How a Trip to the Middle East Turned Me Into a Cat Groomer

A fishing cat of Kuwait

I headed off to the Middle East as the Director of Pet Grooming for a new company catering to an emerging industry of pet ownership. I was fully open to a different culture and outlook, but what I didn’t expect was that it would completely shift my perspective and turn my livelihood on its head.

As a “pet” grooming professional, I was in the top percentile. Not had I learned my craft in the canine show-ring, I had also attended the top grooming school in the U.S., and went on to be the top salon manager for the world’s largest pet retailer. I’d launched many students into their own salons and helped a more than a few companies open new locations. This was why I was heading to the Middle East. It was a new market and a new challenge.

“Pet” grooming in North America consists of 99 percent dogs, and the odd (no surprise) stressed-out cat. This is despite the surprising statistic that there are about 25 to 30 percent more cats than dogs as pets in N.A. At “pet grooming” school there were no cats. They were never discussed. So when a kitty-in-need did show up at a dog-centric grooming salon, they were treated like fractious dogs. The groom usually didn’t go well. The system failed them.

I wasn’t happy about grooming cats. The finished quality of work was no where close to what I could do for dogs. It didn’t feel right about charging more for a service, that to my standards, was half-done. I looked for help in the cat fancier world, but it was a mysterious closed society. No one was willing to share their secrets. So I stopped grooming cats for many years.

Fast forward to 2012, the exciting new opportunity. Talking with the investors from Kuwait, they told me there were a lot of cats in the Middle East and did I have any experience? I replied “Yes, but its been a while.”

Coming from a less than 1 percent North American market perspective, I figured “a lot” meant maybe 10 percent. It did not prepare me for the 90 plus percent cat market that I found myself in, with less than 10 percent dogs. I had to seriously upgrade my skills and knowledge, and fast.

But why such a completely reversed pet market? It starts with Islamic belief that cats are clean and totally suited to being an indoor pet, whereas dogs are not. Dogs must work as either guard or watch animals, and they must stay outside. Dog salvia or hair is a serious no-no, whereas sharing a bowl of water or almost anything else with your cat is ok.

Cats were trimmed and bathed regularly, and they were g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s. I’d never seen such beautiful cats. With my eyes wide shut, I had never realized just how filthy the cats in North America were. I thought they groomed themselves. I thought they didn’t like baths. I was totally, completely, wrong. Everything from environment, process, equipment, to products had been doggy and needed to be scrapped. I had to relearn everything I thought I knew about cats. Now, having learned the ways of the cat, I can attest that they do really love and benefit from regular baths and grooming; and I’ve groomed thousands by now.

I experienced a life altering shift in perspective and a recognized an opportunity in a niche market. On my return, I promptly designed the very first, cat-only grooming studio in area, and it’s been wildfire ever since.

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