Meeting and talking to other groomers about our shared love for this profession is always inspiring. Our industry is currently seeking many new willing hearts and hands who choose to take care of dogs and pets as their career. So, it is worthwhile to reflect on what motivates people to enter the grooming industry in hopes that more aspiring dog lovers will join us.
I asked in the “Groomers Guide” Facebook group, “Why did you become a groomer?” The wide range of responses should not have surprised me. Some of these stories were incredibly powerful and all of them were heartfelt. While there are many paths into our industry, a common experience of devotion and joy empowers us to stay.
A STUNNING STORY
In recent years, I have had the privilege to get to know Kristina Robertson, owner of Barkley Square, a lovely boutique-style grooming and retail shop in Falls Church, Virginia. It was her story of why she opened a dog business that made me realize this column needed to be written.
Like me, Kristina is the survivor of a previous bad marriage filled with domestic violence. Many people unfortunately marry too young and to the wrong person. It was her dogs, however, that literally saved her life.
She married at only 21 years old and knew from the start—when he went out to drink on their wedding night—that it was already headed for trouble. He drank a lot, and regularly. At first, he was verbally and then later physically abusive. His instability was hard to live with. They moved fourteen times in seven years of marriage. He was always pulling her off into some new scheme that later his drugs and drinking would destroy. She was immediately fired from her job as a manager of a small business when he came to her workplace to show off a new gun he had just bought.
Kristina was heartbroken. She called her parents asking to come home, but not reporting the beatings she had endured. She ended up moving to Georgia by herself, along with her two rescue dogs, Ariel and Sheba.
Sadly, her violent husband tracked her down and attacked her, beating her badly. At first her dogs cowered in a corner of the A-frame house she was renting. She was trying to protect the dogs from his anger and begged to be able to let them outside. Instead, he pushed her so hard against the large plate glass window that it cracked. As she collapsed, suddenly Ariel and Sheba leapt to her rescue, turning on the man and violently defending her. They both charged him, biting him badly, even attacking him repeatedly in the groin area (smart dogs). They held him in place so she could escape. She ran to her neighbors, and the neighbors bravely went back to the scene and safely retrieved the dogs.
Afterwards, Kristina just sat there with her two heroic rescue dogs, hugging them, trying to process her traumatic shock and realizing that she had survived because of them. She told me that she had a profound moment of realization, sitting there recovering with her dogs, about how much these dogs understood; how much they mattered to her; how much they know and how much they care. She saw and understood their perception and their emotions.
Kristina said to herself then, “You CAN rise above! You CAN get past this!” From that moment on, she would devote her professional life to the care of dogs.
Kristina Robertson found her calling in a moment of crisis. Few of us enter this profession in such a dramatic fashion, but having seen firsthand the lovely shop she now owns and runs, and the fierce devotion she has to best practices in all things for these dogs, it does not surprise me at all to see what a success she has become. Kristina defines her success by what she can do for the dogs’ wellbeing, and has done it all for the love of, and gratitude for, the dogs.
FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS
In response to my wanting to hear stories of what steered people to become professional pet groomers, some common threads have surfaced. In my admittedly unscientific survey, the most common is a heartfelt love of dogs and other animals. The name of my own grooming shop is Love Fur Dogs, an homage to what an extraordinary co-evolved relationship we humans have with dogs.
Sherilyn Wright reported that she didn’t like working in her father’s chosen profession, so she took a job as a bather as an alternative, not knowing what lay ahead. Then she met and fell in love with her first ever client, Vinny the Australian Shepherd. Vinny was nervous about grooming but, she says, “We bonded instantly. [His mom] encouraged me to practice on their pups…I knew from then on that I wanted to expand my skills so I could continue to bond with, and work with, other hesitant pups.”
Kim Kier’s love for dogs grew while she was helping rescue organizations and became aware of puppy mills and other horrible things being done to dogs in the name of profit. She started by selling collars to raise money to support rescue work and then moved into grooming. She says, “I can’t think of a more fulfilling career choice. We help the dogs and their humans to feel and look fabulous!”
A HAPPY ACCIDENT
Some groomers told me that, after high school, college just did not interest them nor was it within their reach financially. And, more schoolwork was not appealing after graduation to Emily Brunn, now an ICMG and NCMG. Instead, she got her dad to send her to grooming school where her teacher, Jennifer Cockrum Smith, NCMG, absolutely inspired her. “I made my father prouder of his investment and showed an old academic that college wasn’t everything,” Emily shares.
Keely Mae reported that she was in college while learning to groom, but after attending Groom Expo, she realized the grooming industry had so much more to offer her. She went on to study under one of my favorite groomers, former fellow Illinois Professional Pet Groomers Association Board Member Kathryn Simard, who said she began her accidental career working as a vet tech. She struggled with the “gross parts,” so the veterinarian encouraged her to try grooming instead. She says now, “Thank you, Dr. Flood, wherever you are!”
4H programs are often the place where young people first encounter grooming, as did Martha Cronin Bolin. Others come from the human cosmetology training world, like Christine Herrera, who says she “found her passion with pet skin and coat restoration.”
Chelsea Olivera was working at a big-box pet store while studying to be a vet tech. She tried literally almost every job in the store. None were a great fit for her until the General Manager suggested she try grooming. “I immediately fell in love. It was the perfect blend of working with animals, artistry, and customer service…a huge thank you to the amazing GM who pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me find my forever career,” beams Chelsea.
Jenna Brooks said she opted for grooming when “being socially awkward made working with people difficult.” I assume many people in our industry prefer working with animals over working with people.
RAISED TO IT
Leading competitive groomer and fellow Chicago-area resident Nicole Hillson-Hernandez said, at first, grooming was nothing more than that she just needed a job, any job. She grew up on a farm and knew how to work with animals and loved them. While her parents discouraged her from grooming, urging that it was not a good enough living, she has proved them entirely wrong. Grooming has turned out to be something she is not only gifted at, but also something that makes a good living.
Kelly McKinley’s mom was a groomer, but that was more a deterrent than incentive for Kelly. She definitely did not want to study for her career under her mother, so she took a job with another groomer who trained her, instead. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else for the rest of my life!” Kelly reports.
Lori Spiroplaus-Michelon worked in the jewelry industry. Her sister was a groomer and taught her. Lori says, “I wanted a job where I could use my creative skills, and this was it!”
Some left other careers in mid-life that no longer brought them meaning or held their interest. Christine Ann found her twenty-year career in business bored her. She owned two Bichons and a Maltese and enjoyed brushing and styling them at home, so she decided to try grooming school. Now she says, “Each day is different, but my drive, passion, and tremendous love for dogs keeps me going every single day.”
Robert and Cindy Leveck Orta retired after thirty years of teaching middle school math. They wanted to help puppies get adopted so they learned to groom. Now it’s their life.
Jennifer Miller spent twenty years working in government administration. Her sister-in-law had a successful mobile grooming business a few hours away from where she lived. So, she bought an old school bus and learned some hard lessons about mechanical issues in cold weather, but she says, “This has been the best thing I could’ve ever done for myself and I have zero regrets. #MustLoveDogs.”
INSPIRED BY THE ARTISTRY
Tanya Sue Knapp got a job as a bather at a big-box store, never intending to make it her career. But she saw a groomer doing an absolutely beautiful profile trim on a Golden Retriever and decided she wanted to be able to do that.
Leslie Bordelon similarly did not intend to start this career. She says, “There was a job open for a bather and to learn to groom. I wasn’t really looking to be a groomer, but after just one month, I was in love. I enjoyed watching the master groomer and I loved learning. I have always been a dog lover, and at the time I was fostering 35 puppies for a rescue. It has been eight and a half years now and I am so thankful that I took on a completely different career than I wanted. I love working with the hard-to-handle dogs and puppies.”
Grooming can be for so many, as it has been for me, a life-long love affair that we never want to leave. Kelly Montfort says, “It’s still FUN twenty-two years later. I’d have to say that managing client expectations, setting healthy boundaries, and being mobile are why I still enjoy my job.”
SHARING OUR STORIES
Maybe while reading this you have reflected on what motivated you to become a groomer. Considering the need we have to grow our profession, always be ready and willing to share your story and artistry with anyone who might listen. One of the important takeaways from all these stories is that we never know when someone might be looking to make a career move—they may not even know it themselves—but hearing a motivating story from someone like you, who loves what you do, could be just what inspires the next person to enter our profession. ✂️