Archive for July, 2009

The Pet Grooming Industry has Lost Integrity

July 24, 2009

bedlingtonI published a first draft of this blog in 2009 as “My industry is losing integrity due to corporate refugees.”  As it was an early blog, I am updating it…partly because of an experience I had just several days ago.

Let me start at the beginning: When I started grooming dogs, in the late 1960’s,  everyone who was making a living as a dog groomer was a fancier who was also breeding dogs, and showing those dogs, because they were doing so for the ‘betterment’ of their breed.

Not all the people doing this were nice to people, but they clearly loved their dogs and  thought a great deal about making their lives as  stress free as possible.  They really wanted to breed good dogs, too.  You can look at photos from most breeds from the 1960s & photos of dogs today, and see  that improvements were made, in terms of conformation and soundness.   They all were ‘hands on’ groomers.  Not just business owners.

This was in the 1960’s.  Land rents were still low (my parents bought a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath home with a yard, for $20,000). Yes, there was the Viet Nam war going on, & very true—if you weren’t white, you were probably living in poverty & being exploited. No doubt.   However, that is when the dog grooming industry emerged.

Suddenly, middle class people could afford to own Poodles, and there weren’t enough dog groomers, so…some very early  fanciers:  Shirlee Kalston, Ben Stone, Margaret & Mario Migliorini, opened  one of the first dog grooming schools in the country:  the New York School of Dog Grooming.

I don’t know how they  met Don Doessel, but he opened the ‘New York School of Dog Grooming’ in Chicago. Don  bred the ‘Dansel’ Min. Schnauzers.  He started Lou & Seme Auslander (‘Alpine’) in Schnauzers.  Don also owned a ‘Tajmir’ Afghan Hound he got from Pat Sinden before she married  Baird Wallis &, later,  Hobart Stephenson.

Anyways, Don was the  teacher who gave me the opportunity to learn to  clip Poodle feet and  how to start learning to scissor.

I was lucky enough to  continue to apprentice with very talented groomers who ran good businesses, bred good dogs,and who  were always learning from other fanciers (Joan Fredericksen, at Jo-Kor’s Klippette in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, learned to  groom Bedlington Terriers from Charlie Praeger, & taught  me.    d Jan Condurso, whose mother was Edith Tischer  bred Bedlingtons, learned from Bedlingtons from Jack Funk when her mother sent her).  That’s how it was.  We were interested in the aesthetics of the dogs, animal behavior and training, and breeding or showing good dogs.  In fact, Joan stopped breeding Boston Terriers back then. They were all born by C section, often mismarked, &  they broke her heart.

There were no puppy mills.  There was no internet.  It cost too much to ‘market’ dogs.  If a pet shop sold puppies, they bred the dogs themselves.  After all:  Breeders who love their dogs want to meet the buyers of their pups. They don’t sell them to 3rd parties to resell them to to others just for cash. They want to know that you can afford the dog you are buying, that everyone you live with also wants the dog, and that you really have the time for the dog.  Just because you have money doesn’t mean you will care for the dog. We now know how many  dogs were bought for over $1000 that end up in rescues & shelters because rich people just get bored with them.

In fact, it is amazing to me how many people who don’t have a year’s worth of saving in the bank go out and buy a dog they can’t afford.   They lose their jobs & want to be reimbursed for their ‘investment’.  Truly Amazing.

But worse, what has happened in the last several decades is  that people who say they love dogs didn’t pursue their  interest in dogs—or their true love, and got caught up in a corporate environment.  Greed and status.  They quit corporate & decided to open a dog grooming or dog daycare business.  With no real knowledge of dog physiology or behavior.  It’s totally legal.  The attitude is, “What’s to know?  They’re dogs!”  They really disrespect those of us why really DO know dogs.

They have never trained a dog to off leash reliability, and  don’t realize how much you learn about dog behavior when you communicate with a dog enough for the dog to respect you and understand you.

Unfailingly, these ‘dog lovers’ want to hire you (me) to make money for them. Invariably, they are paying too much in rent, have business plans based on nothing, have not  even worked in a pet business for a year (let alone trained or groomed a dog), but they have capital & they are the bosses. They do not know a Bichon Frise from a Maltese, a Welsh from a Lakeland Terrier, or a Lhasa Apso from a Shih Tzu.  They do not know how shampoo cleans, that ‘conditioner’ doesn’t condition ,  why some collars, brushes, foods are better than others, and they don’t care.  What they know is what the marketing rep told them.  In addition, they think their veterinarian, who may have specialized in large animals & knows nothing about genetics, knows more than a dog groomer—just because we do labor (by the way—many of us have college degrees, including masters degrees & Ph.D.s…we just love dogs)

The average person looking for pet care & integrity doesn’t know. They fall for the marketing. Sure, it’s easy. Dog groomers are dog people, We are not people people. We tend to be snarky.  Sorry, it’s the truth.

I  was looking for a shop to bring my clients to if they didn’t want to travel up to my neighborhood. this is how I, unfortunately, met a guy named Don London.  He owed a business called Doggie Bath House in Chicago’s south Loop area:  734 s. Dearborn.  He was in business  a little over a year, but managed to screw a lot of dog groomers during that time. Not only that, he managed to  post many fake reviews on Yelp! about other businesses.

I had been hired by yet another corporate refugee who had a good plan, but who had lied about how much business she actually had, so I was looking for other part time work.  I went to see Don & Doggie Bath House.  He kept advertising on Craigslist.  He has several Craigslist accounts.

1.  He had done a very nice build out, but over spent on it.  Meanwhile, his equipment was rudimentary.  He had a fold up grooming table and a force dryer.  No low velocity dryer.  Worse, no crates.  This meant you had to  either let a freshly groomed dog walk around the store (very dangerous, but a lot of people who don’t know dog behavior do this) or tie the dog to a wall—-also extremely dangerous as the dog gets tangles, and is vulnerable to roaming dogs);

2.  You could only groom 1 dog at a time this way. Most groomers, if we can, start one dog, let it start drying, IN A CRATE—and set up another dog. That’s the only way we can make $$$.   Plus, it gives the dog a bit of a break & is less stressful.  Don didn’t care about that & didn’t want to see any dogs in cages  If your next dog didn’t show up on time, you were out the money for that time (for some reason,  a lot of groomers  don’t know how to dry a dog, or are taught poorly, and really believe that  the more time they spend hans on with the dog, the mor ‘value’ they are adding to the groom.);

3.Don ‘s dog  ‘experience’ consisted of walking dogs at a kennel.  He had never trained a dog, he had never groomed a dog –not even his own.  Yet—he was going to set prices.

I was pretty desperate, but what he told me he wanted me to do was bring my own established clients in, & he’d set prices.   Not only THAT—but I had  several regular  longhaired dogs in SPECIALS COAT (that means they could have gone to a dog show & had a chance of winning), but I would have to bring my own low velocity dryer.

Initially, I said I would work for Don  if he could guarantee me at least $100 a day & pay for my parking…but I  thought it over & realized in less than 24 hours that it wouldn’t work.  I called him back & told him I could not work for him because he didn’t have enough dog experience.

Since then, he has been harassing me.  This is what he did:

Like a fool, I answered a blind ad for a dog groomer on Craigslist. I even told them the place I was working was mismanaged.  He used a pseudonym (that’s a fake name) to get more info from me.

He then  started calling the business and harassing them, & posting fake reviews on Yelp! Chicago.  He continues to do that every place he thinks I am working.  Seriously!  He doesn’t work for a living, and has plenty of time.  He’s very slick. You can libel anyone you want on the internet & get away with it.  All the lawyers I talked to said  they could do nothing because of the way that Yelp! and Craigslist are set up. So—be skeptical.

When people challenged me about him, I just told them to go to Doggie Bath House & see if what I am saying is a lie. Go there, and go visit any other groomer who  hasn’t just graduated from dog grooming school, but one who tells you she shows dogs or is involved in performance events.  You will then understand the difference.   He’s gone now (well, he lurks, and is still libeling me…)

As I said in an earlier blog post, I got into grad school because of my experiences with microbusinesses. I can walk into a business & tell within 10 minutes who has too many people on their payroll for the amount of income they have to generate to break even.  It’s not a gift.  It’s a way for me to be able to tell  whether I can possibly make a living at this business.

I wrote this in 2009. Bush got us into a war in Iraq to take our minds off health care. When the economy collapsed, even though he was still president, he did nothing.  Our economy in the U.S, is based on service.  People started losing their jobs at the end of 2008, and it will never be the same.  Middle class Americans will never, every again be able to spend money frivolously.  Very few will be able to afford dogs that need haircuts to  stay clean and healthy.  I know this as sure as I know my name and social security number. What’s going to happen is that people with capital are going to be able to keep these small service businesses afloat, almost as a hobby,  and then there will be the chains, like Petco & Petsmart.  You may get a good grooming, you may not, but when the dog  you have now dies,  IF you can afford another dog, you will get a low maintenance type of dog.  All your other money will be going to  rent or mortgage, energy costs, & health care.  Sad, but true.  Look at the phone book now and see how many dog service businesses there are. Tear out those pages.  Make a note on your calendar to check how many of those businesses are there in 2014.

That’s what I wrote. Since then, even more corporate refugees have opened more  dog service businesses. They have trouble keeping good dog groomers, so they attempt to get by with the people who worked as bathers  in other businesses, or just graduated from dog grooming school….they don’t realize that  this is  not going to work until a novice groomers screws up a dog (either  shaves a dog that should not be shaved—like a Samoyed, or injures a dog that needs to be shaved). They realize they can’t make it on dog grooming alone, so start offering dog day care and dog walking.  We have no statistics on how many dogs get injured, pick up  parasites or infections in these   environments, nor do we know how many dogs dog walkers lose, or if they are really walking the dogs they are charging for.  Call any business that offers dog walking & ask how you can be assured yur dog is taken out if you don’t own a nanny-cam.

I checked out a business  because I was looking for part time work, it was in an elite area (household incomes of well over $100,000), & the owner told me which dog grooming school she had graduated from,  so I knew she had to  have some skills,  She had a fake non-profit (I have blogged about this, too). that is, she ran a rescue, which is licensed by the state as non-profit, but what she did was  get dogs people wanted to offload, and convinced her friends and clients to ‘foster’ these dogs.  This is not a big operation—under a dozen at a time, She pays for shots and neutering. Frankly, she is a lot better than many.  However, she has no real board of diertors and issues no annual report.  This is legal as well.

I told her that for me to work for her, I’d have to average $200 a day gross.  I do this because  most of these businesses not only undercharge for service, but they don’t keep records. she  balked, and told me what she charged, and I told her  her prices were way to low for the area, but I’d come out and work  a day for her and see how it went.  I am not returning.

First of all, while I understand why she is in an industrial area, and has no internet presence except for the non-profit (she does have a big sign out front), the building is a pig sty.  She has mattresses and  human beds all over for the dogs, but has not washed a floor or walls in years, and the mattresses are filthy.  It looks like a crack den. Sure, the dogs don’t mind, but it was disgusting.  It’s great for the daycare dogs, but since she picks up all client dogs—-they’d either never see the environment, or disregard what a mess it was.  She had told me she had all working equipment, but they dried every dog with a ‘Force’ dryer.  I asked what about the dogs heads, and she told me they got the dogs dry.  I won’t go into all the details of how awful the place  was, but I will say  the owner is in denial, and doesn’t know physics. I was there on a very humid day, and I told her she needed a dehumidifyer.  She laughed.  I told her to let the dogs sit and let the water evaporate after I washed then, and let me continue to set up dogs, Since this is a cage free environment (with cages stacked all over, which she  claims to not use…what’s going on here), no, she wanted all the dogs table dried.  It was her and 2 ‘groomers’.  She claimed they did 20 dogs a day. Do the math:  the shop is open 10 to 3.  That’s 5 hours.  If each dog takes about 10 minutes (more or less) to bathe, an 1/2 hour to dry, and lets be conservative and say only  5 of those are getting any hair cuts or brushing….how are they , if they each do 7 dogs, going to get them all dry?  I told her  she could  stand there with a force on these dogs forever, but if the humidity is high, no matter if you blow the water off the dogs—if  the air can’t absorb any more water, it’s going to land back on the dogs. She didn’t believe this, Even the towels they had dried the day before, and were on a shelf were wet due to wicking humidity from the air.  Since the owner wasn’t actually  working on most dogs, just her 2 ‘groomers’ (1 was actually a bather, each girl had to bathe & dry 10 dogs. Ok, I did 6, but I know those dogs were not going home dry…& since the owner wasn’t actually checking, she didn’t know, or care.  I have too much integrity for that.d/daycare attendant, so she also had to clean up poop and stuff….)


An over educated white chick—a different drumer called me to the beat!

July 20, 2009

I have slightly altered this, but the message is still the same…. find your passion, don’t wait. Just plunge in.

I didn’t go to college right after high school.  I learned to groom dogs,   left home when I turned 18 and started making a living.

This worked well for years.  I didn’t really budget or plan that well, but I always managed to save and live frugally.

After I got divorced, and I was turning 30, I  realized that life wasn’t a dress rehearsal.  I wanted to go to Africa and see wildlife, as I knew it was disappearing due to human population growth.  I  asked a trip operator where to go, and he told me I’d see the most wildlife in Tanzania, but nobody went there because the infrastructure was so bad.  So, of course, that was where I went.

There are so many awesome things about Tanzania, but, aside from seeing all the animals, one thing that struck me was that the Africans I met were so well educated…but they were so poor.  If education is the way out of poverty, why was that?

I decided to go back to school because I wanted to ‘help’ them not be poor.  I thought I  would have to design my own program, but in the end, anthropology was the way to  start learning about how people make decisions and support themselves.  It was a great choice.

An even better choice (for me) was taking the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams and getting 2 years of college credit for life experience.  I could have gotten more, but I only took some general education tests.  That saved me from having to spend so much money on prerequisites.

I wanted to go to Northwestern, but just couldn’t afford it, so I went to Northeastern Illinois University, which was close to my house, and paid cash for school—and worked part time grooming dogs.

Then, I got an assistantship to  grad school at the U. of Illinois in Chicago—the School of Urban Planning & Policy.  They paid me about $500 a month—but they took about  1/2 back in fees, books, whatever.  Because I had rental income and a roommate, it worked out.

I have never been employed as a planner.  I am not an architect, a civil engineer, an  accountant, or a visible minority—or bilingual Spanish, but at least I have no school debt.  I also have a somewhat marketable skill.

My niece took a slightly different route.  My sister & her father never saved a dime.  Lauren  went to community college and got her Associate Degree in accounting, and worked at a bank part-time, where she met a mortgage broker who taught her that business.

When she got her Associate’s degree, she  transferred to Northern Ill. U. & got her B.A. in Political Science.  Thing is—a 4 year college is more expensive than a 2 year college, but she paid for the first half of her degree at the 2 year college, so she was a bit ahead. She then went to law school, where she incurred her greatest amount of debt.  Upon getting her J.D., she went into the practice of  real estate law.  She and her husband bought and fixed up HUD homes, and that’s how she paid off her school debt.

I would adviser anyone who doesn’t know what they want to do with their life to either attend a community college or take the CLEP exams.  Those are both a great bang for the buck.  I would also  strongly urge you to learn to do something that you enjoy.

Dogs, Africa, & a crazy world

July 15, 2009

I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while. I have plenty of time. I only work part time. I groom dogs for a living. I have groomed dogs since I was a teenager.
I started by bathing and brushing dogs for a hobby breeder. This was in the late 1960’s. I had a fantastic notion that I wanted to own a bunch of dogs, and a boarding and training kennel, and show dogs. I really wanted an Irish Wolfhound, but my mother said they were too big.
She saw a photo of an Afghan Hound in the newspaper and said if I could find one cheap enough, she’d buy it for me.
I found a puppy in the Chicago Tribune. He was the last of his litter, & the breeder was going to keep the dog, but the older dogs he had really didn’t like him. So, they decided to sell him.
His pedigree was really very impressive, because, at that time, very few breeders were breeding their pet dogs. That said, his own parents were not champions. Quite frankly, Khyber did not have good conformation. I was only 12, and I didn’t know this at the time. His breeders, who SHOULD HAVE showed me how to groom him, did not. Someone at a dog show took pitty on me and showed me how to properly care for him. I’ve been ‘paying it forward’ ever since.
But I developed other interests as well. The dog grooming industry is very energy intensive, so I started working with others on a community based recycling project.
Most dog grooming businesses are ‘microbusinesses’—businesses that gross under $100,000 a year. I got into grad school because of my knowledge about microbusinesses and energy conservation.
Because I traveled to Tanzania (East Africa) in the mid 1980’s, I also developed a fascination with all things East African, and then development issues (if the Tanzanians had a 90% literacy rate—why were they so poor?), and just the convoluted ideas that people have about dogs, businesses, and ‘the rest of the world.
I hope to write more about all of it, ans who knows? Maybe I’ll touch a few lives.