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Groom With A View: Vet your pet care specialist

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Choosing a pet groomer is an important decision. People love their pets. Specifically, they like their pets clean and shiny.

Perhaps that's why pet grooming is big business -- it's a $30 billion industry that will rise 12 percent annually through 2010.

But before you whip out your debit card for services like a brush coat or a cologne deodorizing treatment, it's a wise move to vet your pet groomer so you're getting the most bang - and the most beauty - for your pet-cleaning buck.

The problem? Some pet owners may not be sure where to begin. "Not everyone wants to take their pet to a professional groomer,'' said Nancy Peterson, issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States. "It all depends on the pet you have and the comfort level.''

Step one in rolling toward that comfort level is to know exactly what you're getting into when you visit a pet groomer. "Grooming is more than just a hair cut,'' Peterson said. "It may include bathing, combing, brushing, clipping nails, cutting or shaving mats, cleaning ears and controlling external parasites. You need to manage your expectations.''

So, what to look for in a good pet groomer? Let's try these attributes for starters:

Find a pet "whisperer''

Your pet groomer should have a natural affinity for working with animals, especially calming them down if they are tempermental or anxious. "That's where a trained professional can help,'' Peterson said. "But keep in mind that groomers aren't miracle workers. It's up to you to stay on top of your pet's grooming needs.''

Key tip: For severe mats, always use a professional groomer. The do-it-yourself approach can yield accidental -- and painful -- cuts.

Be a selective shopper

In the pet grooming business, there's a thin line between good and mediocre. So take it upon yourself to do your own due diligence and properly vet your pet groomer. Ask around and check with your dog-walking or cat-loving friends. Angie Hicks, founder of the consumer watchdog Web site Angies List has a good idea. "Consult your veterinarian,'' she said. "Many animal care specialists have incorporated pet grooming into their practices.'' And if your pet needs a tranquilizer, a vet is your only choice - groomers aren't licensed to give shots to pets.

Key tip: Good questions to ask: "What are your services?'' "What do you charge?'' "Do you offer pick-up and delivery?''

Drop into the shop

As the old Woody Allen line goes, 90 percent of life is just showing up.  Make sure to actually visit the pet care shops you're considering. Key items to check: cleanliness - a shop that smells like the back end of a buffalo herd is a big red flag. The shop should be well lit, and pet cages should be roomy and, once again, clean. Check for any backlog of customers. If the shop is poorly run, or the staff is just overwhelmed, it's going to steal your most valuable currency -- time.

Key tip: Bring your pet in to interact with the environment. It's not 100 percent fool-proof, but if your pet is unhappy with the premises, it's worth knowing before you pay $50 for a grooming session than after.

Going mobile

A growing number of pet groomers make house calls -- a nice wrinkle that allows your pet to stay in his or her natural environment and save you a trip downtown. The downside is cost -- with gas prices around $3 or $4 a gallon, chances are the groomer will tack those extra travel expenses on your bill. Still, you can't beat the convenience. "Mobile groomers come right to your door," Hicks said. "They allow your pet to stay in their familiar surroundings and offer fewer distractions than a grooming shop.''

Key tip: Call a neighbor with a pet and coordinate your mobile grooming appointments. You might be able to negotiate with the groomer for a price break for getting two clients in one trip.

References and experience

Ask your groomer for customers who can vouch for their work. Better yet, visit his or her shop and pull a customer aside and ask about the shop's quality and service. "Make sure to check the groomer's level of experience,'' said Peter Allison, a professional dog trainer. "Does he or she have some kind of qualification? Is he or she affiliated with any grooming associations? If your pet has exotic or unusual needs, for example, a French treatment, ask if the groomer has dealt with it before.''

Key tip: Tap into the National Dog Groomer's Association of America to see if a groomer you're considering is certified.

Overall, expect to spend between $40 and $60 for a professional grooming session. You owe it to yourself, your bank account, and especially your pet to make sure you get the right pet groomer.

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