A Lesson in Every Cat Groom- Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve done any salon-style grooming. Due to the nature of my work over the past few years my cat grooming has been confined to seminars, workshops and stage demos. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve still got it. Could I still handle a salon day filled with all sorts of kitties, some with bad attitudes, pelts and other issues? And could I get them all done in a time crunch time frame?

This has been put to the test recently as my daughter, Olivia, who normally handles the salon grooming days at the NCGIA has been away on her honeymoon and then subsequent move to Virginia. Lynn and I have had to step in and fill the void left by Olivia. Even when we aren’t trying to have salon grooming (because we are busy with NCGIA operations, school operations, various projects and the like) we end up with a couple of days per week with cats on the grooming schedule. At first I was dismayed by this – #dontgottimeforthis.

But then I groomed some cats.

I have to admit, I enjoyed being back in the cat-grooming saddle once again. I love the thrill of a challenge and the fun of the transformations that take place inside our salon. I enjoy presenting a freshly groomed kitty free of mats, tangles and strange debris back to its owner, sporting a fresh new hairdo. This week as Lynn and I worked through a variety of cat grooms I was once again reminded of the many, many lessons that can be found in each cat groom. Having been an instructor and teacher for some many years, I hate to waste such wonderful opportunities to give a useful lesson on cat grooming. Each cat I groomed this week provided ample lessons in cat behavior, the importance of sound handling techniques, the reason for restraints (see Lynn’s article in the latest Purrfect Pointers on this topic), and why choosing the appropriate groom style for each individual cat is paramount in making sure the groom is done completely, safely and with the least amount of stress possible.

This past week I was presented with a fairly young DLH that was recently adopted from one of our local shelters. It was this cat’s first groom. She was around a year old, maybe less, and reminded me a great deal of the DSH named Daisy that was filmed in On the Road with Jodi and Danelle DVD. The behavior and reactive nature of this young DLH was so similar to that of Daisy’s. There were significant moments during that first groom where I accurately anticipated how the cat would respond to various aspects of grooming (the clippers, nail trimmers, water, dryer, etc) and knew how to handle and restrain her in such a way that we developed a trust relationship with one another by the end of the groom. While this young cat still had her street smart tendencies at the end and a bit of feistiness to go along with them, her demeanor and reaction to the groom was managed with little difficulty and very little restraint as I finished up the blow-dry, comb out and sani trim.

When introducing this adorable young cat to new experiences, especially to shaving, bathing and drying, it was essential to keep a firm, controlled grasp on her at all times. Introduction of these new and potentially frightening experiences is always best done in a gradual and non-threatening manner. Remembering the 3 Fs (Flail, Frantic, Freak Out) and never allowing things to get past “flail” is mandatory if you want to finish the groom and not end up with injury to groomer or cat.

Understanding what a cat may see as a threat and anticipating their reaction to each is of fundamental importance. I cannot stress this enough. When I see posts on the Internet by groomers that are completely inexperienced with cats that say something to the effect of “Hey, I’ve never groomed a cat before. Can you tell me what I should do?” I start to freak out myself. EEEK! I actually get private messages and emails like this on a regular basis. It’s scary really. My answer: get some hands-on training from someone that genuinely knows how to groom all manner of cats and THEN accept cat clients for grooming. Until then, do not attempt to groom cats.

Over the years, I’ve had to rehabilitate many of those cats that didn’t get started out on the right foot because the groomer was inexperienced and unknowledgeable. At that point the owner is frustrated, the cat is stressed and angry, and the eventual rehab groomer has a big task in front of them. I beg of you, please do not attempt to groom a cat unless you’ve had some training in this manner. (And I’m just going to go ahead and say that by “training” I mean good training. The real kind that teaches you how to really groom real cats really well.)

Because of this new kitty’s temperament and the newness of the experience, I changed up the groom order a bit to go from nail trim to the bath to the CSV and then to a quick sani trim. The reason: clippers would have freaked her out if I started with that unusual and unknown sound and sensation right off the bat. The bath could have been a stress-fest but it was not because of the handling techniques and the method of water introduction. The cage dryer was the best way to slowly acclimate our new kitty client to a dryer before popping her in the CSV and starting her out with the soft air of the vac before turning on the higher-powered HV dryer. Using a Happy Hoodie, Air Muzzle or ecollar is a good choice with shy, scared cats like this to keep air movement around the head to a minimum when first starting out.

By the end of the 40-minute grooming session, this precious DLH went home clean, fluffy, mat-free and acting like a happy camper. The cat will be back in for regular grooming to keep her in tip-top shape. We started off on the right foot making future grooming sessions easier from here on out. We could have gotten off on the wrong foot and, hence, made future grooming sessions an escalating disaster. While there is the possibility of grooming rehabilitation for cats that have been mishandled that first time out, it’s so much better to get off on the right foot the first time around and avoid needless stress, risk of injury and nightmarish experiences for all.

temp-post-image I truly wished that we’d had time blocked out to videotape this particular groom because the handling lessons would have been invaluable. As I was lamenting the fact that we did not capture this footage on film, I was reminded of the importance of training with real cats and working face-to-face with a student. There simply is no substitute for this kind of training.

I look forward to having our new client at the salon again in the near future for her maintenance grooms. I look forward to building our initial trust relationship into a deeper, long-term one while, at the same time, keeping her skin and coat in fab condition.

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