Monday, February 1, 2010


Or, How I Learned to Groom Poodles

Yes, well, I seem to be an old hand at stealing animals. (I prefer to call it rescuing them, thank you very much.) Well, not really. Despite my best intentions, I never managed actually to steal an animal. Okay, there was one time, but I ended up returning that puppy before he was even missed. Almost before. Alright, three days after...

But that’s another story. This story is about Toby, a black Toy Poodle who lived in my neighborhood many years ago. I wanted to steal him, but it didn't work out that way.

He used to run around loose in the neighborhood because his owners worked. And he was filthy. One day, I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I brought him into my house and washed his hind quarters, which had his own turds caught in the hair. I cleaned him up – that part of him, anyway; he was still very dirty everywhere else – and then I took a pair of scissors and shortened the hair under his tail and along the back of his hind legs. What I had done wasn’t really noticeable, I told myself. And then I put the ragamuffin back outside. And that’s how it all started.

It was like an alcoholic taking that first drink and getting hooked. I couldn't stop. Next day, I combed out the bedraggled little pom-pom at the end of Toby’s tail. The day after that I trimmed it up just a bit, to make it into a nice, smooth sphere. I didn’t know much about grooming poodles, even though I had three of my own. But I did my best and it turned out fine. Toby still looked a mess, of course, because the rest of him was so tangled and dirt-encrusted.

And so it went from there. Every day, I’d steal Toby for an hour or so and work on a little patch of his hair. It was so badly matted, though, that I never got very far. It was way beyond my capabilities. He needed a professional job. I did manage to trim his very long claws. And poodles get this fine, loosely-rooted hair in their ears that needs pulling out from time to time, so I did that much. (Pulling it out doesn't hurt.) I cleaned the wax out of his ears.

Eventually, his family began to notice their dog’s gradually improving appearance. They made some inquiries, and apparently it didn’t take them long to identify the perpetrator. I apologized profusely for butting in to something that was not my business and then began, as gently as I could, probing to see whether they really wanted to keep such a high-maintenance dog.

They didn’t! If I could find a home for Toby, they would be very glad.

I bought him on the spot. Two hundred bucks, which is what they had paid for him. I had bought and sold enough poodles to know that was a virtual steal; he had good enough conformation to be worth about $300 (in those days).

The first thing I did was put an ad in the newspaper, because as I mentioned, With three poodles of my own, I couldn’t keep Toby.

The second thing I did was take him to a dog-grooming salon. I had hardly gotten home when the groomer telephoned me to say there was no way in the world she could comb out that hair; it would all have to come off. Toby would have to be shaved down to the skin.

Poor Toby! He was so ashamed of being naked! He began trying to hide and it took him several days to recover his dignity, along with a modicum of hair.

A couple of days later, I had a telephone call from Martha, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, and she wanted Toby. I began telling her about all the brushing and clipping and cleaning a poodle needs, when she interrupted me. “I’m a dog groomer.”

Was that perfect, or what?

I took Toby to her house for her to have a look. And for us to get a look at her, as well.

Martha had her grooming studio in the back of her house, a large room with a vinyl floor, lots of cabinetry, plenty of counter top space, grooming tables, a laundry tub, driers on tall poles. And a sparrow named Alice. Alice was one of many orphaned birds Martha had raised, and Alice (for reasons I never ascertained) had the freedom of the house. But where Alice most liked to be was - in Martha’s hair! Yes. Martha had thick, tightly curled hair and is the only white woman I ever knew who sported an Afro. Well, that bird would fly onto her shoulder, hop up into her hair, turn herself around several times as if to wrap herself in a blonde blanket, and sit there while Martha worked. Or maybe the sparrow was sleeping in there, for all I know. You couldn't see her, to know what she was doing.

The birds outside the window, as if jealous, were beating their wings and beaks upon the glass. “Oh, they just want me to put out some more food for them,” she said. “Excuse me a moment.”

She loved Toby and Toby loved her. It was all perfect except that Martha didn’t have any money to buy Toby. She had recently found a stray horse, she explained. A stray horse?!?! Who finds stray horses? Martha does. The horse had been sick, injured and starved, and Martha had had him vetted and bandaged and medicated and cleaned up, and the horse was now living in the barn with her other horse. He had turned out to be a very beautiful creature, too, an excellent specimen of Quarter Horse. But she was having to pay for his room and board; hence, she had no money for the dog.

It was such a shame. She really was just the person I wanted for this dog... So we came to an arrangement. Martha agreed, in exchange for Toby, to teach me how to groom poodles. That would pretty quickly save me a lot more than the $200 I had paid for Toby.

So I came to work with Martha (and Alice, the sparrow) for a delightful and educational week. Martha got her dog, Toby got a new and happy home, his former owners got $200 and peace of mind, I became proficient at poodle clipping, and we all lived happily ever after.


elizabeth said...

what a great story! Thanks!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I'm glad you like it, Elizabeth; I was thinking probably nobody would.

Sarah in Indiana said...

I like it too! So funny :)

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