By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Have you ever wondered, while grooming yourself in the bathroom mirror the morning after a hard day’s night, where the expression "hair of the dog" came from?
Neither have I. But I found out anyway one recent morning after an easy day’s night, when I took my hairy dog, Lizzie, for a canine coiffure and ended up being an apprentice groomer.
My day as a doggie beautician was spent at the PETCO store in Selden, N.Y., which has a salon and spa for furry customers in need of makeovers.
This palace of pooch pulchritude, which also caters to cats, is run by grooming manager Kathy Welborne, who started in the business when she was 16 and has 41 years of experience. That makes her 57, although, Welborne noted, "I’m only 8 in dog years."
Lizzie, who is 12, or 84 in human years, still has the intellect and playfulness of a puppy, just like her daddy, who is 54, or almost 8 in dog years, which means I am old enough to know better, but, unlike Lizzie, I don’t.
At least I know how to keep my dog looking shiny and clean because I was Welborne’s right-paw man during her session with Lizzie, which began with a light brushing.
"She has a good coat," Welborne said. "It’s beautiful."
Lizzie, a mixed breed (Lab, border collie, Zezimanian), gave Welborne a kiss and wagged her tail appreciatively.
After meeting Tinkerbell, a 2-year-old cocker-poo who actually smiled as she was being brushed by pet stylist Melissa Garveric, we went into the spa so Lizzie could have a bath. Welborne and grooming assistant Kim Sciacca lifted her plump, 68-pound figure into an elevated tub. My job was to remove Lizzie’s collar and assure her that Welborne wouldn’t get soap in her eyes.
She didn’t, but that didn’t stop Lizzie from getting soap in my eyes when she shook herself off after being lathered with a tearless shampoo and rinsed with a soothing stream of warm water.
"Sorry I don’t have a rubber apron to keep you dry," said Welborne, who wore a waterproof smock.
"That’s OK," I replied. "I’m all wet anyway."
So was Lizzie, who loved every minute of it. The shampoo Welborne used on her had a gingerbread scent, which prompted Sciacca to remark, "She smells like a cookie!"
"I could use some of that shampoo," I said, pointing to my unruly mop.
"What do you use now?" Welborne asked.
"Woolite," I replied.
When I asked who has better hair, me or Lizzie, Welborne said, "You don’t want me to answer that, do you?"
"Yes," I said.
Welborne’s emphatic response: "Lizzie."
Next, she clipped the dog’s nails. "Lizzie’s getting a pet-icure," I remarked.
Welborne sighed. So did Lizzie.
It was my turn to sigh when Welborne regaled me with stories of memorable customers, including the woman who dressed her dog in a wedding gown. "This woman was going to take her dog to a breeder," Welborne recalled, "so after I gave the dog a beauty treatment, the woman put a dress on her so she could meet the groom."
"I guess they exchanged wedding bow-wows," I noted.
Welborne nodded and said, "I don’t even want to think about the honeymoon."
After Sciacca helped Welborne lift Lizzie out of the tub, I held her while Welborne sprayed her with a hair-taming, static-free styling aid and dried her off, first with a towel and then with a low-temperature, hand-held hair dryer. Next, Welborne gave Lizzie a comb-out as I watched the fur fly.
Then Lizzie was placed in a kennel large enough to accommodate me and relaxed while being gently air-dried by three large hoses. I declined the invitation to wait in the kennel next to Lizzie’s and instead went back out front to meet Welborne’s pooch, Sophie, a 3-year-old Shih Tzu who was working as the maitre dog, greeting customers as they came in for appointments.
"She gets paid in treats," said Welborne, who also has two cats and is a member of the Nature and Wildlife Photographers of Long Island.
After 45 minutes, Welborne took Lizzie out and brushed her teeth, then put her back in the kennel to finish drying. About 10 minutes later, she was all done. Welborne gave Lizzie an extra spritz of gingerbread and put a pink and red bow on her collar.
"You’re beautiful, Lizzie!" Welborne exclaimed.
"Woof, woof!" Lizzie replied in gratitude.
Welborne thanked me for being such a good assistant and invited me back.
"How about next week?" I said. "I could use a haircut."
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima