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Debby Knight is a dog groomer and business owner at The Bristles Dog Grooming and Training Salon in Oswestry, Shropshire. Debby keeps Alpacas. Here she explains what grooming an alpaca involves.

Why I don't groom Alpacas

Once a year my Alpacas need shearing and Spring/ Summer is the time to remove it. I own 4 Alpacas, Claudio 15, a grumpy old man, Germanicus, 10, Monty and Merlin (aka The Camel ) who are 9.

Alpacas are herd animals and reared for their wonderful fleeces and originate in South America. Alpacas are kept in a minimum of a trio, as one is always awake and on guard, though I don’t think any of mine have read the book on Alpacas, as they will all happily sleep in their stable, with no one on guard. They are often confused with Lhamas, which are much bigger and are used as pack animals. All, however, come from the Camelid family. And yes, they spit . 

The shearer arrived last Sunday, in a down pour. We need to have dry alpacas so their fleece can be bagged up for sale, so my 4 boys were herded into their stable to keep them dry, except for the nice green saliva balls hurled at each other in protest.

For the uninitiated, watching an alpaca sheared looks barbaric. A piece of vinyl was laid on the paddock floor and the shearer grabbed the first victim by the neck and rump. He wrestled it to the ground, with  a swift swing and  they were laid on their side, with both back and front legs  stretched out like tent ropes which were tied to either side of the paddock. The shearer then deftly clipped off all the fleece except for a little bit on the head. The teeth were checked and their padded toes trimmed. (they don’t have hooves, just 2 padded soft toes on each foot ). The whole shearing episode lasted less than an hour for all 4 boys Total cost £80 .... a bargain !! 

I am often asked why I don’t do the job myself as I am a dog groomer .The thought of manhandling my 4 boys myself reminds me why I stick to dogs.

The image here is of Claudio. I added a bit of colour !! 

An article appeared recently in The Daily Mail about the owners of a Samoyed who were 'horrified' their pet had to be shaved because the coat was badly matted. Here, BIGA member Katie Rourke-Dowding explains the consequences of a neglected coat and encourages all groomers to share this message with their customers. This isn't preaching to the converted or just the responsible dog owner: we all know dog owners talk to other dog owners because we meet each other when we're out walking our dogs - so this is a great way of educating the public and raising awareness.

A bit of a Close Shave - when Naked isn't Nice

Last week saw yet another painful story in the press regarding a dog that had been shaved “bald” by a dog groomer. This begs the question, why would a groomer shave a dog bald? After all, isn’t the groomer’s reputation resting at the end of their client’s lead?

The general public generally seem to have a pretty low opinion of Dog Groomers. In fact, many of them seem to think that they are only grooming dogs because they lack the ability to become a human hairdresser. There may be no regulation in the industry, but there are some highly trained professionals in this field. One thing that all groomers have in common, however, is that they have the dogs’ best interests at heart. This principle is reinforced by many of the bodies that a groomer may join. The International Professional Groomers (IPG), British Isles Groomers Association (BIGA) and the Groomers Association all have a Code of Ethics which their members must agree to follow to become a member. Dog Groomers are also bound by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which states most clearly that they cannot intentionally cause pain or suffering to the dogs in their care.

When presented with a dog in a severely matted condition there is no way that a groomer can comply with their professional body’s code of ethics or the Animal Welfare Act if they even attempt to brush out these matts. This is because a matt is not a mere tangle, where a few hairs have gracefully entwined, its more akin to felt, where the guard hairs poke through an undercoat which has become so inextricably knotted that it cannot be brushed or combed out.

If left untouched each matt joins to its neighbour and before long the entire dog is residing in a living straight jacket of restrictive fur. Unlike a straight jacket however, this is joined to the skin at the roots, so every movement of the dog is accompanied with stretching, pulling or pinching of the skin. The lumps that the matts form are uncomfortable to lie on and so the poor dog gets no rest at night. If the dog becomes infested with fleas or has an additional burden of thorns, burrs or ticks also lurking in that fur, his life becomes a living hell. But this is all happening at skin level and it's totally astonishing how many dog owners are completely unaware of the distress these matts are causing – it looks fluffy on top so everything is ok, right?

The major causes of matted fur are:

• Rubbing the coat dry (it needs to be blotted)
• Leaving the dog muddy or snowy after a walk
• Having the dog spayed or castrated (the lack of hormones really affects the coat)
• Using the wrong brushes for the coat type, or not brushing at all. (A good groomer will always be happy to educate their clients here, after all, if the client does a good job at home, the groomer can do a brilliant job on their dog.)

Experienced groomers have encountered this scenario many times and each one will have a different method of dealing with the customer who brings them a dog in this lamentable condition. The process should include a thorough consultation with the owner, a signed Matted Dog Release Form to relinquish the groomer from any responsibility and printed After Care form so that the owners know how to look after their dog, both in its present condition and how to continue forward so that this sorry state never occurs again. I personally prefer to have the customer stay and watch the entire process. They then know that even a shave-down is not “the easy option” that they imagine having watched too many episodes of Countryfile where the sheepshearers race through a flock averaging on two minutes a beast. They then see that even with the greatest care taken it still causes their dog some discomfort (though not nearly as seriously as attempting to brush it out would) and they see their “naked” dog emerging from the straight jacket so the shorn locks are no surprise. I think had XXX been invited to stay and watch her dog’s procedure, she would not have been so quick to berate the skill, compassion and care of the groomer who was left to face the aftermath of the neglect of her dog.

There are a great many inexperienced, new groomers just starting out, who are still in a position of needing to retain existing customers and are the ones who are likely to get bullied into attempting to de-matt the poor tortured hound, either not realising that they are going to cause so much distress and pain or too worried about losing the customer to care.

The truth is that until a groomer gets his fingers into a dog's coat it is impossible to say how bad the situation may be.

To sum up, a groomer should never intentionally cause an animal distress but will not earn a living by upsetting clients. It follows then, that a shave-down is not the easy option, but an unfortunate necessity.

EXAMPLE of a matted Samoyed BEFORE (credit: Absolutely Animals London School of Pet Grooming)


...AFTER... ahhh, much better... thank you...

It's Oscar season. BIGA's acting-chair Kristian Maris recalls an accidental life lesson.

And the Oscar Goes to...

Years ago, cinema-loving friends and I gathered to watch the Academy Awards in my sitting room. The big screen television was ready. Popcorn was popped. Cocktails were served. My friend Lindsay brought along a platter of the most delicious chicken satay I’ve ever tasted.

The evening was great fun as we all guessed and groaned and cheered at the actors, directors, set decorators and others winning their respective Oscars.

At one point, somebody bumped the remote control (I'm sure it was David). We found ourselves unintentionally watching a slow-moving documentary about Katherine Hepburn. We assumed it was part of the Academy Awards broadcast.

It was moving stuff. Katherine Hepburn talked about her long, unconventional relationship with Spencer Tracy. The films they made together. The lives and work they shared. He was her everything. But then Spencer Tracy died. After more than 25 years, Katherine was alone. How could she go on?

She couldn’t. She was utterly bereft. But she resolved to survive her grief.

 “Get busy,” she told herself. She threw herself into her work. Made appointments. Read scripts. Kept acting. Attended industry events. Anything and everything to get busy and stay busy.

 She took the time properly to acknowledge her grief over Spencer. To mourn his death. But to survive, she had to get busy. It prevented her from the paralysis of inescapable despair.

Eventually we realised that we were watching the wrong program and switched back to the Academy Awards. But we were all touched by Katherine Hepburn’s resolve. It was one of those accidental life lessons that I remember to this day. I don’t recall which film won Best Picture.

BIGA member (and BIGA's new co-ordinator), Sarah Sturley, shares her experience of mustering up the courage to attend dog grooming seminars. Thanks for sharing Sarah!

Going It Alone

by Sarah Sturley

When starting my business from home and working in my own little shed - erm, I mean Salon - in my garden, I never knew how lonely or daunting running a dog grooming business could be.

I desperately wanted to keep up-to-date with all the current Grooming gossip and trends but I soon found out that I wouldn’t be able to get that just from reading magazines. I had to find another way of meeting like-minded people, who shared the same passion for grooming as I did. But the thought of going to grooming seminars alone was more than way out of my comfort zone and I didn’t think I could do it. 

I thought I would feel intimidated or under-qualified to be with other groomers who had been grooming for such a long time. That I wouldn’t have a clue who any of these people were (only the top groomers I saw in the magazines - and to think I could approach and talk to them was a definite no no, after all, they are important and wouldn’t have time for me, would they?) I also thought that no one would talk to me and I would have to sit by myself the whole time I was there.

Well, let me reassure all of you who are thinking the same way. Going to grooming seminars on your own is amazing and up with some of the best things I have ever done. Ok, so it was a little scary at first, but as soon as you walk in, everyone makes you feel so comfortable and welcome that all fears soon disappear.  I have met some amazing people (who are not all groomers) at each seminar, including some of the most experienced groomers in the country/world who, I soon found out, are normal human beings after all and more than happy to chat and help with any questions and even share some fantastic grooming tips.

I have been grooming and going to seminars for just over 18 years now. Sometimes I go with others, but if they are unable to go with me then I just go on my own and enjoy meeting and making new friends. I am still gaining knowledge and tips from both new and experienced groomers but, most of all, sharing conversations and being in an environment with so many like-minded and passionate people, is certainly worth taking that jump and going it alone if you have to, because trust me, you are definitely not alone when you get there.

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The British Isles Grooming Association (BIGA)

A Not-for-Profit Trade Association and Community Support Network

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