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Brush With Destiny: Pet grooming careers

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Choosing to become a pet groomer is not a career move that should be taken lightly. Pet owners expect no less than first-class care and treatment for their companions - inside and out. So when it comes to a dog or cat's appearance, there is a real demand for a breed of professional groomers who can transform pets from worn-out to well-groomed.

Professional pet groomers, as they're called, are like hairstylists for animals, but a good wash, brush, cut and blow dry aren't the only tasks groomers perform. They must have knowledge as well as a keen eye to spot healthy and unhealthy traits. And they have to want to work hard.

Jody Rodgers, owner of The Barking Dog Ltd., a New Hampshire-based chain of three pet grooming, doggie daycare, and boarding facilities, said that while grooming is a rewarding career, it's not for everyone.

"Many people aren't cut out to be groomers, even with their love of animals,'' she said. "For example, groomers spend hours a day lifting, standing, twisting and bending, so it is imperative that you be in good shape. And although we all try to avoid it, you can plan to be on the receiving end of some nasty bites and scratches.

"You can always tell a groomer by looking at their hands,'' she said.

Tools of the trade

A pet groomer's job may consist of many tasks, not all of which include washing, drying, brushing, combing, trimming and styling both long- and short-haired coats. Depending on the breed of the animal, special grooming techniques may be needed. In order to properly groom the animal, tools such as brushes, electric clippers, scissors and razors are essential.

Other responsibilities include cleaning an animal's ears, cutting their nails, cleaning their teeth and notifying the owner of any identified flea or parasite problems. They also record the animal's information, maintain their grooming equipment, advertise their pet services, answer questions regarding their services and schedule appointments.

Getting started is fairly straightforward. Generally pet groomers begin careers by attending a certified grooming school and spend in the neighborhood of six months learning all aspects of the job, Rodgers said. There are also plenty of apprentice opportunities with established groomers and grooming shops that turn out well-skilled students.

"You learn everything from breed temperament, to breed-specific hair cuts and customer relations,'' Rodgers said. "Good programs will also cover aspects of setting up a new business, including costs, insurances, offerings and pricing.''

By the numbers

Start-up costs are around $2,500-3,000, Rodgers said, not including the purchase of such things as dryers, tables and bathtub set-ups, etc., which would be necessary for a new shop.

In terms of salary, quantity can count as much as quality. "The salary one can expect is directly tied to the number of pets a groomer can service in a day,'' Rodger said.

Fledgling pet groomers can gross up to $400 per day, although they'll likely be splitting that if they work at a shop. Experienced groomers with a steady roster of clients fare much better - they can charge up to $150 or even $200 per session (about 60-90 minutes). Groomers who can prepare show animals are in especially high demand.

Currently, it is not required for pet groomers to become certified before setting up a practice - but it's a good idea. Certification conveys to clients that the groomer has been properly educated and tested by a reputable organization. It also sets professional groomers apart from amateurs and may provide clients with a sense of confidence.

Are you experienced?

Care to roll up your sleeves and get grooming? Take this advice from Rodgers before you get going: "I would highly recommend that anyone thinking about a career as a groomer spend some time in a shop, even if only as a bather and brusher,'' she said. "Handling the dogs, the physical demands, and the environment of the job are all important facets that should be explored before making a commitment to a program.''

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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