It’s Only Dog Hair


The trim is a 'Town and Country'. I wanted to do a classic 'Dutch', but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not 'falling off'.

The trim is a ‘Town and Country’. I wanted to do a classic ‘Dutch’, but the owner was a retired groomer , herself, and this was what she wanted. Note the balance, that her pants are not ‘falling off’.

Saul Bellow wrote a book that  became a best seller, called “The Adventures of Augie March.” It’s about a working class Jewish kid trying to make his way in the world.  He has no education, gets involved with seedy individuals, and tries a lot of jobs. One of the jobs is as a dog bather for dog groomers.  I believe the book takes place in the early part of the last century.  All the dogs were poodles.  He  is ambivalent about the job.

Being a dog groomer, I never forget that part of the book, because I work for a lot of businesses owned by non-dog groomers…or  people who have had any experience in  the pet industry, like ever working in a kennel or assisting a groomer or veterinarian, and they think they are doing me a favor by hiring dog bathers.

Unless I train the bather, what I get is some kid with no  aspirations  to make an actual living, who thinks he loves dogs, but clearly doesn’t like the job task, who slows me down and usually does a half-assed job,  At my most recent job,  due partly to lack of proper equipment, they even  re-matted the dogs while drying them. Why?  Because my managers really didn’t care  whether these guys acted with integrity or not….and they were not brushing out most of the dogs.

I’ve written before about how non-dog groomers, or people whose only experience with dogs was actually in dog grooming school (“because they loved dogs”) are running businesses offering dog grooming, This was the case of one of my most recent jobs.  One of the guys who is a manager actually told me his parents ran a commercial breeding kennel (what we know as a puppy mill).  Yes, he has his own personal dogs whom he adores….but you  have a desensitization when you think it is ok to breed pets as livestock.  The other manager was trained by a very well known groomer, and is a very good scissor artist.    However, neither guy has worked in as many places, for as many mentors as I have.  Nor will they get their hands wet.  They are excellent groomers and horrible managers.

So, you couple these excellent groomers/horrible managers, with an investor/owner who really doesn’t have a clue about who has integrity, or that it matters, and you get….a real communication disconnect about what is needed to  make the business run efficiently, and why integrity matters.

I came on because the managers  got married and went on a vacation, leaving no experienced groomer, but a lot of work.  Had they really cared, they would have done this in January or February, when business  is slow (lots of people don’t get their dogs groomed in the winter—cold is the excuse…), not September, but no matter.  The investor owner pleaded with me, I came on part-time, saw they had full time, told the owner that there would be a lot of complaints as the managers LEFT NO GROOMING INSTRUCTIONS ON ANY CLIENTS, and his  other groomer was too inexperienced.

We muddled through. The guys returned, and suddenly, the efficiencies I had instituted so we could get through the day were  ignored.  Matted dogs were, again, being sent for bathing, and, and WE were expected to demat these dogs (even though, when the owner hired me, he told me the dogs would be brushed out for me).  Dogs were not towel dried properly, and so they stayed wet forever.  But more, I was being treated like…a necessary evil.  The guys  didn’t work with us.  One ‘managed’ the front, the other would come in late &  be constantly taking breaks to talk on his cell phone, or go out for a smoke or whatever.

I come in at  8:00 a.m., ready to start work immediately, and I  generally work until we are finished.  One is constantly warning  me to NOT cut any hair on the face before the dog is bathed, and not cut off any hair on the legs.  They do not clean ears. They forget to clip toenails, they  decided that because too many dogs are   frantic and  scraping their nails on the tub grates of the drying table (frantic—yes…now why would that be?), we are to cut nails after the bath.  If we get blood on the dog, we will rewash it.

I was being paid a decent hourly wage, but not great. No tips, I was not allowed to  interact with clients.  We were demating too many long-haired dogs.  I told both the owner and the manager that we should be telling people, the interval between groomings is too long and we are stressing out your dog.  That’s tactful, isn’t it?  Nobody is blamed for not brushing their dog. We know it is not a matter of money…it is they just don’t know and nobody has told them.

But they—owner and manager— refuse. THEY are not doing the  work, we are.  Yes, one of the managers will help if  a dog is very  horribly matted, but for the most part, another groomer and I do the work.   It is tedious, and in the end, doesn’t solve the problem. It is not fair to the dog, but nobody but me cares.

The icing on the cake was Christmas week. We had been slow the two weeks before, and I had been taking days off because there wasn’t really enough work, and I knew my co-workers needed the pay.  But X-mas week, we were grooming 30+ dogs a day.

What the manager would do would put the name of the dog on the board, the time in and out, and the ‘instructions’, which, for the most part, was one word:  “Cut”.  Sometimes it would say “long trim”.  On one dog, ‘Joey’, it said ‘E’. E is a long, attachment blade.  It leaves the hair about 2 inches long.  So, I did our regular pattern, and suddenly, Carlos/manager walks into the room (his partner is talking on his cell phone), lots of yelling in Spanish:  “What did YOU do?  You cut off the topknot!  Didn’t you see it was long?” and  what ensued was Carlos telling me the owner wanted a big head, she complained that while he was gone, we made the dog look like a monkey, why didn’t I ask…and all I could think was, You mean, when you left on vacation  and there were no grooming instructions on any dog…? 

You really can’t guilt me when you  make a mistake.  I  am amused, but I don’t feel bad.  And you know what?  The owner  came, picked up the dog, said it looked great, and left. No complaints.

As an aside, this happened to me about  25 years ago. I was working in a shop, and I had instructions to scissor a Cocker Spaniel.  Ugh!  but I got the dog fluff dried and  did it, and my co-workers were telling me how great  the dog looked, and my boss came into the room and yelled, “You made  him a half an inch too short!”  At first, I thought he was joking, but he was  distressed because  he  KNEW the owner would complain.  Now really, do you think any of these owners know how long their dog’s hair is?  But sure enough, she  called (maid picked the dog up, of course…) and  complained.  I told him I thought   it was a good time for me to tell him I was joining Peace Corps and would be leaving in  a month.

What did me in  on my  current job was that, as busy as we were, trying to  be efficient, the manager, not caring,  sent a matted Doodle to be bathed.  The bather knew the dog was felted and should be shaved, but he does what he is told.  It took him over 1/2 hour to dry the dog, and I was wondering what was going on, as I had not  touched the dog before the bath.  He finally finished drying the dog, and I told him to put the dog on my table. The dog was a solid mat.  I looked at  the bather, and he rolled his eyes and said, “I know…”  So, I went to Carlos and said, “I’ll have to take a thinning shears, and I don’t think there will be that much left.  He’s really badly matted.” So, Carlos now  has heard the dog is badly matted from 2 people.  He said, “Just give the dog a sanitary trim, and we’ll brush over the top and send him home.”  I know why he said this.  It’s Christmas, they probably want to take pictures, and don’t want the dog shaved.  So, I do the sanitary and nails, and Carlos comes in  and starts brushing over the top  of this dog.  I  was not going to  do that.  It wouldn’t have done anything.   The dog was matted at the skin.  Brushing was not making the dog look better as it was already fluffed out.  I was thinking  of who all would be ready for me to  finish grooming, as there were  at least five wet dogs  back there, and suddenly Carlos barks, “You are one of the  most annoying people.  I am not paying you to stand around, just leave!”

I almost laughed, but I did smile, I said Ok, and left.  I had been working since  8:00 a.m. and it  was now 2:30.  He knows i don’t waste time, don’t go out for a smoke, don’t stand around.  If there is no dog to work on, I clean the place, as there is always dog hair all over.   Why would I waste time brushing a matted dog over  the top of its mats when it wasn’t going to look any different?  He  knows I don’t stand around or waste time.  But if that’s how it is, that’s how it is.  I  had gotten another  part-time job two weeks before.  I can start later in the morning, I do my own bathing, it’s not a frenzy, I can have a relationship with clients…and I get tips.  This is why  shops have trouble getting talented groomers.

 

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