CLIPPER ENVY

It happens almost every day. The dreamy-eyed woman with the lovestruck face beams in on us as we’re brushing that Bichon Frise or bathing that Beagle. “You are SOOOO lucky!” she enthuses in a breathy voice. “I wish I had your job.”

I usually smiled back so hard my mouth began to twitch at the corners. Clients like this give us groomers a good laugh — once they’ve left the building. They weren’t there when that big hairy behavior problem wanted to kill us and eat us for lunch when we tried to cut his nails or when that poor Poodle got sick again all over its crate — again. “Fifi’s a little out of sorts today,” her owner told us that morning. “The kids fed her all the leftovers from the birthday party.”

I don’t mean to be negative but in the view of that starry-eyed groomer wannabe, our occupation looks like all play and no work. Sure, we do our share of cuddling and nuzzling and we’ve been known to stop in mid-clip for a Kodak moment. Most of us got into this business because we love dogs — except for those of us who chose to work with animals because we can’t stand people. (This puzzles me. Last time I checked, dogs were not writing checks embellished with cute little pictures of humans.)

Sometimes folks who spend time around the shop really do end up working there, sweating and brushing alongside us. Entry-level jobs in our field help pay tuition bills and we can usually accommodate flexible hours for working moms, but many of us now prefer graduates of grooming schools who will not arrive for work fresh from Fantasyland.

Over the years, I’ve had my share of winners and losers in the labor market. Some have been grooming school grads, some walk-ins looking for part-time work. Some have become invaluable workers and lifelong friends. Some have made my hair stand on end without benefit of my maximum-control hairspray which is product-tested in a wind tunnel. Based upon my experiences, I offer would-be pet care workers the following advice on how NOT to get a job in grooming:

Don’t say “I’ll need an income for the next three years while I’m taking correspondence courses to become a podiatrist.” Or, “I expect to be paid 50 per cent for starters, plus tips. I’m excellent on Beagles and Labs. How much do you get for them?”

One assertive young thing told me she wanted the job to gain more experience with her scissoring technique before she opened her own shop downtown. (This doesn’t mean I don’t expect people to move on, but there’s such a thing as being TOO candid — like the young man who paused halfway through our interview to ask if I’d mind if he popped outside for a quick cigarette break.)

No need to show up for your interview in a power suit or high heels with a matching purse but jeans so tight you had to lay down to zip them up or a cute little miniskirt the size of a postage stamp are really not appropriate either. Forget the Lee Press-On Nails — they won’t make it through your first day in this place. And bear in mind that most potential employers are not impressed by the number of pierced body parts you have, the artistry of your tattoos or your proficiency at gum-snapping.

A thorough resume is good — within reason. Sure, I’d like to know if you graduated from high school, college or grooming school, but do I really need to know that you led your class in Drivers’ Ed and still hold the record for parallel parking?

Act like you know something about dogs. Don’t blow it in the first five minutes like the guy who asked if the blue and white English Setter I was grooming was a long-haired Dalmatian. We’ve all fielded questions much dumber than this, but we expect that from customers, not fellow groomers, and besides, they give us a chance to bedazzle those civilians with our brilliance.

You’ll need a strong stomach to work here. If you plan to be a bather, you’ll have to scrub ALL parts of the dog’s anatomy and it’s time to start using correct terminology — it’s not Toto’s tushie or Willie’s winkie.

Expect to encounter fleas and ticks that would give Stephen King nightmares. You’ll get so accustomed to the sight of dog stool and dog drool that you’ll be musing about whether you should order pizza for lunch today as you wipe and scoop.

And you’ll need a strong body. If you got a weak back about a week back, you can’t lift big dogs into the tub. If that oversized Lab you’re taking out to go potty is an obedience school dropout, will you be dragged bodily into the creek behind the shop?

Have a strong sense of humor. You’ll need one when you watch your first Siberian Husky do back flips in the bathtub, or when you hear that tongue-in-cheek question from a client for the forty-third time: “Hey, can you groom me too?” It’s usually a male who thinks he’s quite the wit — and he’s half right.

Employers like me need to be careful how we phrase it when we turn down a job applicant. One introverted young woman brought her teddy bear along for the interview. “This is Ambrose,” she confided, hugging her soiled stuffed companion. “He goes everywhere with me.” Immediately after each question I posed in our interview, she paused to confer in a whisper with her toy pet, probably about company benefits.

I sidestepped the reasons for my discomfort with her as a prospective employee because I had already made up my mind to give the bather’s job to a strapping male college student I had interviewed him earlier that week. I probably would have done better with the unusual young woman. The college hunk turned out to have a short temper and an allergy to dog hair.

Unfortunately, the teddy-toting applicant is no longer available. You might have caught her on Oprah pitching her book, “Women Who Love Their Teddy Bears Too Much.”

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