Where to get your dog groomed? Open your own grooming shop? Learn from Kathy’s true experience when she goes from a medical career to pet grooming!
From Courthouse to Doghouse
by Dell Arthur, AP Reporter/Stringer, Retired
When Kathy Vetter decided to take a year off from the courthouse, little did she know it would be a life-changing experience. What began as a brief hiatus unexpectedly turned out to be both a career changer and a new adventure.
After college, Vetter spent 25 years working in the mental health field and 18 of those years in the criminal justice system. In addition with her masters’ degree, she also taught two college criminal justice courses
What drew her to specialize in the criminal justice field was the stimulating aspect of the work. The position was challenging, exciting, but most of all dangerous. Her clients included incarcerated convicts and recently paroled who required close supervision. This put her in contact with murderers, rapists, thieves of every sort who for most part were aggressive and whose responses were unpredictable. Finally the stress, energy and constant demands of the job for all those years had reached a burnout point.
It was time to take a second look at what she had committed herself to.
“A lot of factors made me want to take a break. I had to attend a couple of murder trials and it took a lot out of me. It was like the perfect storm and that was when I decided to take a break,” she said.
Reflecting on the past there was a certain excitement in counseling she admitted. But after many years working in the field she felt it was time for a younger generation to take over. The stress had taken its toll. She found trying to help released inmates adjust to the “outside” and find a job was especially difficult. She noted the recidivism rate was over 50 per cent and many of the people she had tried to help returned behind bars. It was then she decided to take a year’s leave and relax and recharge.
“It took about four months to wind down. My dad said he hadn’t seen me so calm in years,” she recalled with a warm smile. One of the major helps in her adjustment to a “normal life,” was her two Shih Tzu pups. Vetter had been involved in breeding this line for some time and it was then she came up with the idea of doing something with animals. Now that she found herself “unemployed” she knew she had to do something to make an income. Breeding was a selective process and she wasn’t interested in becoming a “puppy mill!” Her love of animals was too great to do that. Then she came up with the idea of pet grooming.
“I had a friend who was a groomer so I told her what I had in mind. I also thought if I learned grooming I could save a lot of money just on my own two dogs,” she recalled with a laugh.
That, she quickly learned was wishful dreaming!
So began the apprenticeship under her friend. Some junior colleges offer courses in the grooming profession but usually offer only the basic training. There isn’t a state in the union requiring pet groomers to be licensed but that doesn’t subtract from the high quality of professionalism needed to be successful. Apprenticing with a quality groomer teaches the student all aspects of the profession and here Vetter had an advantage.
The first thing she learned was how to wash animals, clean cages, sweep floors, and all the mundane essential areas of dog and cat care in a grooming environment. She learned that washing pets was more than simply putting them in a tub and adding soap. She learned how to work with different coats, what type of shampoos to use, identifying skin problems and much more. And there was also the cost. When she started actually trimming, Vetter needed to purchase the necessary implements—shears, combs, brushes. None of these items were cheap; in fact the cost could put a healthy dent in anyone’s bank account. You don’t pick up these things at the local department store she noted.
Shears alone could cost over $100 for just “shop” usage. For show quality styling, a pair of shears can easily run over $700. And then there was the necessity in purchasing dryers, nail clippers, nail files and grinders, different combs—some constructed of steel or carbon fiber depending on the need for different length and types of hair. And then there was the process of how to use these implements.
As far as products ranging from shampoos, conditioners and dyes, Vetter found that the quality and cost of these items matched those found in the most expensive beauty salons. But all was needed; a pampered pet is the goal.
Finally she had an opportunity to learn the actual trimming and styling end of the business from a master groomer.
The biggest benefit of her new career was “turning a high pressure job into a low pressure job,” she recalled. Now she wasn’t confronted with midnight calls from the jail, no more threats from a mentally disabled criminal, no more heartbreaks’ at the failure of one of her clients being sent back to prison because he simply couldn’t adapt to “the outside.” This new “pressure” was a joy.
“You have to read your emotions,” she explained. “This isn’t a job for someone who doesn’t love animals.” And now that she had advanced to learning how to groom and trim she was more than eager to practice her new skills.
Working under a master groomer, she was introduced to the different styles fitting the breeds. She learned the complex Continental cutting style for poodles, the English saddle, Dutch and German trim and much more—all of these special styles enhanced the beauty of the animals’ breed. She then learned how to dye the coat because some customers had special requests about color.
As her experience level expanded she tried her hand at creative styling. “The great thing about this type of cutting is if you make a mistake at least it will grow out!” she said with a laugh. And mistakes were made but it all added to her education in becoming an artful groomer. “What I learned with specialty grooming was trying to create a style reflecting the owner’s personality.”
Then about eight years ago she decided to open her own business. She settled in the small town of Ferndale in Northwest Washington, where her business quickly grew. Clients were attracted to her shop not only for the high quality of her work but also her personality. Vetter is a member of the Chamber of Commerce Ambassador program, the Old Settlers’ festival, the town’s annual Street Festival and much more. She also joined professional grooming organizations and spearheaded several community projects. But her altruistic feelings had other unexpected ramifications.
“Now and then when I’m downtown I will come across a client who I haven’t seen for awhile only to find out that the reason they haven’t been in was because their pet had died.” When a pet parent loses their priceless pet, Kathy grieves with them. And, if later, this former customer comes in with a new “family member” it’s a joy shared by all.
But all in all she said she wouldn’t trade her new life for anything. Now, as a busy grooming shop owner, she doesn’t need a key to the courthouse.