Dog at groomer

I know this great groomer. He comes to my mother’s house once every month or so to handle her two wild ones in all their furred unruliness. With a steady hand and an even steadier way around a nervous dog, he bathes and clips in less time and for way less cash than you’d expect for such expert results.

But for my pets, grooming didn’t come easily. After all, despite the long line of personal pets and steady stream of rescues, professional grooming is something I’ve always successfully managed to avoid. Until now.

Enter Rosebud

Rosebud arrived late last year, looking less like a candidate for professional grooming than a hypothyroid Chihuahua. Which is to say she was a bony Shih Tzu with precious little fur to work with. Flea and food allergies had done her skin in, hence the hairlessness that gave her skin a scaly gray cast except where she was especially inflamed (earning her the cheeky handle, “Rose-butt”).

Two short months later — after a great many therapeutic baths, a diet change and plenty of high-octane flea meds — she’d blossomed, looking more like the kind of patient whose owners must be gently informed that “grooming has become a healthcare imperative” than the cute-but-ratty creature I’d been unable to turn away.

But how to find a great groomer?

You’d think it might be easy. I mean, there’s one on every corner in certain parts of town, right? But grooming is not just any service. As with veterinary medicine, it’s one where your pet’s health, comfort and safety are at stake at each and every point of contact.

That may sound dramatic, but I’ve not only seen the possible dangers of grooming firsthand (reference this recent scary story by way of cautionary tale) but I know just how important a groomer can be as part of any pet’s healthcare program.

Finding the Right Groomer

Here are the steps I took to find a great groomer for my little Rosebud.

Prioritize. Other than my mother's mobile groomer, I knew of three groomers I was more than willing to entrust her to. All three are Miami grooming all-stars I can always count on to please my patients and their owners. But they were all out of my price range. I needed someone I could affordably enlist to clip my once and future fosters on an ongoing basis. Plus, I required someone nearby, not 30 minutes away on South Beach, and preferably mobile a) for my convenience, and b) so I could be nearby (not every foster will be as easygoing or salubrious as Rosebud).

Identify your grooming needs. If high-end show-standard clips for x breed are your desired outcome, it’s my experience that you’ll have an easier go of it. After all, you’ll have it narrowed down to only a few in each major metro area.

Request references. The most important element in the preliminary selection of any groomer comes down to one thing: references. Ask your friends, family, veterinarian, pet sitter, etc. And feel free to cross-reference with the Better Business Bureau for extra info. The weight of this factor depends highly on the degree to which you trust those whose opinions you’ve sourced. Hence, my mother’s groomer as my initial choice in my own search. But if I’d only had Dr. Google to go on, I would’ve felt infinitely less comfortable.

Ask about certification. The National Dog Groomer’s Association of America is an organization that offers certification and membership for groomers who meet certain criteria. For more info on whether certification matters to you, visit the NGAA website.

Take a tour. Unfortunately, location, pricing, service offerings and references are only a starting point. Checking out the place is next. Is it clean, comfortable-looking, safe (no exposed wires, etc.), and are all pets-in-process well attended to? While you’re there, ask about record keeping too. Are there intake forms? Is your pet’s health a question? A groomer that doesn’t ask about health concerns would worry me, as would a nonmobile facility that didn’t ask about vaccination status.

Have a chat. At this point, a pre-groom discussion can be all it takes to get you feeling you’ve made the right choice. Here’s another chance for the groomer to ask about your pet’s health. Does she suffer from arthritis? Have any past ear infections, etc.?

Ready, Set, Groom!

Always watch for red flags. A facility that won’t let you tour is a bad sign. A pet that seems sedated after a grooming is a very bad sign. A groomer that asks if you’ll bring a sedative next time? That’s on the questionable side too.

Once you’ve found a groomer that fits your needs, it’s time to give it a go. I recommend that you stay nearby on the first visit, especially if your pet is notoriously fractious or especially anxious.

Above all, stick with grooming professionals who obviously take your pet’s health and safety seriously. Did your groomer find a lump? Identify an ear infection? Mention a behavior issue? Suggest you might want to see a professional for these or any other condition? If so, you’ve very likely selected a winner! While that might seem like the most obvious kind of advice a vet might render, given that the most obvious pros and perils of grooming are medical, it’s a top consideration any way you look at it.

Oh, and Rosebud here? She’s still waiting, if anyone’s interested in offering a 6-year-old Shih Tzu the perfect forever home.