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Have spray gun, will travel

A day in the life of a pet groomer


Dillon, before,

during . . .

and after his brush with Aussie Pet Mobile's groomer Cindy Paquin.

It’s the canine equivalent of the ice cream truck. Dillon, a 3-year-old, border collie/Australian Shepherd mix, waited patiently, watching through the glass storm door, as Cindy Paquin ran his bath in the Mercedes Benz van parked in front of his house in Arvada, Colo.

It had been six months since Dillon’s last bath, and rough housing with his buddies at doggy day care twice a week, plus the end of the cold weather season, had taken its toll on his coat. He was ready for his regularly scheduled visit by Aussie Pet Mobile.

Unlike Dillon, my two Jack Russell terriers rarely require grooming, so I wasn’t familiar with the joys of having a mobile grooming service pull up to your door and bathe and de-fur your dog. The closest I’ve ever come to pet grooming was to take Hank and Daisy to PetSmart to get their toenails clipped. Hank, the biter, misbehaved so badly that after two visits the groomer suggested next time we take him to a vet who could sedate him before cutting his nails. We’ve thus been relegated to using the pavement on their walks as their emery boards.

Paquin, however, has rarely met a dog she didn’t like to groom. In her 10-year career, she has only had to turn away two animals—one dog and a cat that first bit the owner as she dragged him out from under the couch, and then her.

“I do (groom) cats, but I speak dog a whole lot better than I do cat,” she says.

Unlike a couple of years ago when Bark Busters let me participate in a dog training session, Aussie Pet Mobile management was savvy enough not to arm me with a pair of scissors or electric shaver. But I did get to stand on the van’s steps to watch as Dillon and then Sophie were bathed, clipped and pedicured. Neither owner, much to my disappointment, went for the extras—painted toenails in a variety of holiday colors or teeth brushing with chicken-flavored toothpaste.

Having the groomer come to you is more than just convenience, Dillon’s owner, Tammy Schairer said. They had taken Dillon to a pet store with grooming, but balked after finding out he was locked in a cage for six hours. “This way is more comfortable for him,” she says.

Most of Paquin’s customers are home when the van pulls up to the front of their homes, but in a few cases she has permission to fetch the dogs from the backyard, groom them and then return them to the yard. I asked if she took a picture of the dogs after they were groomed as proof of what they looked like before they returned to their outdoor digs. She laughed. “No, but that would probably be a good idea,” she admits.

The shaggy Dillon was a little intimidated by the new van. He was used to being groomed in the trailer version of the mobile grooming station. Paquin, however, loves the new, tricked-out van, with its 70-gallon tank of fresh water, plus a tank to store the dirty water. Inside, the van is a lesson in efficiency and Paquin showed it off with pride. There’s the grooming table with a hydraulic lift that allows her to adjust her workstation to the height of the dog; a ramp the dog uses to vacate the table and enter the tub without having to be lifted; and a separate shampoo hose that mixes the shampoos and conditioners stored in a reservoir below the sink.

Paquin supplies her own radio because dogs like to listen to music. While most dogs are calmed by classical music, Paquin allows herself the luxury of listening to songs she likes on a contemporary music station called Alice.

I shared my philosophy about dogs and music: “My dogs used to listen to NPR every day while I was at work, but it was making them too smart, so now they have to listen to country music.” Paquin just nodded, but fortunately my daughter-in-law, Josie, had accompanied me on the trip, and she laughed.

While Paquin rubbed the whitening shampoo and a “FURminator” treatment that helps loosen the heavy undercoat into Dillon’s coat, she reminisced about other dogs she’s groomed, such as the 240-pound Saint Bernard male, Cooper, and his sister, Daisy. Cooper had seemingly acres of fur that even after being dried for an hour with the hair dryer, was still too wet to cut. Fanatical about keeping her schedule, Paquin arranged with the owner to come back the next day, on her day off, to finish grooming. “The dog was tired. He didn’t want to be trimmed,” she added. The unforeseen bonus was that Daisy, the slightly smaller, skittish sibling, had watched her brother get all the attention for two days and when it was her time to be groomed, she ran into the van and jumped in the tub, Paquin says, laughing.

Paquin averages about seven dogs a day, which with travel time and cleaning up after every pet—everything has to be disinfected between pets and the fur swept up—makes for 11-hour days.

And yet, she still has time to work in an emergency client, such as the woman who had just discovered that her daughter wanted to take their dog to school the next day for show and tell.

And, like her counterparts who work on humans, she’s also had her share of appointments where she’s been called in to repair a bad haircut, compliments of the owner.

She prefers using scissors to an electric razor, and it was awe inspiring to watch her wield the sharp blades around dogs that can be fidgety at best. For his part, Dillon managed to maintain a goofy smile during most of his hour-long grooming session, but Sophie, a Lhasa Apso, shook during most of her session.

As she scissored Dillon’s hair in a “fake puppy cut,” Paquin talks about her training under a master groomer. It’s not easy, she admits, because each breed has its own haircut, and each owner has his or her own idea of what the dog should look like. It’s also physically tiring work, not to mention all the hair that involuntarily gets swallowed and glued to her clothes.

When asked if there were any trends in grooming, Paquin says New Yorkers are dyeing their dog’s fur, resulting in a bevy of pastel-colored poodles. That’s one trend that will pass me by—and most of my sensible Midwestern neighbors. After all, I have enough trouble keeping up with my roots, I can’t imagine having to worry about my dog’s roots showing, too. The trend’s not that new. I remember years ago when a friend’s brother used to dye the dog green or striped to match his hair.

After Dillon was relieved of his doggy smell and about three pounds of hair, he was ready to return to the bosom of his family. His parents admired him lovingly, and I had to admit that as Dillon pranced into the house, his front paws were a bit higher than when he walked out.

He knows he’s a handsome devil, and I bet he can’t wait to show off his new look to his buddies at the doggy day care. The same ones, his dad Mark Schairer claimed were responsible for his “before” look.

Dillon was so happy, in fact, that he turned down the dog cookie Paquin offered him. Looking good is its own reward.

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