21 Sep

My life as a dog washer

For years I’ve said that the main reason I became a writer is because it’s my only marketable skill. Lucky for me, I’m nerdy enough to like stringing words together and have a genuine interest in prepositions and participles, which comes in handy.

But before my first writing gig, I tried other jobs. I was 18 when I snagged my first real position as a dog washer at a local grooming salon. I loved dogs and had plenty of experience washing my own so it sounded like a fun, easy summer job.And it did turn out to be fun, but it was never easy – especially the first day. I’m not sure if the owner was trying to get me to quit or just had a cruel sense of humor. Instead of easing me into the job with patient instruction, she tossed me into the doggie deep-end by assigning me a Saint Bernard to wash and dry during my first day on the job.

Thankfully, the Saint Bernard was sweet so I didn’t worry about getting bit or scratched. But it soon became clear that a back sprain was a definite possibility. This gentle giant was also the laziest, heaviest animal I’ve ever met. His only trick was the “dead weight” game, at which he was a master.The sink at the grooming salon wasn’t big enough for him, so my boss suggested I wash him in a horse trough outside. But Bernard wasn’t interested in jumping into the trough, no matter how much I coaxed and begged. And there was no dog crane on site with which to lift him up and over the side. So I mustered all my determination and picked him up, one half at a time, and lifted him into the trough.

After scrubbing and rinsing for an hour, I was as wet as the Saint Bernard but at least he was clean. My boss came back with a hair dryer and told me I could leave for the day once the dog’s hair was dry. But drying the incredibly thick hair of a dog that’s roughly the size of a Ford Focus takes a while, so the joke was on me.

When I showed up for work again the next morning, my boss seemed genuinely surprised that putting me through the Saint Bernard gauntlet hadn’t run me off for good. So she took it easier on me that second day, asking me to wash a few poodles and a Schnauzer who were so accustomed to doggie spa treatments that they practically asked me for a bottle of Perrier and peeled grapes.

After the Schnauzer and poodles were trimmed and fluffed, she told me that the little brown poodle named Coco needed her nails done. Not just trimmed and filed, mind you. Every two weeks, Princess Coco got a mani-pedi featuring bright red polish, and I was her newest manicurist.

I thought painting poodle toe nails was fun until I realized I’d forgotten one critical step – holding the dog’s paw in order to keep the nails separated from each other as they dried. By the time I’d painted those last few nails on the fourth paw, the first three sets of nails had dried and stuck together. Coco could barely walk with those red nails cemented together. So I had to redo the mani-pedi, being careful to hold the nails apart and blow on them until they were dry.

It was the first job among many that taught me I was probably better off with prepositions and participles versus Saint Bernards and poodle pedicures. Live and learn.

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