Jackie and her husband, Ray, run a dog grooming service in Newburyport, Ma. During our interview, a woman brought in her lab, and Ray stopped what he was doing to lift the dog onto the table. He petted him and said hello, while Jackie circled and clipped each toenail in a matter of minutes. Everything happened so fast that the lab didn’t have time to get anxious: he was in, and then he was out. Jackie refers to this as tag-teaming.
I started Bartlett’s Cove in 1988. I had apprenticed under a woman, who was one of the top groomers in the area for a year and a half, and I accidentally got pregnant, and when I came back and told her I got pregnant she was furious. Obviously she couldn’t fire me, but you knew she wanted to. So I came home all upset and my husband Raymond said, you work so hard, why don’t you open for yourself? I’m like, I’m eight months pregnant, what do you want? He found the place, set this up and put up the walls.
Our idea was if I had the shop here, I could have [my son] Dan here, because I really didn’t want somebody else bringing up my kid. I didn’t trust anybody. Behind this wall was a carpeted area, and that was Dan’s playroom. For awhile he was called the mayor of Newburyport because everybody knew him
We opened in July and had another opening in August. We had two grand openings, [the second] here, which I wasn’t at because (she was having her baby).
I think it was 15 days later I came back here with Dan in his baby bucket. [After] about a year and a half of complaining, Ray came in. I said I can teach you a trade. It’s been 30 years. People say how old is the business? I say, wait, how old is Dan?
(Jackie got started dog grooming at 17 or 18 when an acquaintance of her father’s needed to find a home for a poodle. She took it in but the dog bit everyone in the house, and she got sick of paying people to groom it, so she started doing it herself.)
I’ve been working since I was 11. I worked in a hair salon for my mom at the front counter. I was a waitress, that’s how I met Ray. I was waitressing at Prince Restaurant in Saugus: the leaning tower. It was crowded, the band was playing, it was very loud, and I smacked right into him—literally ran into him with a tray full of beers. I said to him, something like, we’ve got to stop meeting like this people are going to talk. And he was the first person to say Oh, let ‘em talk.
In this business, it’s word of mouth: word of mouth is everything. It’s like a daycare: if the daycare has a bad reputation there will be no children, and most people think more of their dogs than their children.
I think the reason we’ve been more successful is because we work as a tag team. It makes things go faster, it makes people feel better. If we have a little dog, we’ll stand right at this half door and Ray will hold him, and I’ll just take the toenail clippers and go around, and then send him home.
I laugh when I see some of these other places. One has a big thing and it says ‘treat your dog to the day of its dreams, let it have a spa day.’ It talks just short of a seaweed wrap for your dog.
You want to make your dog happy? Get it in here, get it done, get it the hell out, and take it to the park. And let it roll in something obnoxious. That’s going to make your dog happy, not painted toenails.
The problem I have with trying to humanize a dog, let’s look at that: the average human I know is a real prick. The average dog you meet is really cool, and they’re all cool pretty much. Why are you trying to humanize them? They are better. They forgive and they do forget.
Any person can hang out a shingle and call themselves groomers. Some say certified groomer, but that just means you went to school and got a certificate saying you learned it. That’s one thing about this profession that is wrong. Hairdressers [at least] are held accountable.
I just feel that there should at least be some kind of governing force; people should know that you have some idea what you’re doing. We could do so much damage. It’s not like that stupid commercial that Petco puts on TV, where they’re walking around going da da da. A Pomeranian’s not going to stand on that table unless it’s a show dog. There are some dogs, it’s like grooming a piñata—they’re just all over the place. I’ve had my head sat on. I think it’s kind of deceiving if you say “certified groomer.” I’m not a certified groomer, but I’ve got 30 years in, I’ve got a triple A rating with the Better Business Bureau, got a great reputation in town, 5-star rating, but I’m not certified. Does that make me less?
It’s a good business. It’s hard physically, emotionally. You’re dealing with sad stories, human or four-legged. It’s demanding. The hardest part about this job is you’re being judged. If I have seven dogs I groom today, I’m being judged seven times every day.
Our doctor refers to Ray and I as her rodeo clowns. We have so many things that need to be fixed, replaced or repaired, from damage from being beaten up, that we look like a bunch of rodeo clowns. We creak like rodeo clowns. Being a physical business, it does take its toll: carpal tunnel, arthritis.
I think grooming would be a great profession for somebody younger who’s in college. Somebody can make decent money, but on your way to something better.
Everybody knows who I am and what I do here. I don’t have to pay for advertising anymore. We have our own 3,500 clients. They come and go. Anywhere from 10 to 15 [dogs a day]. Fifteen’s a little high for me right now. I like 12. You can’t do this if you’re overtired or you’re grumpy. The dogs, they’re so sensitive. They’re the only ones that keep us sane because you look in their eyes and they’re saying, how’s your day? How are you doing?
I believe that the problem with how the United States has been run is in the 50s and the 40s you did your job, you had your wife, your kids, your house, that was the American dream, and you retired and you had your retirement. I think what we haven’t realized is that’s gone. The traditional American family is not coming back.
I may go down the tubes, but I’m the last one off the friggin’ truck. If I fail, I fail because I fail. We just changed things. Now we’re open Sundays. I’m taking Tuesday and Wednesday off, and I’m open the rest of the week. I have one lady who said Sunday is God’s day, and I said, well God’s just gonna’ have to understand I got to make a living.