Archive for December, 2010

OMG— the pet industry seems clueless…

December 26, 2010

In a bad economy, where people are reinventing themselves, one finds  a disproportionate  number of people who think it would be ‘fun’ to own a pet related business.  My gut reaction is….omg!  Have you seen the price of a 40 lb sack of dog food?  & they are going  DOWN to 30 lb bags!!!

I have to admit…it is.  I love what I do…but I want you to think about this:  These microbusinesses can’t afford NONWORKING personnel.   Hear me?  If you can’t groom yourself, & think hiring a groomer is going to keep your business afloat with retail, you are dreaming….I wonder if I will be able to even afford a dog in retirement!

1. When I learned to groom dogs, in the late 1960s…things were  way, way different. Middle class people generally paid less than 1/3 of their income for  housing, groceries, & utilities.  Lots of people could not only afford household help (this was before the civil rights movement, and  negroes as they were called back then, were discriminated  against in housing, education, and employment, and took any low wage job they could get), but  middle class white people had  plenty of cash left over to throw around.  Many bought pets needing haircuts!  Think about it.  It doesn’t make any sense unless you have money to burn;

2.  When I left home in 1972, I shared housing with 2 other people, and my share of the rent was  $30 a month—and I was making $70 a week!  Now, in  the 21st century, my rent is closer to $750 a month, and I average $500 a week.  Everything has gone up in price;

3. As the economy has changed, so have fashions. Shocking to me that so many people would pay  $1000 for a designer mixed breed dog, but  the fact of the matter is that the most popular dog breed in the USA right now  is NOT an AKC breed, but a  Pit Bull.  The next most popular is the Labrador Retriever.  Neither needs professional grooming;

4.  Many  dog grooming schools have sprung up in the last 30 years.  Depending how much talent you have, you may actually learn to groom  dogs, but the schools can’t teach you talent.  They also are not totally  honest about your prospects making a living—but most of the grooming school students are not deep thinkers:  they are not really thinking about how they will  make a living grooming dogs…they are fantasizing about how life will turn out.  There has been a lot of publicity given the the very talented groomers doing ‘creative styling’ of Poodles.  Most of them live in mobile homes & don’t have health insurance;

5.  Unless you are in a very underserved area where there are no groomers, or their talent is lacking, or you have a rich partner supporting you, or you own a boarding kennel and live on the premises, or  are an AKC professional handler…chances are slim to none you will be able to support yourself as a dog groomer, meaning:  you will be able to afford a home mortgage & health insurance;

6.  Yes, we hear about dog groomers making $80,000 a year, but  that really is not a lot of money.  There is anecdotal evidence the average groomer  takes home less than $40,000 a year. You can’t send kids to college on that, nor can you pay for health insurance.

How do I do it?

I bought a 2 flat over  3o years ago, and I have rental income.  I have usually had a roommate.  I am very good at budgeting.  I own only 2 dogs—both from rescues (and was shocked at how much a 40# bag of dog food at Petco costs—over $50 for a premium food!).  I have a high deductible health insurance plan AND  (very important) an HSA.   I pay off my credit card every month.  I NEVER carry a balance.   I rarely go to movies or to live shows.  Maybe 2 a year.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I get a lot of my clothing at thrift stores.  I paid cash for my undergraduate degree, and got an assistantship to grad school (huge indulgences).  As for my actual business?  I only have  about 20 personal clients.  But as I specialize in drape coated dogs, virtually all my clients commit to paying me  every  2 weeks.  You can’t live on 20 clients.  I also managed to hitch my star to a very good kennel that  has a unique business plan and caters to wealthy  clients who  will spend for the best.  Otherwise, I could not keep afloat.

What really affects me, and the reason my business does not grow?  Very few  people will indulge themselves with a drape coated dog and NOT learn to groom it themselves.  Too many dog owners get dogs based on  how they look, never imagining the dog would smell as bad as it does (Bloodhounds, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands), or need clipping as frequently (all the dreamers who paid for a Doodle of some sort—rather than a purebred Poodle).  These people are the types  who think they are entitled to have the kind of dog they want without  being about to afford  rent without living on a credit card.

2 things that really irk me—as a dog lover—-are the numbers of people who trust the  employees at the  BIG BOX PET STORES  put either a harness or a training collar on a dog they are not training.  Sled dogs & guide dogs—dogs bred to pull—wear harnesses. Why would you want to make it easy for your dog to pull you?  &  why would you put a training collar on a dog if you are not prepared to use it correctly all the time?  It’s dangerous—&  wee groomers can not SAFETLY HANDLE YOUR DOG.  That—and buying the WRONG BRUSH  because the guy at the pet shop told you  to buy that overpriced tool (the breeder didn’t show you  how to groom your dog)—& yet these people  continue to  patronize these pet shops that sold them the wrong things!  Absolutely demoralizing!!!

I talk to other groomers all the time,  and most are living from hand to mouth.  Or, they have a partner supporting them  &  grooming is  just about a break-even hobby.  Think about that when you give up your day job to pursue this dream.

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Some pet owners are not pet lovers—disturbing news…

December 7, 2010

Americans are so naive.  I have to say this. We  really believe the marketing. If we see an image or concept on TV, we  generally believe it’s the norm.   We really believe that people  love their pets because the dog food ads tell us so.

I posted last on  giving your child a pet.  How you could tell if your child was read for the responsibility.

I read, recently, that there are 16 dogs available for ownership for every person in the U.S.  The stat for cats is something like 40 for every  human.  Some of the rescue people think that if each of us took just one more, we’d make a dent in the problem.  How naive!  The fact is that  most of the  dogs & cats are either ‘bred’ by  morons who ‘don’t believe in neutering’ (nor do they believe in veterinary care for pets….these people also never go to the dentists  for care….) or are bred as livestock by commercial, USDA licensed breeding kennels/catteries (what we  animal lovers  call puppy & kitten factories) . They really don’t care about  whether we  animal lovers are concerned about pet overpopulation. As long as it is legal for them to breed animals, they are going to go right on doing it.

I know some ethical hobby breeders who regularly cull puppies:  as they are born they are checked for cleft palates, and if they don’t thrive, they  may also be euthanized. Ethical breeders  know there are too many pet animals that are healthy that are not getting care.  No need to add unhealthy  pets to the mix.  But that is not the issue I am writing about.

Recently , I was working at a boarding kennel and bathed a Beagle.  I knew she was old, but  she seemed to be in good health. I didn’t think anything of it.  Apparently, when the owners came to pick her up, they asked the staff if they knew of anyone who might want her.  I guess someone offered to take her, and when they called the owners, the  owner said, “OH, that’s all right. We found a place for her.”  Nice, huh?

Not really.  Not a day later staff at the kennel got a call from a former employee, who now worked at an animal shelter. She recognized the name on the owner surrender form & the dog.  The owners dumped the poor old dog at a shelter.  Why?  Seems she is getting senile!

Horrified?  A few years back, I was working at another kennel, & we got a memo from another kennel in our chain asking if anyone wanted a  9-year-old labrador retriever in good health. The owners were going to euthanize her because they got a new lab puppy that was playful (the old dog was no longer) & they were done with her!

Sickening?  This has weighed on me heavily.  There is no way we can stop this.  We can slow this down, however.  I hope you will copy this & print this & send it to anyone who thinks it would be fun to breed their dog. Or,  the idiots who just allowed their dogs to breed.  Haunt them.

How you can tell if your child is ready for a pet:

December 1, 2010

DO NOT GIVE ANYONE A LIVE ANIMAL AS A GIFT.  I have to get that out of the way.  It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve told you they’d love to have a puppy or a chinchilla.  If they really wanted one—they’d have gotten their act together and gone out and bought one & all the  stuff they needed for that pet.  Give them cash.  It is extremely irresponsible to buy a live animal that you do not intend to take care of yourself.  It is also irresponsible for an animal seller to sell you a pet without asking about who will take care of it—and ask to meet them.

I became a dog groomer  for 2 reasons:  I loved dogs, and I loved art.  You can’t make a dog look good unless you have an aesthetic eye.  I have other interests (hence I call my blog, ‘Disparate Interests’) but  dogs are a huge part of my life.

Why is that?  Brain chemistry is the short answer.  My mother was not a dog person until she met my father. Even then, it took a while for her to become one.  My mother would not let us have a dog until she felt we were mature enough to  feed, walk, and train a dog.  Until that time, though, wee kids probably drove her crazy with out obsession.

We were constantly bringing books home from the library that were either dog stories or on pet care.  We’d ask to visit friends with dogs (and there were not many in our neighborhood, as most of the mothers were of the same mindset as my mother).  I have to  add this little insight:  Tempel Grandin, the noted animal behaviorist/slaughterhouse  designer, who told Dr. Oliver Sacks that she felt like  AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS, came to talk to  a bunch of dog trainers  a couple of weeks back.  She opened her talk by telling us how she  was promoting her book in a COSTCO, and was shocked by how many households didn’t have  any PETS, ….”not even a gerbil!”.  Please—pet lovers—get your pets out there & talk to families about  what it’s like to live with a pet—and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DONATE BOOKS ON PET CARE TO YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL LIBRARY!

It’s amazing to me  the number of parents who didn’t have pets growing up, thinking  getting their child a pet would be a good idea. Teach him responsibility. The reality is…many  pets die, many pet shops stay in business, and many unethical people breed too many pets to satisfy the demand...

Unless a pet shop specializes in a particular genus, I don’t think  it should be legal to sell pets in petstores.   Most pet store managers—especially the major chain pet stores managers—come from a background in retail management, not animal husbandry or pet care.  I am not saying they don’t like animals. I am sure they do—just not enough to keep them stress free & learn about their care & teach their staffs about their care—so they, in turn, can teach potential pet buyers about their care.

Most people don’t  understand the implications of buying a pet.  Virtually  all birds and many other exotics are wild-caught illegally.  There is just not enough USDA personnel to monitor  animal trafficking.  The rest come from commercial breeders. Yes- many  do quite a good job, but as I’ve pointed out in the past…if they really loved the animals they breed, they’d want to meet the buyers of those animals. They’d refuse sales to people not fully prepared to take care of the animals they breed. But they do not.  They are breeding animals as livestock, and really don’t care.

How do you find a well cared for pet?  You do your research, and posting for information on Craigslist is not research.

I admit…it’s hard to get  good information. If you Google dog care—commercial sites are the ones that come up.  So, Google pet magazine (your city) and that may be a better way to avoid commercial sites—even thought the magazines are for profit.  Many of the writers for those magazines have done the research.

Also, when doing research, don’t Google ‘dog care’, or ‘bird care’. Google the  breed (or dog or cat) or the species (or bird or reptile) and that will get you better information.  Google (dog, cat,bird, snake) book publishers, and then ask your local library if they have the books.  That’s what public libraries are for.  Call local veterinarians and ask if they can refer you to a local hobby breeder.

Being a purebred dog fancier, I know that http://www.AKC.org is a helpful website, and while I believe in  adopting from shelters and rescues, it helps to have  an idea of what the different breeds are like in terms of care and personality.  You can find  pet shelters in your area  by checking out http://www.petfinder.com   It really is an amazing site.

But back to how you can tell if your child is ready for a pet:

1.  He bugs you—virtually every day—for a pet.  Not once  in a while—every day;

2. He wants a pet so much, he brings home books from school or the library about the type of pet he is interested in;

3.  When he is asked to write a paper for school, he writes it on the type of pet he is interested in;

4.  He chooses ‘playdates’ with  friends who have the type of pet he is interested in;

5.   He does his own research and looks for jobs at a pet shop, or a groomer, or with a veterinarian or hobby breeder;

6.  He asks you to take him to animal (dog, cat, bird, herp) club meetings so he can  learn more about pets. &—if you  can’t or won’t, he asks you to meet adults who will escort him to meetings ( http://www.Chicagoherpsociety.org  has mentored many young herpetologists ).

I am afraid I may be preaching to the choir, but the holiday season is starting, &  people won’t be doing any research, and they will be keeping unethical pet breeders in business.   In January, after the holidays, the shelters will start being full of those pets that were given as gifts.