By Daryl Conner
“We make a living by what we get.
We make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Churchill
When I lived in Memphis, I operated a house call pet grooming business for many years. One of my favorite customers did a good bit of community volunteer work, including delivering Meals on Wheels. One day, she told me about a lady (and I am not making this up) named Miss Magnolia. Miss Magnolia had a little dog that was in dire need of grooming. My customer asked if I would go take care of the dog if she paid me. I got the contact information, refused the extra pay, and set up what would be the first of many appointments.
Miss Magnolia lived in a very poor part of town. Her small house was cheek and jowl with other little houses on the street. The road was dirt, the yards were weed choked, and a railroad track ran so closely past that the houses shook when trains blew by. The dog that needed me? It was a little Spitz mix, matted and hosting a variety of external parasites. I set my tools up on the open front porch and did the best I could with her. Soft spoken Miss Magnolia sat on an ancient rocking chair with a magazine for a fan and rocked in that Memphis heat, telling me stories of her family. Her husband was gone; her only daughter had been murdered. She’d done the best she could for her grandson, but he was running the streets and rarely came by. Her little dog was her sole companion. She wasn’t complaining, just sharing.
The neighbors crowded up on their porch to watch. At first they were awfully suspicious of me, but before long, we were talking and laughing like old friends. The dog was suspicious in the beginning, too, but she soon realized I was helping her and submitted to the process graciously.
I went back about once a month for that summer and fall. One day, Miss Magnolia told me her dog wasn’t acting right. One look at her lethargic form told me she needed to see a veterinarian, and I transported her to the closest one. She had advanced cancer and not long to live. I made arrangements and then brought her home so her owner would have a chance to say goodbye.
Before I left that afternoon, I asked if I could wash my hands. As always, the house was immaculate with fans humming in the windows to move the sweltering air around a bit. I reached for the dish soap on the counter, and Miss Magnolia exclaimed, “No! Wait!” She shuffled off to the back of the house and emerged with something small in her hands: something round and carefully wrapped in tissue paper. I watched as she carefully unveiled a bar of soap. “I save this for special,” she told me. I’d just told her that her little dog was going to die, yet I was worthy of “special.” Miss Magnolia joined her beloved pet not too much later. I think of her often. She gifted me with renewed gratitude for the abundance of simple things in my life like soap.
MJ Vaskorlis and Michelle Semken, co-owners of Pet Bath and Beyond (Camp Hill, PA) and their staff are wonderful examples of the giving spirit that resides in the hearts of so many pet groomers. “We felt from the moment we opened that we needed to give back to rescues and the community we live in. We want that when people hear the shop name, they don’t just think it’s a great grooming shop. We want them to know that our devotion goes beyond the care of their pet. The girls at our shop are always ready at a moment’s notice to help when needed.” They groom homeless pets taken in by Castaway Critters (Elizabethtown, PA) and have been involved in grooming pets taken in during puppy mill seizures.
They go above and beyond in other ways, too. “There is an organization called Ani Meals, which delivers pet food and serves to counties here. It is 100% staffed by volunteers and donations. It all came about when a woman named Theresa Fazzolari realized that when she delivered Meals on Wheels to people, much of the food was being fed to pets.” Fazzolari is a customer at Pet Bath and Beyond, and she mentioned to them that there was a need for grooming services to go to these homes.
“Our wonderful groomer, Maria Stafford, has gone out dozens of times to groom cats and dogs for elderly shut ins.” Maria added, “It is a very rewarding feeling to be able to help those who cannot help themselves. A kiss on the cheek from one of those sweet babies is all I need to know that I am doing the right thing.” One woman that Maria regularly helped out is blind and 100 years old. She once “paid” Maria for her services with a container of opened ice cream.
Recently, a home in their area had a serious fire. The couple that resided there were cat breeders. The husband died in the blaze. Staff groomer LeeAnn Menut didn’t hesitate. She volunteered to groom all of those cats. “I feel blessed to have been given the skills at the right time to help with the cats rescued from the fire to ease the discomfort for all of them. The reward for me is knowing that I am able to surround myself with kind-hearted people. I knew as I watched those previously stressed out cats chasing the pom-poms on each other’s tails that leaving the stress of middle management in health care was the best decision I ever made. Helping 35 rescued cats helped to heal me as I was helping them. They gave me as much as I gave them.”
MJ and Michelle offer other assistance as necessary. “One of our customers had a much loved adopted dog that became ill. They took it to the University of Pennsylvania for a diagnosis, and it turned out that the dog had an inoperable lung tumor. The owners were terribly distressed. They wanted to bring the dog home and have it euthanized there, but they didn’t know how to make the arrangements for that. We were on the phone back and forth for hours, but we managed to find a veterinarian willing to provide that service for them. We set it all up so they could take care of their pet and get home safely, not worrying about the details.”
What we groomers give makes lives better for pets and people, too. And we enrich our own lives in ways that are often surprising. Because grooming matters!