A life lived in the ruff

The Grooming Shop owner Cathy Wallace blow-dries Moo after a bath at her Thames St shop. PHOTO:...
The Grooming Shop owner Cathy Wallace blow-dries Moo after a bath at her Thames St shop. PHOTO: WYATT RYDER.
Since 1992 Cathy Wallace has been running a one-woman operation out of her small Thames St studio. The Grooming Shop owner has spent her life making thousands of dogs look dapper and pretty for their owners.

Reporter Wyatt Ryder caught up with her to see what it is like to spend more than 30 years in the company of canines.

Cathy Wallace has too many dogs to groom and not enough time.

She has so little time, she requested to be interviewed while working. A poodle-cross named Jin stands on the grooming table. The sound of electric clippers permeates the conversation.

"My whole life seems to be around the dogs," she said.

Her studio used to be a hair salon, only a few metres wide. There are still plenty of scissors, shampoo and hair driers, but the styles are not the same.

Down the back is a small office, the same size as the toilet beside it. She has no computer system, and her appointments are kept in a book instead. At the front of the store a tall wooden gate separates the clients from their owners.

It all started with Old English sheepdog shows, she said.

She loved entering them, so looked into what the market would be like for a groomer in Oamaru.

It turned out there were thousands of dogs in the area.

She remembered thinking "surely a couple hundred needed to be groomed".

For about six months she worked out of the back of a pet shop in Tees St, before she found the Thames St salon.

"When I first started it was hard slog getting people to have their dogs groomed.

"Everybody seemed to think that poodles were what their dogs were going to look like."

It took a long time to make people realise that was not how it worked, she said.

There was a period where she also groomed cats, but the two animals were not fond of each other and it was too difficult trying to keep them apart.

She had groomed all kinds of dogs over the years, but now about 90% were crossbreeds.

Sometimes the pound would contact her asking her to groom a rescued dog to help it find an owner.

She liked being able to do that for the animals, but it was a hard job.

The same was true for farm dogs, many of whom had "never seen a bath in their life".

Cathy Wallace blow-dries a dog in her first year as a groomer in 1992. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Cathy Wallace blow-dries a dog in her first year as a groomer in 1992. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
When she started the trend was towards pedigrees, but that had changed. Now it was all about spoodles, cavoodles, labradoodles and the like.

"I absolutely love it.

"I get to smooch these gorgeous wee things all day."

Halfway through the conversation Jin’s trim is complete. She is given a bandana — they all leave with one — and reunited with her owner.

Then Moo takes the stage. The Cairn terrier-Chihuahua cross is a regular of 10 years and her photo adorns the store window.

When she is not grooming dogs, she is judging them.

In April, she will return to Melbourne for the The Pet Show Dog Grooming Competition, a journey she has made many times before.

Her judging specialty was salon freestyle, more commonly know as "the teddy bear look", she said.

Despite how much she loved grooming, it was harder than people thought.

Lifting the dogs all day could be tough and bending down was an issue until she got a hydraulic table nine years ago.

"It’s not playing with dogs all day."

There were also a lot of health risks associated with long-term grooming, which she had been fortunate to avoid so far.

Handling the tools all day could cause repetitive strain injury and the shampoo could damage the skin.

There was also "groomer’s lung", caused by excess animal fur inhalation.

"I’ve never been plagued by any of those things.

"I know groomers who absolutely love it like I do, but they’re having to give up."

Now at 63 she was scaling back her business to ensure she could keep doing what she loved.

She had to close her books to new customers, but was still booked out almost every day.

She was also working on establishing a small salon at home to work from.

"While I’m still enjoying it, I intend to keep doing it."