Debbie West's newest grooming business has gone to the dogs
It's a mutual admiration society at All About The Dog Grooming, 88 Post Rd., where Debbie West, former owner of Turnpike Pet Center on Tunxis Hill Rd., opened her dog grooming boutique. Here, West and her long-time employee Janice Kenney do not hesitate to demonstrate their love for dogs and the importance of giving dogs the proper care.
The 700-square-foot shop is a few doors from the corner of Grasmere Avenue and across from the original location of Ash Creek Saloon. Here the sun streams through the large picture window complementing the warmth that the two women exude in discussing their love for the dogs - their own dogs and their clients.
West has employed Kenney the past nine years, so when she decided to streamline the business to focus on dog grooming, it became a natural decision that the two would continue together in the new shop. Both women breed and show dogs and it was through a mutual friend who they first met and decided to work together.
West owns two miniature poodles and a standard poodle, who just "runs the house," she said. Kenney owns four dachshunds and a doberman.
In discussing her approach to proper dog grooming, West emphasized the importance in talking with the dog owner to attain what kind of lifestyle the household has. What kind of activities does the dog engage in? How much time does the dog owner have to brush the dog's hair?
West cited an example of one dog owner who liked to take daily walks in the woods with her poodle. The dog was developing a fungus on the paws because the paws were always damp. When West learned of the activity of the daily walks, she started to shave the hair from the paws to eliminate the dampness and condition.
"In a certain respect, we are the dog's first line of defense," said West, citing another example in which she noticed an abrasion on the nose of one of her customer's dogs and brought that to the dog owner's attention. When owners bring in their dogs, West and Kenney do a thorough inspection of the dog's condition and keep notes to communicate their findings with the pet owner.
In addition to becoming educated about the dog's lifestyle, the dog's breed is a key to how the dog should be groomed. A dog groomer studies the kind of hair the dog has and the shape of the head when grooming the dog.
How fast does the dog's hair grow? How long should the hair be? For example, as an owner of dachshunds, herself, Kenney is well familiar with the standard for their coats which should be short and dense. Therefore, this requires the hair "to be shedded out."
Through their own studies and their experiences showing dogs, the two women have become knowledgeable in what a certain breed of dog should look like.
"People don't realize how even the length of a toenail can make it difficult for the dog to walk." West said. "The length of the toenail could be like a woman walking in stiletto heels."
In addition to the knowledge that a dog groomer must have an acute skill in working with scissors, it is vital that the dog groomer coordinates the eye and the hands in the grooming. Initially, West, who was a biology and English major at Albany State College, taught herself to cut her first poodle's hair when she was a college student. She couldn't afford to pay anyone to groom the dog, so she did the grooming herself and developed a passion for poodles. As the years went on, she started to show her poodles and develop a strong interest in dog grooming. The more she went to dog shows, the more she increased her knowledge in dog grooming.
Similarly, Kenney's experience showing her own dachshunds, including three champions, increased her knowledge in dog grooming. She earned a degree to become a veterinarian technician from Quinnipiac University and started working part-time for a friend who had a dog grooming business.
Twelve years ago, West bought Turnpike Pet Center from its original owners. The shop built its reputation as a full service pet center. However, with the downturn in the economy, West said it became more difficult to compete with the larger national chains and online shopping.
She decided to close the business and reopen with the focus on dog grooming, a specialty skill with less competition.
All About The Dog Grooming is a full-service shop offering haircutting and hair styling, bathing, shedding out, toenail trims, among other dog grooming services.
In summing up the art of dog grooming, West said, "Every dog's needs are different. Our job is to help the dog owner understand that."
All About The Dog Grooming's hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For further information, call (203) 576-8910.