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The Groom Room, A Willowdale Dog’s Dream

Most people wait until early adulthood to choose a career. Not Lori, owner of the Groom Room. By fourteen, she was already working with animals at a vet clinic. By sixteen, she’d opened her own business — the one she still runs today.

image of the groom room treatment room

Intrigued, I wanted to learn more. So I sat down with Lori last week to talk about dogs, grooming and health.

“I think that when you have a passion for something, it’s kind of innate. You’re born into it,” Lori tells me. “When I was very young my parents gave me one of those treasury books where it asks what you want to be and all those cute things. I look back now and right at the beginning, it says, ‘I want to be a vegetarian.’ I meant ‘veterinarian’,” she laughs, “but I didn’t know how to spell it.”

That early realization led Lori to an early start in her career. “When I was fourteen, my parents let me take [my dog] to the vet on my own. And when I went to the clinic, I asked a ton of questions because I was thinking I’d love to be a vet.

The vet said, “I can see you have an interest. If you’re ever doing a project or need any help in school, by all means come back.”

“I said, ‘I do have a question: Can I have a job?'” Just like that, Lori was working at the vet clinic at fourteen. She was assigned to cleaning, “Walking the dogs”, she tells me, “the basic stuff.” But on her very first day, she arrived to find a clinic empty — the staff liked late lunches — except for the veterinarian himself.

Literally seconds after I walked in, a woman came in screaming that her Yorkie was in labour and struggling. It wasn’t a patient that the vet was expecting. We had to do an emergency C-Section and I was the only person there to help.

image of Lori Shacter grooming a dog

But she didn’t panic and, due to lack of options, the vet used her as his assistant. “I could only do what he was telling me — make sure she was breathing, watch the colour of her gums, turn the oxygen machine to the right number. He was very precise in what he was telling me, but he had no other choice. It was an emergency. And that was my very first day.”

Lori was still at the clinic, learning about animal behaviour and training as a vet tech, when the in-house groomer, Janice, took an interest in her. “I had a schnauzer, the dog I had originally brought into the clinic, who was terrified of being groomed.”  Janice offered to teach Lori how to groom the schnauzer.

“Maybe a year and a half or so after this, people started to ask me where I got my dog groomed. I told them, ‘I do it myself.’ I went to the vet, who’d I’d developed a really nice relationship with, and he told me to use the key anytime I want to, after they closed on evenings and weekends, and to bring in my own grooming clients.”

Lori was just sixteen at the time. As her business expanded, she developed an idea that would separate her — at the time — from standard groomers. “At the time, and sort of still today but there’s been a shift, it was assembly-line grooming. Get as many dogs into the shop as possible. I didn’t want that — I wanted an open environment where it was daycare-like, where they could come in and play or lie down at your feet.”

The Groom Room (7 of 7)

Along with her open-concept philosophy, Lori also applied her medical knowledge — from years of training as a vet tech — to her grooming practice. “When it comes to grooming, I go for humanity over vanity.”

She chooses natural products as often as possible, resists de-matting in serious cases and looks for signs of poor health when grooming. “Grooming is not something you do get your dog fancy. It’s a health thing. Because I have a medical background, my dogs get varied care. It’s not just about the dog’s coat, we’re looking for things that would be potential precursors to illnesses, things owners need to check out.”

To sum it up, she says, “I believe in practical, solid grooming. Let dogs be dogs.”

But she couldn’t do it all on her own, and owes a lot of credit to her staff. “The staff that I have are bar-none, the best in the city. They have really contributed to the success of my business. Because I had a vision, but that included balancing work and family. I wanted to bring up my kids, so I really relied on staff that shared my same [business] ideal.”

Today, Lori has two locations in the Willowdale area. On her success so far, she tells me, “I’m just proud to say we treat dogs like they’re ours.” And that’s a business we can get behind.

Check out The Groom Room on FS Local.