Lesley Garratt of Canine Design, a member of the Guild of Master Groomers, kindly agrees to share her love and enthusiasm for grooming.
As a child of about 8 years old Lesley read an article in her Mother’s Woman’s Weekly about a professional dog groomer (for a while they ran a job profile every week). Lesley had always loved animals and aspired to work with them, but in those days this wasn’t considered a ‘proper job’ and her parents dismissed her ambitions as a pipe dream.
Lesley says, "Even though I went to secretarial college after leaving school, as working with animals had ‘no prospects’, my secret ambition of becoming a dog groomer never left me. I did some training when I was in my early 20s and continued to groom as a hobby for around ten years, then finally decided to take the plunge and start my own business.
"I have to say DeZynadog played a big part in my decision to groom full time, as I went to one of their seminars and was so inspired by what I saw that I never looked back. I have a great deal to thank Carole, Mandy and Trevor for, as becoming a dog groomer was one of my biggest and most important life changes.”
About two years after starting her business, Lesley was offered the position of grooming lecturer at a local college and that was where she discovered her enjoyment in teaching others to groom and the satisfaction of seeing somebody else blossom into a caring and competent groomer.
Lesley says that she is very pro qualifications for many reasons. "I feel it gives professionalism to the industry if groomers take the time and trouble to become qualified. Also, from a personal point of view, I feel that qualifications give you much more self worth and the need to study for your exams vastly improves your knowledge.
"I realise there are still many people in the grooming industry who hold no qualifications and are very competent groomers, having learned possibly on the show circuit, from being a breed specialist or possibly acquiring skills passed down from older, more experienced people. In fact, some of the best groomers I know are self taught, often unqualified, but they obviously possess a natural talent, which sadly we are not all blessed with.
"I had to work very hard to reach the standards I have achieved – it didn’t come particularly easily to me, but it was well worth the effort, as I have been lucky enough to have a fulfilled and rewarding career.”
Not having done a huge amount of competing, Lesley found her teaching career to be all-consuming, both physically and mentally. "My involvement with competitions has been much more about helping others to achieve success. I am particularly interested in helping and encouraging young groomers and several of the young people we have trained have achieved success at the Young Kennel Club Groomer of the Year Competition.
"We have trained three YKC Groomers of the Year (one of whom was my daughter, Lottie, when she was only 11 years old) and one runner-up YKC Groomer of the Year (my eldest daughter, Millie, when she was also 11 years old). My youngest daughter, Lottie, has been grooming and been on the competition circuit since she was seven years old – she has qualified for YKC Groomer of the Year every year since this age and has always been placed.”
Lesley started her grooming business in June 1992, "so it is our 20th anniversary this year (how time flies!). I started out as a lone groomer working from a workshop which I had built next to my house. It was very small – about the size of a single garage, but I loved it and was very proud of it. When I first started, I couldn’t believe I was finally my own boss and didn’t have to answer to anyone, having worked as a PA/secretary for about 15 years since I left school.
"When I was out and about driving around collecting people’s dogs, I would get this amazing feeling of freedom and I knew this was what I would always want to do.”
When Lesley first started grooming, she says her aspirations were small, she never really expected to be any more than a groomer working away on her own in her little workshop. However, events overtook her and after a couple of house moves within the village and moving the business to a couple of different locations (again always within the village of Evercreech), the shop and house where the family now live came unexpectedly onto the market. "We didn’t really think we could afford it, but my husband and I went to view it and both fell in love with the property. We both felt that it was too good an opportunity to miss and did everything we possibly could to raise the money we needed.”
During this time Lesley worked hard to achieve all her qualifications, starting out with the old style City & Guilds Level 3 and then progressing on to achieve her Higher Diploma. Being awarded the LCGI at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in London was a very proud moment. Lesley says she is also very proud to say that her business is now one of the largest and most successful dog grooming training academies in the country, and the rest is history.
The family consists of four dogs – a Chow cross called Isaac, a Parti Poodle called Paddi (nicknamed Chicken), a Griffon Bruxellois called Eric and a Border Terrier called Todi. Lesley says she would love a Mexican Hairless, but that she has recently made a decision not to buy any more dogs. "All my dogs from now on will be rescues. I made this decision recently, having got involved in rescuing an elderly lurcher whose owner had sadly been taken into care. The family couldn’t cope with him and were going to put him to sleep.
"When I spoke to our local rescue centre they said they were completely full and literally couldn’t fit in another dog. They said that sadly, in the current economic climate, very few people are adopting animals and they are reaching crisis point with all the animals being given up.
"We also have a Jackdaw called Spudley who we hand-reared when he fell out of the nest two years ago, a Patagonian Conure called Clinton, a ferret called Dennis (both of whom are rescued), seven chicken and a cockerel called Colin. We also regularly have temporary feathered residents recuperating at our home, as my husband, Carl, is very knowledgeable about birds and all the locals bring any injured birds they find to him to look after. He released a seagull only last week which he had found caught up in a trout pen at a local reservoir – we kept it for about a month and looked after it while its injured wing and leg healed.”
As for clients, Lesley doesn’t really have one favourite breed to trim, more individual dogs which she enjoys grooming. "I enjoy handstripping breeds such as Border Terriers and Parson Russells, but I also enjoy trimming some (but not all!) scissored breeds. I also love grooming crossbreeds, as you can bring out their most attractive features and use artistic license in your trimming. Strangely, I also enjoy grooming the one Skye Terrier that visits our salon – she is always knotty and has to be clipped in areas, but she always goes out looking very glamorous and it is a very rewarding thing to do.”
Lesley says there are items of equipment she couldn’t live without, firstly the Blaster. "We use them a huge amount in our salon. I also love the cabinet dryer and how it makes the grooming process so much easier on the oldies and the infirm dogs. I also love my Les Pooches Matt Zapper and my Geib Katana scissors.”
As for new groomers Lesley recommends, "Keep focussed and remember, after you have learned to groom it will get harder before it gets easier! The dogs always play up the inexperienced groomer, but it takes time, practise and patience to gain their respect and for the grooming process to become easier. Also, always remember when you are working on a difficult dog that the dog didn’t ask to come to be groomed – if you get stressed never take it out on the dog – put it away, have a break then come back to it if you feel your patience wearing thin. Calm, assertive handling at all times is the key to being a good, caring groomer.
"If you love dogs, this is the most rewarding career you could have. Have self worth, always do your best and charge accordingly. Stick to this ethos and you will never lose the thrill of seeing a happy, healthy dog trot out of your shop with its owner, looking immaculate and full of the joys of spring!”