
If anyone would have told me back then that grooming would be my life, I would have said, “No way.” I loved the dogs, but I was only doing it until I graduated high school—then I would get a real job and maybe even go to college. Being one of seven children, there was no money for me to continue with schooling after high school. We were expected to help out at home. We bred, raised, and showed Borzoi. We had a few Poodles, two Afgans, a Scottish Deerhound, two Newfoundlands, and a few cats. We also had a small boarding kennel and grooming shop. We all had our jobs to do, but those of us who learned grooming or showed in interest in grooming were expected to work in the family business. After all, that is what paid for everything we got.
Since I did love grooming and showing dogs, I felt if this is what I was going to be doing for a while, I was going to do it to the best of my ability. I am a firm believer that a job is what YOU make it. You can show up to work every day dreading it, hating the people you work with, actually hating what you do, or you can look for the good in what you do and who you work with. You need to decide which way to go with it. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in changing jobs. Maybe it’s because of financial reasons, or it’s close to home, or it has great benefits, but we can control how we deal with what we have.
There was a time I thought I would give up dog grooming. I think I was burnt out. I just didn’t feel like I was doing anything new. It was the same old thing—same dogs, same cuts, and same clients. At the time, I was working with my sister, Lisa Leady. I told her that maybe it was time for me to look for something different. In the mail was a program book for the All American Grooming Show. Lisa said, “I got the thing for us. We will enter the grooming show.” “What do we know about a grooming show?” I said. Lisa said, “What’s there to know? We know how to groom. We will each enter one dog, and we will see.” And so we did. It totally opened my eyes. I saw things, learned things, and brought new ideas and styles back to the shop, which put excitement and life back into everyday grooming. I have not stopped since that show in 1998.
I wanted to do the best that I could do and put my whole self into it, and I did. I had to make sacrifices along the way. I gave up time with my husband and children. However, because I was willing to do whatever it took, I now have the opportunity to give back to an industry that has supported me practically my entire life.