Nicole Morgan, Self Taught and Proud of it!!


This is the story of how Diamond in the Ruff came about, owned by a full time Vet tech that can’t decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Nicole Morgan was kind enough to allow me to feature her this month. She gave me such great answers, she wrote it herself!!

I guess you could say I started grooming when I was about 21. I worked for a Veterinary hospital and I started volunteering to do all of the sedation grooms. Nothing fancier than a 10 blade on mean ranch dogs and other small piranhas that all the other groomers turned away. I found the transformations extremely satisfying and I was hooked.

I started slowly offering “shave downs” to clients I was comfortable with doing at home on the side since the clinic I work for didn’t mind. I live in a tiny town and news travels quickly. One client turned into many.

I was doing this on the floor of my moms laundry room.

I only offered full body shaves as I was not a groomer and wasn’t trying to be. Until a client showed up with a Shitzhu. I apologized and told her I’m not a real groomer and I cant do this breed. She smiled, handed me her dog and said “yes you are, and yes you can”. So I had a panic attack, jumped on google and taught myself. After many horrendous hair cuts she kept bringing her dog back, kept tipping me, and thanking me.

I slowly learned. Got better. Got braver. And word of mouth continued. In the meantime I went to school and got my RVT license and continued to work full time at the vet. Grooming before work, during lunch, after work and even weekends.

I have been at the Vet hospital for ten years now. The demand from my clients pushed me to open my shop. I now am as busy as can be. I hired a bather to help me on Saturdays. I’ve read through your information (my Grooming smarter blog and FB page) and we now get through 14 dogs a day thanks to what I’ve learned from you.

A few years ago I decided to take a course from Penn Foster and got a certificate because I felt that telling clients I self taught from YouTube videos might not be sufficient.

Dog grooming has changed my life by giving me financial freedom and stability. I bought my first home on my own at 25.

I had to have a screw put in my right wrist a few months ago after leaving it broken for a year and a half. I was too scared to take the time away from grooming and worried I may loose clients so I put off seeing the doctor. its fixed now but my flexibility isn't the same. I learned that my clients are extremely loyal and I lost no one. I just had a lot of cleaning up to do when I returned because very few of them took their dogs anywhere else while I was out.

The satisfaction of seeing the dogs leave my shop in a completely different state of mind then when they arrived is what keeps me going.

Watching their little tails wag when I open the bandana drawer is second to none. Seeing the owners faces light up is a plus too. The worst part about grooming for me it trying to maintain all my clients without working full-time hours doing it.

My advice to young groomers would be to not sell yourself short. I did so much work for next to nothing because I thought I wasn't worth paying. Also to never dwell on the clients that don't like your work.  You can't be everyones cup of tea and that is perfectly okay.

My clients have had the most impact on me. So many people stuck with me and allowed me to teach myself using their pets. They built my business for me. I have no business cards and I have never once advertised in anyway besides word of mouth. My phone rings all day everyday and I have to prebook most of them to make sure I get them in. Its a true blessing to be spoken so highly of especially in something that I created with absolutely no help from anyone until I found Groomingsmarter. 


My parents allowed me to set this up on their property. I suppose they were tired of me being in their laundry room. This keeps my overhead extremely low.


I would do it all over again in a heart beat.

***I had no idea she was crediting my group and blog for her success and I am extremely happy to have been able to help her with the information she needed to be successful. We have a tremendous network willing to help each other. So glad to be able to help people become confident groomers. ***



The Happy (tiny!!) Dog Hut in Scotland



That became Susan Stewart's motto in life. I am going to let her tell you her story in her own words.


"I was 12 yrs into a long and happy career as a Staff Nurse (Emergency) when I developed a nasty medical condition which meant I shouldn't be working 12.5 hour shifts anymore.  I kind of ignored the Docs advice for a year...because I really didn't know what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life.  I was well qualified and top of my game...there wasn't really anything else I wanted to do.

When my last relationship broke up, I bit the bullet and decided to make the change in careers and started to research what to do.  I liked dogs...and so I looked at dog walking (working outside in Scottish weather...yeuch!) dog boarding or dog grooming.  Courses were expensive, but there was one nearby I could attend and so I started training, as well as working shifts at the hospital."


"It was the BEST thing I ever did.  There are 10 dog groomers within a 7 mile radius of where I live, but I set up in my hallway while I waited for my cabin to be built.  It took 9 months and all of my savings, but it was worth it. It's only 10ft by 10ft but it's tripple lined, insulated and ventilated (on stilts) and has it's own built in smoke detector..I designed it and managed the build day I hope to build an extension onto my house for when my hips go and I can't manage the"

As for how business has been, "It's been hella slow, but I'm now managing to pay the mortgage/bills etc...and I'm not even at full capacity yet.  I have the best customers...folk who appreciate and support me.  I'm truly blessed that I've been able to change my career at 53. So, if anyone is considering a full career change...I'd go for it.  I've designed the cabin so that there is no heavy lifting and so should be able to groom well into my 60's. I hope."

She needs 12 dogs to live on and is easily meeting that goal. Being tiny allows that goal to be attained easily. Her health issues mean a larger place is unattainable. Tiny is perfect for her!

"As for Dog Grooming as a career - I LOVE it.  The dog grooming community here in Scotland are welcoming and supportive."

And isn't it great??? Reinvent yourself! Make yourself happy.

That's what's important in life!



We are lucky to lead lives we love! Susan proves you can make a grooming career change and be both happy and successful. 

And next we're going to visit a dear old friend of mine who has a wonderful little cozy tiny shop. But, shhhhhh!!! Don't tell anybody because she doesn't know it!! We need to sneak up on her.


Another Tiny Shop, This One in Middle Georgia



GORGEOUS view of the outside!

Meet the tiny shop of Kathy Arzt Padgett, Sassy Suds Pet Salon located in Perry, Georgia.

Originally from Colorado Kathy relocated to Perry with her now ex-huband (military) and stayed after her divorce. (What a surprise! I am a former military spouse as well).

While talking to her we found out that we had both worked for the same shop prior to opening our own shops and that the time spent in that "little shop of horrors", as I like to call it, sent us both in the direction of opening our own places. In fact we have an awful lot in common! OH the stories we shared about our time there. "It's really sad how both of us put up with that place because we needed the job" Kathy said when we were discussing it. I replied "Yep but we are both stronger because of it." Crazy how it worked out. We are both still getting better and better and she is no longer in the grooming field at all. 

Her life took a tragic turn about 12 years ago when her daughter was killed in a car wreck. After the things that happened to her once she returned to her job she knew she could not continue to work there and went into business for herself.

Her husband is a general contractor who left his job to bathe for her she was so busy and he built her shop, which measured all of 15'x10' out of a metal storage shed. It has since morphed into the building they are in now which he built from the ground up to her specifications. 

Kathy said " We knew we needed a bigger building....we priced the "sheds", but for the size we wanted, it would have been over $10k and then we would have had to have finished it. The walls in the sheds were only 7', with 24" studs and the floor felt springy to me. Our final cost for the build was about $7500. We did build it on skids, like the portable buildings, so it could be moved. Our shop is right in town, in a residential area. Our clients love the environment of our shop. My overhead as far as utilities, rent, and insurance is very minimal, so it allows me to spend more on quality products and equipment. We do groom all sizes and have all of our clients on at least an 8 week rotation. I absolutely wish I would have done it sooner. I couldn't be happier with our business as a whole."  her current shop is 12'x32', so 384 Sq Feet. My front room including reception and housing for finished pets is about that big!!!! 


Lovely grooming area with everything neatly stored which is critical in tiny spaces!


Lots of room to house pets safely and comfortably! Note the central vac system!!!!

Unfortunately she has been ill this year and being tiny has its advantages. "I've been back and forth between doctor after doctor since November dealing with a serious health scare. I'll get biopsy results next Friday. Another plus of being tiny is that I've been able to shut down when I've needed to and shuffle clients around."

"Our clients love the environment of our shop. My overhead as far as utilities, rent, and insurance is very minimal, so it allows me to spend more on quality products and equipment. We do groom all sizes and have all of our clients on at least an 8 week rotation. I absolutely wish I would have done it sooner. I couldn't be happier with our business as a whole."

I agree that being tiny has it's advantages! I am currently working injured myself (ribs, pelvis and kidney injury due to a bicycle fall - don't ask!) and cannot move anyone around nor can I AFFORD to close due to the size of my shop and the overhead. Being tiny really does have its advantages!



Even a full sized tub fits in her space!!!


Kathy has created a warm and inviting space for herself and her clients. I am planning on stopping in and saying HI! the next time I am in the area. She lives about an hour from me. So fun to see her enjoying her space and her career so much after going through everything she has been through.

A weaker person would have folded but she picked herself up and kept on keeping on.

Staying tiny helps her stay focused and grounded as well as allowing her do what she enjoys most in this world, which is taking care of other people's pets as if they were hers in a place that feels like home! That s a goal I think many of us have for ourselves and Kathy is living it!

Next up?? A small salon from across the pond. SHHHHH It's a secret!!!! 

Meet Daesue!!!


Debbie Chaffee is a long time member of Petgroomer Forums and is known by all there as Daesue. She is funny, kind and a genuinely NICE PERSON who has had a rough go of it in this industry. She has persevered and I am going to use her own words to tell her story.
Here is her "tiny salon" story.
My salon is just steps from my kitchen.  It measures 20’ long and just 9’ wide. 
One day (and it was as silly as this)  I got really tired of grooming my Siberian cats, so I decided to find a cat groomer.  There were none in my area.  So, I thought, well, why don’t I become the groomer??   I went on the hunt for just how to go about doing this. 
I had several choices, a land school an hour away? On-line school? A salon? 
As I was weighing all the pros and cons, I came out of this grocery store that I never go to and there in front of me was a dog grooming salon with a sign in the window “Dog Grooming School.”  So I called.  12 hardest weeks of my life later, I had completed a basic course.  I set about finding a job and  I worked briefly at one salon and learned how to fluff dry, which I still consider to be an invaluable skill. 
My next job I lasted 3 grooms.  I was fired in the middle of a Schnauzer.  It’s a long story, and it tested my mettle a bit. I had been honest about being fresh out of dog grooming school.  The first dog they gave me was a poodle which I mushroomed the top knot, then they handed me a Schnauzer.  I had never groomed a Schnauzer, but I had Notes From the Grooming Table and I could follow directions.   Looking back, it wasn’t that I was new, it wasn’t even the Schnauzer groom, it was that I had questioned the owner on her under the table way of paying people.  None of it made any sense and when I questioned her looking for clarity, she asked me if I was from the IRS.  I just really wanted to be a dog groomer!  And yes, I finished that Schnauzer!  The whole story of me being fired was actually very funny.  The owner didn’t even have the courage to do it, but sent another groomer to fire me. 
All of my life incidents have taught me to be a pretty strong woman.  And all this firing did was make me more determined to learn dog grooming.  However, it did shake my Schnauzer skills lol. 
My son suggested I take the small room in the guest house and open my own salon.  He even suggested a name for me.. “Iffy but Spiffy Grooming.”  After a good laugh, I looked at that little room, got a credit card, and bought enough stuff to open a small salon.  I decided to start with what I knew and build from there.  I live by a couple of mottos.  One is “There is always room for another rose in the garden” and the other is.. “What one man can do, so can another.”  Since I live in the county, zoning laws are different than the city, but I got clearance anyway and started handing out post cards.  I started with 2 customers and have built a lovely business for myself that makes me happy.  I continue to learn and educate myself, either through seminars or dvds.  

I want to thank all the women whom I have met through on line forums and in person, who have watched some of my own videos of me grooming, kindly correcting me and showing me different ways to get the job done.  To you who have shared your knowledge with me, thank you!  You are all the best!

PS.  A few years ago, I went back to grooming school.  I went to the school that was an hour away and learned how to do a Schnauzer! (blogger's note: I have YET to see a photo of a schnauzer she has done but I believe her! )
I have been friends with Debbie (Daesue) for years online and we have chatted a lot, worked her through a lot (including sarcoptic mange diagnosis that the doctor couldn't figure out) and she is a good, true friend.  I find her an inspiration and a wonderful human being.
AND just for giggles, here is a video she sent me of her bucket bathing her own cat. A reminder that you should NEVER send a blogger anything you do not want used....

Craig Chalmers-Lang: Doggie Style Grooming Edinburgh Scotland

It's not very often that a groomer has a beard but in this case, Craig Chalmers-Lang is the exception to that rule! Located in Edinburgh, his main room is 180 square feet and then there is a long hallway leading to a small bathing room. His shop specializes in small to medium dogs, with an emphasis on Hand Stripping and Asian Fusion.

Craig gives classes all over the UK in Asian Fusion and Hand Stripping and also does pet portraits that are to die for!


Craig is grooming GOBI the famous dog that was found in the desert

 A brief video showing the main reception and grooming area in the shop.



Craig and his husband Roger used to work together in the shop, but a close call with pneumonia meant that Roger could no longer be around the hair and dander, so Craig now works alone, but it's ok because the small shop means lower overhead. They still live a grand life and take vacations as well as staying extremely involved in their community and with their friends.

 A very successful shop in a small format means they can live the lifestyle they want, travel for vacations and stay involved in their community while doing the job that he loves.  A larger shop would make that harder due to increased costs.


In a field dominated by women, Craig shows that men can and are successful, talented and that sporting a beard will not slow you down! 

Not sure who has the better beard....

 Craig, we cannot wait for you to come to the USA to teach! we are waiting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




Fairwinds Grooming Studio. A Slice of comfort in a Chaotic World



In June of 2001 I met Daryl Conner at the NDGAA show in Nashville. We "knew" each other from the Groomer's BBS online forums but did not realize it. I think we were both rather "in awe" of the other by reputation (I know I was!!!) and we became really fast friends.

At the time she was living in Memphis TN and yet not too far into the future she and her adoring husband Chris and daughter Racel would be on the move to a tiny town in Maine, moving into a 100 year old Farmhouse and miniature farm she called FairWinds, after a US Navy proverb "Fair Winds, following seas" and began working at a local grooming shop. 


She completed her ISCC Meritus certification and began speaking at trade shows and private seminars.


She has won 3 Cardinal Crystal Achievement Awards and been nominated for multiple Barkleigh Honors awards as well.


She loved working at "the Yankee Clipper" and I was floored one day when she messaged me saying she wanted to open her own shop, but she was serious and she did! Never in her life did she expect what happened as a result, but she has turned her happy little salon into an oasis the likes of which many people never even imagine, let alone experience. 



I know of many many groomers and many of them have dogs, like Daryl's poodle Flirt (my grand dog) and Bravo, yet Daryl is the only one I know that has goats, ducks, rabbits, a horse, a donkey (named Abraham!), chickens and sheep that her clients get to interact with while they wait on their pets to be groomed. IN fact, some clients stop by JUST to say hi to the animals in between grooming sessions.


"My shop is around 300 square feet. I transformed the front porch of my 100 year old farm house into my dream grooming studio.
The closest "real" town to my place is about 16 m iles away. My town is so small that we share a zip code with the next town.
I can't see any neighbors from my house!  I loved where I had worked for 11 years, but as my little farmlette grew I hated leaving my animals each day. When I was at work I worried about my horse, goats, chickens, etc. while I was away from home. I had to put in all new windows, insulate, plumbing and electricity, and the total came to probably around $20,000. It was a home improvement... the porch needed some work.I had to have a path put in, and a new tiny deck, steps,etc..." Not too bad when you consider that it improved the home and added to the house value as well as providing her with a place to work that feels "just right".
When I asked her "How long before you felt "successful" she responded: Almost right away, oddly enough. I was busy from day one. I did a press release and the local papers picked up the ensuing article. (It is a wonderful piece so I am linking to it HERE) The phone began to ring. I put in chairs for people to wait if they wanted. My web guy said, "You should make that a focal point of your business." and she has!
 She is a talented baker and bakes fresh treats for her clients daily. Add in a Keurig Coffeepot and you have a place many do not want to leave!
I was trying to find photos of her shop to share and she had so many I had a hard time choosing so I am going to just finish up here with a few more of my favorite shots. 
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Daryl said to me  "My customers all seem to love the place. I have had more than one say, "This is the happiest place on earth."....and I can see why they feel that way! I wish we could all live the life that she and her family do and be as truly happy as she is. That is a dream we all would love to have come true!

Deana Mazurkiewicz Downsized and Happiness Grew



Several years ago Deana Mazurkiewicz sold her very large, profitable shop and moved home to a small, 10x20 building and she said "If I had known it would be this nice I would have done it first and skipped the big shop!" Located in Zephyrhills Florida, she is a mom and wife and being in a smaller shop allows her the time to devote to her family she wouldn't have had otherwise. 

Recently she started the Intellectual Groomers Association and having a tiny shop is makingbut easy for her to manage this as well. "It was time to step into the 21st century" she said when we were in New Orleans, and she has made it easier and faster for groomers to get certified. "If I still had the bigger way" she said.





As a top competitive groomer. She won many BIS and Best All Around placements. She had no intention of displaying her trophies until her daughter insisted. "I had my walls blank for the first year plus, I didn't want anything up and then my daughter got upset when my husband was going to throw away stored trophies so I let her pick some to put up. I kept all the frames news paper articles off [the walls] because they all referred to my old shop". 

She saves space using wire racks for her perfume bar, bows, bandanas and styling aids. She has a human "treat bar" as well.


Mostly cage free she does keep a playpen for families with multiple pets.


She says "for those who think they want to go small, DO IT!"

It is CHRISTMAS and this is my journey to the shears... MY Christmas miracle




When I was a very young child, I had an affinity for animals. My grandmother used to tell a story about me washing a newborn kitten in the well water from the spigot in the yard when I was about 2. I had dogs my whole life and had wanted to groom them myself but my mother was against it. I even did a working job interview with a groomer who said I was too slow (isn't that funny knowing that today I teach groomers to be fast!). My groomer even told me that unless I learned to groom I would never be happy with anyone who groomed my dog and suggested I “just get a book” and learn to groom. I knew there was more to it than that. So I put the idea in the back of my head and went on raising kids and working at a job that I was good at but didn’t truly love doing.

1994 was a bad year for me. My husband of 13 years and I were divorcing (finalized in February) and my life was disintegrating. I had been a military brat or wife for my entire life. That was suddenly over and I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was working as a merchandiser with Hershey Chocolate and at the base commissary. It was a fair living. I managed to make it on my own and was beginning to feel like I might be able to do this after all. I mean I had three small kids and taking care of them with minimal child support and no help (my ex-husband was transferred to another state across country) and two part time jobs. I was tired and working my behind off. I took on two more part time jobs to help. My kids went with me every time they could on my paper route (it was a good job!) and I was able to replace my Hershey route which kept me on the road all the time, with this newspaper route, and that made my life a bit easier.

June of that year is when my life completely fell apart however. My kids went to their father’s house for the summer. I had primary physical custody but we shared joint legal custody.

While they were there I decided to move from my home in Massachusetts to my parent’s home in Georgia. I felt like having more support was going to be a good thing and the cost of living in the area was so much less that I thought it was the right thing to do. I was able to get a job at the local supermarket immediately and living at my parent’s house was saving me lots of money. Things were looking up. We had the house all set up for the kids. I had even gotten their school records transferred to the school in Georgia.

 In August my ex-husband informed me that the kids would NOT be coming back to my house for the fall. I was apparently useless and was failing miserably at taking care of them. He could do it better. My life fell apart. I could not function. I lost my job. My parents did everything they could do to help me get the kids back but the state of Arizona was not willing to help me enforce my divorce decree from MA because no one had ever filed the decree in another state (me in Ga nor he in AZ). I spent weeks crying myself to sleep and trying to figure out what to do. I got another job, but my heart wasn’t in it.

I continued working that job and took over my father’s job after he had a major heart attack. I was working his job delivering papers and my job, trying to keep the house afloat and I was stressed out as much as I could be. It was a bad 6 months. I made my car payments and kept the household bills paid, but wasn’t getting anywhere with legal fees to get my kids back.

Then my boyfriend at the time, who had moved with me from MA to GA suggested I go to AZ to get the kids back. He was moving back to MA because he was miserable in GA away from his family and I decided it made sense. My ex wanted the van that we had bought right at the end of our marriage back and I knew the only way to see my kids again was to go to AZ. It was now March of 1995.


I bought (and please don’t laugh) a wonderful, fabulous condition 1968 VW camper van for $550 from a pastor in Sylvester GA. I named her Daisy and my dad and I rebuilt her engine. I drove her to AZ and my mother came with me in the van that my ex-husband was demanding back. She flew back to GA after visiting with the kids whom she had helped raise for two days. It was very hard for her to leave but she went back to her life in GA and I stayed in AZ to try to rebuild mine.

My parents were kind enough to loan me $3000 to restart my life in AZ. So I got a studio apartment. Paid the rent for three months and set out looking for a job. There was nothing in my filed of work that I had done for the last 6 or 7 years (merchandising) anywhere in Sierra Vista. I spent a month living off the money my parents had given me. I spent as much time as I could with my children. This was in May of 1995.

I had been to the labor department and put in applications there (that is where most of the work advertisements were) and one of them was for a dog groomer trainee at a local kennel. I never heard back. This will be important later in the story I promise!

I finally found a job driving a cab. In a town and area I knew nothing about. I got lost a lot. I made good friends. I kept looking for more work elsewhere because it was not as much income as I needed it to be. I worked overnight most nights and while there was a steady bar crowd I was still barely making ends meet. Because I was paid daily in cash I could not even apply for food stamps or assistance of any kind. 

I met a local tattoo artist driving that cab, Johnny Ray Rogers at the Enchanted Dragon. I am not really sure how it happened but I had been wandering around some galleries in Tucson one day killing time while waiting on an airplane to land so I could pick up a fare that had pre-booked to Sierra Vista. I saw a wonderful Dream Catcher that was not round or oval, but was made with twigs. The story of the Dream Catcher was there as well and it was the first time I had seen it. I was overwhelmed with a desperate desire to have a Dream Catcher tattoo done and he designed it exactly as I had envisioned it and I used the last of the money I had from my parents on that tattoo. Not the smartest thing I could have ever done, I agree, but it was something I had to do and I could not quite figure out why. Little did I know that tattoo was going to be the start of wonderful change in my life.


I lost my job as a cab driver because my ex-husband was so demanding. He was calling the dispatcher, pulling me off the road to have discussions over things that were really not that important. I was then upset and had to turn in the cab. This happened several times and it became such a problem that I had to find another job. I got another job with another cab company. He tried the same thing with them, but the dispatcher backed me up and refused to pull me unless it was a true emergency.

In the meantime, my lease was up on my apartment and I was trying to find another place to rent because I could not afford that apartment any more. While looking for a new apartment my VW van started having fuel line issues. The fuel line would come loose and splash gasoline all over the engine. It always resulted in a small explosion. Well, we all know that is not good right???

SO one Monday when I had the day off completely I took my kids and we went to get the van looked at in Bisbee, which is about 30 miles away. They had the best VW garage in the area there and they knew Daisy and also worked with me because they knew I had very little cash.

We were almost at the top of the mountain when traffic came to a standstill. There was a blasting crew there working on widening the road.

I felt my heart racing and I was thinking, don’t stall, don’t stall, don’t stall.

Well, she did. And this time the explosion turned into a fire. I was able to pull her to the side of the road and get the kids out. The blasting crew DID NOT have a fire extinguisher. I did but the police officer that was there directing traffic refused to let me back into the van to get it so all we could do was sit there and watch as my wonderful, beautiful van burned while the supervisor headed down the mountain to get a fire extinguisher. The damage was bad, but she did live to see another day.

Needless to say I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do. I was crying the entire way back to Sierra Vista in the front seat of the police car while the kids sat laughing and carrying on in the back seat. They thought it was funny. I thought it was the end of my world.

I made up my mind on the way back to my apartment that I was going to go home. Back to GA. I was going to call my mother to get more money to rent a vehicle and drive home with the children. My phone had been disconnected the day before because I could not afford to have it any more, so we went down to the courtyard of the apartment complex where there was a bank of payphones so that I could make a collect call to my mother.

I put a quarter in the first phone. It fell straight through. I tried the next one and it was blocked with a Mexican coin and wouldn’t eject it. The next one took my quarter but did not work. No dial tone. At this point I almost gave in and went back upstairs to rethink, but the nearest payphone was about 4 blocks away and so we decided to walk to the corner store and use that phone. My kids and I headed off, kids singing and laughing, me trying hard not to cry. I was not sure my parents were going to help me again, but I had to try. There was nothing else I could do.

I don’t think we had gotten a half block down the road when a white truck from a pest control company pulled in behind me screeching to a stop. I was scared to be honest with you. I could NOT imagine what was happening but with the day I had had I was expecting the worst (even though I had no idea what that could be). Someone grabbed me from behind, spun me around and hugged me screaming “DEBI ZEHMISCH! WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?”  

It was Larry D. (name left out to protect the innocent) a man I had known at Fort Devens MA. We had worked together on community government and had been friends. What the heck was he doing in Sierra Vista???

He was dating a woman named Carol H. (name left out to protect the guilty). She owned a place called Liberty Kennels. They had a job opening and a trailer home on the property for rent. It was the place I had applied for a job at months before. Apparently the Labor Department had given them a wrong number for me.

Needless to say I didn’t call my mom. I didn’t come back to GA right then. I moved into their mobile home and continued driving a cab at night and working in the kennel during the morning, scrubbing runs and taking care of boarders and the owners show dogs, while attending their “grooming school” during the day.

I learned a lot there about what not to do. About what animal abuse is and what I did not want to do in my own life. But I also learned a great deal about grooming. I got a great foundation in this wonderful career. We often didn’t have lights, phone or shampoo because Carol couldn’t pay the bills. We didn’t have equipment that I now consider critical to grooming, like force dryers. What we did have was a tremendous teacher who saw something in me. She told me I was going to be better than her one day. I learned a lot about safe handling from that teacher. About grooming techniques that I still use today. About patterns and breed profiles.

One day at Lunch I got someone else’s paycheck. There were two Debi’s and I got the kennel helps check. She was making almost $5 more per hour that I was. Carol told me that until I could groom ten dogs a day I was not getting a pay raise. I was making $5.75 an hour as a g roomer and the girl cleaning the kennels was making $11 an hour! It wasn’t enough to live on. In fact I couldn’t pay my rent and my boss was my landlord! My electricity was currently cut off because I could not pay the $55 light bill. I had my phone reconnected and I called my mother. I must have sounded horrible as I begged her to send me $300 so that I could drive home to GA. She agreed. I packed everything I could possibly pack into and on top of my new (to me) Eagle station wagon and loaded four cocker spaniels and three kids into it.

We left for home that night. I have been working as a groomer continually ever since that night.

It was two weeks before Christmas, 1995. 22 years ago.

How we made it  back to GA is a miracle as well. Lost an axle on the Pontchartrain bridge and had to have MORE Money wired. Ran out of gas (almost) in GA and had to scour the parking lot and seats of my car for change. We made it to my mom's on fumes. I didn't make it to the next gas station in fact...but we were "home" and my journey was about to really get underway. 

I had a job within 2 days of my arrival in GA. This vet clinic owned grooming shop was... "interesting".  Every card said "Carmen knows". WELL since Carmen called out the two days after I started and it was the week of Christmas, I had no idea what to do to anyone, so I just dropped back and punted. She left shortly after I was hired and I was thrown into grooming 10-20 dogs PER DAY with little to no help. How I survived it is beyond me. We moved out twice, moved locations once and I was hospitalized for a bad cat bite that still haunts me to this day.

I left that job after a bit less than 6 months and went to work in another shop, an hour the other direction. 

The owner of that shop was a nurse part time at night and a VERY abusive groomer in her own right. I learned (again) what NOT TO DO while working for her. On my days off from her shop I began working at my veterinarian's office and that led to a second vet offering to hire me on. I value my time spent at vet clinics more than you will ever know. I walked out of that job with the shop on a Monday morning. I still had a key. so I was loading my car when the owner came in. She blocked me from leaving, refused to let me take some of my stuff (shampoo, conditioner, a dryer I had bought) but I left anyway. 

I was working as kennel help at a vet, grooming at two vets and wondering if I had made the right move (grooming). I was then offered a THIRD vet clinic and a FOURTH came along soon afterwards. I was making upwards of $700 a week (this was 1996 remember?) and while working hard and being tired all the time I was making a good living and having a good time doing it. 

I cannot tell you at what moment I decided to open my own shop, but about a year after leaving the grooming shop, I had a wild hair. I wanted my own place. I wanted to be able to run it the way I wanted and use the materials and equipment I wanted to use, as well as have more freedom. HA! looking back I know how lucky I was...

My dad took out a $7000 loan and we redid a commercial site from the floor up. My dad laid tile, installed a tub, a water heater and built me tables. We bought cages, dryers, advertising. Made deposits and a month later we were open. October first 1997. I lasted in that shop a year then moved to another location. Was there for 8 years, then the building sold. We moved to a small, cozy shop and we were there a year. I have been in my current location 10 years now. 

I love every minute of what I am doing, even if it hurts, makes me tired, wears me out. I would not give this up for the world. I met my husband because of my shop. We have been married 17 years next year. I got to blog because of my shop. I got to give classes and write articles because of my shop. 

I have no doubt that I would be out of grooming had I stayed working for someone else. That daring jump with $7000 saved my grooming career. 



The photos above are my shop today. I love my 1200 SQ foot building! It is all decked out for Christmas as we speak and it is my favorite time of the year. It remoinds me every day that I have come from such a distant place in history to my current happy place. 


Back to the earlier story, I fully believe the dream catcher caught a dream I never knew I had and helped me make it a reality in a trial by fire.

It was a miracle of impossible circumstances that have led me to where I am today. I can still to this day remember my ex-husband say to me “you are fat, ugly, repulsive and no one would ever want anything to do with you! You will never amount to anything!”

Well…. My kids and I have never looked back. And if this is what you call amounting to nothing, I will take it! I have a great , successful shop, a wonderful husband and a blog that people apparently love to read. TWO Barkleigh Honors awards and 12 nominations. I am successful in what I love to do. 

And by the way the dogs don’t care if I am fat or ugly. They love me. And I love them. Who could ask for more than that?




Dont stop believing


I have been doing a series of posts on Tiny Shops and decided to spread the love and make the topic expand to all groomer stories. Struggle, sacrifice and hope for a better way of life are going to be highlighted here and hopefully encourage everyone to strive for the best they can do and  acheive their dreams by showing you it CAN BE DONE and HOW It was done.


If you have a story you would like to share on how YOU got to your "Happy Place" then email me at and I will send you the information on how to be featured. 


I hope you enjoy this journey to the shears we will make together!