In my former career as a pet groomer, transforming the shaggy canine creatures in my care into gorgeous hunks of burning love was its own reward. As any groomer will attest, each of our clients has his or her own distinct personality traits so that in the process of doing our job, we get to become experts on animal behavior. On any given day, we would come in contact with lots of bizarre case studies — and sometimes the dogs acted pretty weird too.
Our living laboratory would spring to life as soon as we posted the “OPEN” sign in the window. Some came bounding through the door like lottery winners arriving to claim their prize money while some had to be dragged bodily, as if they were being potty-walked to their doom. Bubbles was one of the latter.
A chubby blonde Cocker Spaniel, Bubbles had a standing appointment every six weeks. And every six weeks, I came perilously close to throwing my back out as I hoisted the reluctant girl into a crate after her dramatic entrance. “She hates coming here,” her owner, a middle-aged woman named Clara, always told me. “I can’t understand it. What on earth do you do to her?”
It’s hard to act breezy when someone starts your day off with an insinuation like that, but I gave it my best shot. “Come on, Bubbles, it’s not so bad. We’re gonna make you look pretty,” I cajoled. What the bratty little girl inside me really wanted to tell her owner was, “I was personally trained by Sister Mary Stigmata and I’ve got my ruler at the ready,” or “Don’t worry — I’ve already given these dogs so many beatings today that I’ve thrown my shoulder out.” Wisely, I kept these droll comebacks to myself, mainly because I knew some people would probably believe them.
The last time Bubbles came in, Clara had complained of a sore shoulder herself. “Did Bubbles pull another sit-down strike?” I quipped. Watching Clara struggle with her stubborn baby made me wonder if she might need the Jaws of Life to extract her pudgy pet from the car. “No, it’s the darned suitcase,” she moaned. “It’s the only way I can get her out of the house.”
“You put Bubbles in a suitcase?” Now I was really puzzled.
“Of course not, Kathy! But she won’t come out from her hiding place in the hall closet unless I drag that foolish thing out. The thing is, she hates to see me pack the suitcase even more than she hates coming here to see you! That’s how I get her into the car. When she sees me toting it to the car, she’s right behind me.”
Bubbles’ greatest fear, it seemed, was being left behind. When Clara’s married daughter Ellen had come to visit from Texas, Bubbles jumped into her suitcase and buried herself in the young woman’s lingerie as she was packing to leave.
“Ellen yelled at the poor little thing and she disappeared under the bed with a pink Wonder Bra on top of her head,” Clara told me. “She took it even further last summer when we went to our cabin in Vermont. The day we were leaving to come home, as my husband and I were bringing our luggage out to the car, Bubbles raced out the front door and jumped into the trunk.”
After hearing that story, I stopped feeling so defensive about Bubbles’ reluctance to get groomed. I realized it had nothing to do with me. The corpulent Cocker had taken separation anxiety to a whole new level. I think it was the little dog’s over-the-top love for her owner and Clara’s dogged acceptance (pardon my pun) of this behavior as completely normal that turned me around.
Normal is a tricky word when it comes to pets and their people. In the course of my career, I used a crimping iron on an Afghan hound’s tresses, braided a Bearded Collie’s ears, gave a Poodle a Mohawk and made a special wreath of bows and flowers for a Golden Retriever who was the ring bearer in her owner’s wedding party. I also listened to a Beagle sing “Happy Birthday,” watched an Italian Greyhound pirouette like a ballerina and witnessed my daughter’s Portuguese Water Dog ring the cash register. It was all in a day’s work.
So at pickup time on their last visit, when Clara tousled her dog’s topknot and whispered, “Bubbly-wubbly, is Mama’s itty bitty suitcase dirl aw ready to come home?”, I just couldn’t help myself. I giggled right along with her.