3 Celebrity Dog Groomers Share Their Wildest Moments on the Job
A behind the scenes look at the fumbles, challenges, and everyday drama of professional dog grooming.
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There’s a good chance you follow them on Instagram — those celebrity dog groomers who turn patient pups of all different breeds into perfect little poofs, big sculptural beauties, and multi-colored masterpieces. Although they tend to share their work online, we suspect there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that we don’t get to see. To get the dirt (because it’s obviously not on those squeaky-clean pups anymore!), The Wildest spoke to three popular celebrity dog groomers — Nadia Leeopens in a new tab, Arisa Thomasopens in a new tab, and The Wildest Collectiveopens in a new tab member Jess Ronaopens in a new tab — about their wildest and most unexpected moments on the job.
The “brushes” with celebrity, both good and…not as good
“I accidentally dyed a dog blue,” Rona tells The Wildest. “Oh, and it was a celebrity’s dog — Jeffree Star’s.” Star wanted his Pomeranian dyed a light pastel blue, and Rona used a “dark Smurf blue” instead, thinking that if she only let the dye sit on the dog’s hair for a few minutes the result would be lighter. “Which maybe, in theory, could have happened,” she says. “But this was like 15 years ago, before everyone started dyeing dogs. I was one of the first ones to do it.” So, she didn’t have the dog dyeing tools that are available now. “And so it was just a big mistake on my part.”
Additionally bad? Because the dog was a Pomeranian, “and their coats just don't regenerate the way other coats do,” the color would take two years to grow out. Luckily, Star was kind about the blue mishap. “He wasn’t mad; he was so kind and so sweet. He's like, ‘It’s totally OK.’ And I felt horrible!”
Lee has tons of celebrity stories — the famous model with the matted Maltese, the comedian with tons of pets, the Oscar-winning actress with the “beautiful and badass” Brindle who looks just like her.
But her favorite moment was when a former professional soccer player came in with his Bulldog, a little lady who “always gets her nails painted pink, or something sparkly,” Lee says. “He came in one day with his son and shut the whole place down.” She was surprised someone at that level of celebrity would bring his own dog to the groomer. “No security — he was just like the coolest dude ever, and said ‘hi’ to everybody and took photos.”
But Lee has also had bad experiences, like with one “very high-profile VIP client” who shall remain nameless. “She showed up an hour past her appointment time, and her dog was matted.” Matted dogs need extra time for careful dematting and detangling, and even though the VIP was demanding to be seen immediately, Lee had other clients to tend to. “I think one of the boldest things I’ve ever personally done was to stick up for myself in that moment,” she says.
She told the demanding celeb that the best they could do for her that day was to shave her dog and allow the coat to start over. “But she was trying to be insistent, making a big deal.” Then the client told Lee in no uncertain terms that she would not be shaving her dog.
“I started getting angry, and I had to calm myself down. So basically, I said to her, ‘You're absolutely right. I’m not shaving down your dog. We’re going to reschedule you for a different day.’” Lee remembers being able to hear a pin drop in her salon in that moment. Ultimately, the VIP client decided she didn’t want to reschedule, and Lee shaved down her dog’s matted fur.
The groomer bloopers
“Luckily, this was my aunt’s dog,” Thomas, setting up the story of a memorable fumble. “She really wanted a heart at the base of her dog’s tail. And I was like, ‘Sure, totally.’” So, Thomas did what she does and started working from behind on a heart at the base of the dog’s tail.
“And I’m just like … why is this not looking the way that I want it to?” She repositioned herself in front of the dog, to look at the heart from a different vantage point. And, well, “it looked like a penis.” Specifically, the top of the heart looked like — excuse us — testicles, at the end of the dog’s long, shaft-like (sorry) body. “I was like, Oh, no. I should have flipped the heart,” Thomas says. And her aunt wanted the dog dyed pink. “So, I dyed the dog’s hair pink, and … that didn’t make it any better.”
“I was grooming a dog,” Rona recalls, “and we use these clip-on combs that attach to our clippers, so you can cut different lengths.” Meaning, the clipper has a blade, and the attachable combs make it so the blade cuts longer or shorter lengths. “So, I was grooming a dog, and I took the comb off to change the length. Then I went to the bathroom.” (Rona notes that she left the dog with a fellow groomer; dogs are never left alone on the grooming table!) “When I got back, I was like OK, ready to go!”
She zipped the clipper down the dog’s back — without putting one of the adjustable-length combs on. “And it shaved a patch — like a big patch of basically no hair, right on the dog’s back.” She left the patch and groomed the rest of the dog normally, and luckily the human client was okay with it. “The client was so sweet. And I was so apologetic,” she says. “Yeah, that was a mistake.”
Thomas has another story that, well, you just have to read. “I had a client I’d been grooming for years, and her dog was pregnant,” she says. The pup’s parent didn’t let Thomas and her team know the dog was pregnant until she came in on the day of her appointment. “She comes in, and she’s like, ‘Hey, my dog is pregnant. Is it going to be an issue when you’re grooming her?’”
Because the client told Thomas that the dog hadn’t been pregnant for very long, she decided grooming her would be fine. After the dog was bathed, Thomas took her to the table and started grooming. “Then another groomer walks past me and he's like, ‘What is that?’” And “that” was a puppy. Yes, the dog had given birth on the grooming table.
“She was calm. She gave us no hint of worry; she wasn’t even panting,” Thomas says. After searching to make sure they hadn’t missed any errant puppies, the client took her dog and the puppy to the vet and all were healthy. “And from now on,” Thomas says, “I don’t take pregnant dogs.”
The “shear”-ly disgusting moments
“I’ve had like full-on projectile diarrhea as I’m blow-drying a dog,” Rona says. “Where it's like, the dog has diarrhea, and the blow dryer is a force dryer, and it just … it sprays everywhere.” This is not an infrequent occurrence, Rona says. “I feel like that’s probably common. And anal glandsopens in a new tab splashing on you.”
Lee agrees that the unfortunate blow-dry-diarrhea situation happens all the time. “Another common grooming experience is dogs peeing on the table while blow drying,” Lee says. She theorizes that it’s because they get nervous about the sound, or the feeling. “So, dogs pee or poop, or have diarrhea. And then it’s like, because we’re using a blow dryer, it ends up like splattering on the wall or on the floor,” she says. “A pretty gross visual, but I feel like people really need to know that this is what we’re dealing with — like, a lot — that we don’t show on social media.”
The interactions with humans who bite
“All groomers will tell you the worst part of our job is dealing with the entitled clients who don’t understand that grooming doesn’t take 30 minutes,” Lee adds. “Or sometimes, their dog is just not used to getting groomed.”
She says the super-calm dogs you see on Instagram are usually show dogs who are used to grooming and get it done regularly enough that it doesn’t stress them out. “It takes hours to prep and groom these dogs — hours. And this requires a dog’s cooperation and their willingness to stand, because they have to stand for the bath and blow dry, and they have to stand for the hair cutting.” Sometimes, human clients don’t understand how much effort goes into the process. “It really is a team effort between the groomer and the dog.”
Another common issue is getting haircut inspiration photos of completely different breeds. “Sometimes, people show me pictures and it’s like … you have a Yorkie, and you want their hair cut to look like this Standard Poodle?” Lee says. “I’m like, ‘You have a Yorkie.’”
Thomas echoes that experience. “Clients will bring in a Yorkie or a Maltese, right?” she says. “But none of the inspiration pictures are of that breed. The Yorkie client comes in, and they show me a picture of a Poodle and say, ‘We want the hair cut to look like this.’” So, that’s when she has to ask: Do you realize that is a completely different breed?
“They’re like, ‘But I want it like this.’ And I’m like, ‘But I can't do that.’” At this point, Thomas will attempt to understand what elements of the inspiration photo might actually translate to the dog she’s grooming — maybe a rounder head, or a rounder muzzle. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, but I want it to be fluffy and poofy.’ I'm trying to work with them but, yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
And then there are the humans who don’t understand that, sometimes, refusing or modifying a request is the best thing a groomer can do for the dog.
“I wish pet parents would understand that because we want the dog to have a good experience, there are some things we can’t do,” Lee says. “Maybe your dog might not have a perfect haircut, but having a good experience is worth more than the haircut. It’s humanity or vanity; that’s something that groomers say all the time. It’s very important for pet parents to know that beauty is just more than just a haircut. It’s about the wellbeing of the dog.”
Kelly Conaboy is a writer and author whose work has been featured in New York Magazine, The New York Times, and The Atlantic. Her first book, The Particulars of Peter, is about her very particular dog, Peter. (Peter works primarily as a poet.)
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