Pup cuts for less

Fifi's offers half-price cuts

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  • | 11:26 a.m. October 6, 2010
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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The salon has “palace” in the name, so it’s obvious the clients would be particular about their hair.

They’re not generally easy to work with, and those who work there must charm them before even getting started on the hair wash.

Beginning the cut takes a lot of sweet-talking, and sometimes even petting. Even after all that, the worst still snarl and bite.

“They misbehave on a regular basis,” said Judy Talarico.

Talarico is the director of education for the Florida Institute of Animal Arts in Winter Park. The school’s grooming salon, Fifi’s Pet Palace, is where most of its students get their instruction. The Institute is the only accredited pet grooming school in Florida. It offers programs for pet grooming and veterinarian assisting.

Getting their hands dirty

Students spend about an hour of the 8-hour days in the classroom for lecture, but the rest of the education is done hands-on in Fifi’s Pet Palace. First, students learn the basics of dealing with the animals — how to read their behavior, how to keep them calm and even signs of sickness to alert the pet owner to.

“What I’ve learned so far is incredible,” said student Carol Hurd. “There’s so much you don’t realize you don’t know about dogs.”

After all that, the students really get in there, and it’s not always fun.

“You have to have a passion for working with animals,” said Talarico. “You commit to a job that is sometimes going to be dirty, smelly hard work.”

The worst part of the job is emptying a dog’s anal glands, said Kathie Gagel, a grooming instructor at the school. There’s no need for much description, only that getting sprayed in the face isn’t pleasant, and getting the smell out sometimes takes more than one washing, she said.

“It’s almost like getting skunked,” she said.

The biggest hazard of the job, though, students said, is getting bitten. The little ones are the worst about it. But student Janet Stanton said even then, it’s not that bad.

“The worst thing a dog can do it bite you, but then they kiss you,” she said.

That kind of loving, positive attitude was apparent with a visit to the grooming area. Instructors watched and gave advice as students carefully trimmed puffy poodle ears and cooed to dogs with big, nervous eyes.

Donating love

And that love doesn’t just go to paying customers. The Palace also donates its grooming services to rescue group animals.

Talarico said they groom about 20 rescue dogs a week. Jerry McCoy, the training director from Openheart, a pet rescue shelter, said that with all the expenses the non-profit has, without donated grooming, the matted-hair pups would be passed up by the rescue.

“They are making a life-and-death difference,” McCoy said.

McCoy specifically remembers one of the first dogs to go to Fifi’s, three years ago. Now named Bear, the Chow-Golden Retriever mix had hair matted so badly his tail was connected to his leg. He was scheduled to be euthanized, but the kill shelter couldn’t fit him in its gas chamber, so they handed him over to McCoy.

“Fifi came to the rescue.”

They worked on Bear for four hours, and he later landed in “doggy paradise” with his new owner.

Half-price cuts

And while customers don’t get their dogs groomed for free like the rescue shelters, the prices at Fifi’s are extremely affordable. Because students are doing the work, the prices are 40 to 50 percent cheaper than a regular groomer, Talarico said.

That means a wait for an appointment. Customers should expect to book theirs two weeks in advance.

The economy has helped business at the school.

“Right now for a lot of people, money is a concern,” Talarico said.

The pooch job market

But even though the economy isn’t so hot, the pet business is. The industry continues to grow, while other industries are stagnant or receding, Talarico said.

And the proof is in the school’s graduates.

Several have their own grooming businesses in the area, including Karina Pastrana’s Happy Paws Pet Resort in East Orlando. Her 5,000-square-foot facility boasts pet suites with LCD televisions, a bone-shaped swimming pool and a spa-like grooming facility, where your pet can get a “pawdicure.”

Pastrana said she felt comfortable with the boarding aspect of the pet business, but not grooming, which is why she decided to go to the institute.

“There’s a lot of versatility; you’re exposed to lots of different grooming styles because you’re exposed to different teachers,” she said. “I felt very prepared.”

Pastrana said that in this industry, where “there’s always somewhere else they can go”, you have to roll with the punches and change for your customers. She said the school taught her that, but her creativity and passion is what’s brought her success.

Talarico said she loves to see that from her graduates.

“You get to see them out there, being successful, and they’re loving it.”


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