By Jenny Tyler, Happy Tails, Leigh-On-Sea
I must be amongst one of the longest standing Groomers (yes I am still just about standing!), having been in the profession for nearly 38 years. I left school just after my 16th birthday and got a job straight away, as a live-in kennelmaid at a very large and famous breeding and showing kennel in Berkshire. The main breed was Wire Haired Fox Terriers, there were also Miniature Schnauzers and Kerry Blue Terriers. There were generally about 100 dogs (including puppies) at any one time, with 5 full time workers, looking after them. My one and a half years there proved to be a very good basis for my future life with dogs. I learnt most aspects of dog care feeding, breeding, showing and not least of all GROOMING!
Besides all the dogs, we 3 kennelmaids looked after a herd of pedigree goats which were kept for the milk they produced. The puppies were weaned on this. We also sold a small amount to the local asthmatic people. I can remember well trudging down the dark and muddy lane, in the depths of Winter, to milk the goats by torch light in the pungent, creepy goat shed.
There were numerous cats living in the barn, having endless kittens. In the field there lived a wonderful old retired Shire horse. We girls would sneak some of the goat-feed down to him and stale, boring, plain cake, left over from the kitchen. Sometimes we would clamber up onto his broad back and he would obligingly amble around for us. We also kept a dozen or so chickens, but there were never many eggs and they were a nuisance to get in at night.
We worked a long day. Getting up a 7am and finishing at 7pm (longer if puppies were being born or if the dogs were sick). We had breaks for meals, but only half a day off per week. We were not allowed out in the evenings, however being a rural area, there was nowhere to go anyway! In the Summer evenings, whilst it was still daylight, we did manage to wander a mile or so down the road under the pretext of exercising a couple of dogs. Here we would sometimes connive to meet up with one or two local lads who went to a youth club nearby.
It was a little like "Upstairs Downstairs", we kennelmaids being metaphorically very much "Downstairs". The lady owner lived in the large beautiful old house and hardly appeared around the kennels. Her meals were dished up to her in the luxurious dining room, which was out of bounds for us. The meals were prepared by a fat, grumpy, old cook whom we girls were scared of. She was married to a chirpy, dapper little butler, who would take the owners meals through on huge platters, covered by silver domes. We ate our plainer, though substantial fare in a bare scullery at the back of the house. We girls lived in a shabby old cottage in the grounds of the kennels. There was no heating in the bedrooms and, in Winter, ice would form on the inside of the windows.
A major event at this time was when I was bitten by an adder, whilst picking bluebells in my lunch break, in the woods nearby. I survived! But I was quite ill for a couple of weeks and was allowed to go home my first visit for several months. Not long after this episode, our old, rather simple, odd-job man thought that he spied another adder in the cookhouse, behind the aged electric cooker. He bravely attacked it with great gusto using a pitchfork. Much to our delight it turned out to be, not an adder, but only the flex of the cooker!
The kennels were all set in the most pleasant countryside, amid tall, aromatic pine trees and in the Summer it was glorious there. I loved living there as I had spent all my life, until that point, living in the East End of London.
I took a liking to the grooming aspect of dogs and was taught to hand strip a Wire to show standard, using just one tool a stripping knife. The evening before a Show I would help bath the Kerry Blue show dogs in our own bath in the cottage. Id dry them before the stove, on the kitchen table and hand trim them. They would then sleep in the cottage with us so that they kept clean. A real treat for them and me!
I left the kennels when I was 171/2 years old, just before the really bad Winter of 1962/63 (good timing). I had been given an introduction to a well-known lady who lived in West London and specialised in breeding very, very, tiny Toy Poodles, (I was photographed at Crufts that year with one of her show dogs in the hood of my duffel coat). This lady also ran a very busy Poodle Parlour. She agreed to teach me Poodle clipping over a span of several weeks. I agreed to pay her 10 guineas for this, which was a fair amount of money then! When I had learnt enough to be able to perform a pretty good job, the lady asked me to continue on there to work for her, thus to earn back my fee. A very handy arrangement!
It was then that I started my own DOG GROOMING business, in my parents conservatory. May I explain that my parents were very supportive all through this time. It was quite unusual in those days to go in for this kind of work, but Mum and Dad were unfailingly helpful and encouraging. I started my little grooming business with the bare essentials of equipment: 1 electric clipper, 1 head, 3 blades, 2 pairs of scissors, 1 brush, 1 comb, 1 nail clipper and 1 ladies hairdryer!
Within a year I had a busy little connection and over the span of years I have learnt to trim most other breeds. Ive seen a great many changes, the most remarkable being the popularity of different breeds. When I first started trimming, nearly every customer was a toy or miniature Poodle. Id never seen a Shih Tzu or Tibetan Terrier and a Yorkie was an unusual sight.
Ive been a self employed Dog Groomer ever since those early days. I married one of my first customers when I was 20 years old (a good way to hang on to him?!). I have had two children, but have never stopped work. Over the years I have worked part time on occasion for two Vets, which has very much broadened my knowledge.
I passed, with credit, the City & Guilds in Dog Grooming in 1987, which was the first year of its existence.
Another memorable event was in 1984 when I wrote to "Jimll Fix It" and asked to trim a sheep to make it look pretty!
My challenge was accepted and I spent an "interesting" 3 days at a sheep farm in Wales. Some dogs bottoms may be rather dirty, but until youve trimmed a sheeps you havent lived!
I trimmed the sheep in a wind swept field, using my own electric clippers. They cut through the wool like magic, owing to the natural lanolin present in a sheeps coat. I did a sort of a Dutch trim with pom-poms on the legs, and put pink ribbons on the pom-pom tail and topknot on the head. Pretty good it looked too!
Nowadays, I am still grooming. We moved house and business 3 years ago (yes I am still married to the same customer!)
I am getting known locally and some 30 of my loyal clients from where I used to live, travel the 50 miles round trip to me.
I own 2 apricot Standard Poodles now. A year ago I tinted the lighter on a striking shade of PINK (thanks to Dezynadog). That created a stir I can tell you!
Over the years I have owned several dogs and dabbled in showing, obedience, training and breeding. Its been a good life. Maybe I can continue to groom for another 38 years!