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Mobile grooming service is for the dogs (and cats)

| Saturday, April 21, 2012, 1:51 p.m.

BLAIRSVILLE -- Surging prices at the pump have forced many people to get creative in finding ways to ease off the gas pedal.

A new dog grooming service in the Blairsville area gives consumers another way to save -- Fur Pawz Only brings the dog groomer to the customer.

Owner and groomer Suzy Chew of Blairsville said her fully-equipped van is "basically a (pet) salon on wheels."

Pets climb right into the van and are bathed, dried, fluffed, brushed and cut to their owners' specifications.

"The customers like it," Chew said of her mobile business. "A lot of people didn't even know things like this existed."

Chew has worked with animals, as both a groomer and a veterinary assistant, for over a decade.

She started as a bather at a veterinary clinic in Florida in 1987. She moved to Sarasota, Fla., a few months later and answered an ad for a mobile grooming service that also offered training.

Stints as a veterinary assistant in Tennessee and a computer instructor in Florida's Orange County public library system followed, while she also earned a degree in computer programming.

She ended up in Pennsylvania in 2007, following her boyfriend who moved to be with his family in New Alexandria. A job programming a business' website ended when her client closed shop.

Chew knew she wanted to get back to working with animals and was hired in 2010 as a part-time vet assistant with the Action for Animals shelter in Derry Township. She mentioned her experience grooming animals, and soon was caring for the aesthetic well-being of the dogs and cats at the shelter.

Deciding to further her education in the field, she earned certification as both a pet hygienist and a pet groomer through an online course that required her to groom dogs of various breeds and coat textures.

After she worked with the shelter a few months, she began to get requests from people to come to their homes to groom their animals, particularly from owners who had adopted dogs with special needs.

"That's when I started to see there was a market for that in this area," Chew said. "The more work I did, the more I determined mobile is the way to go."

The demand became so great that Chew decided to resign from her job at the shelter and try her hand at full-time grooming, though she still volunteers her services to the shelter as a groomer.

She started out by going to her clients' homes, bringing her own equipment, but using their utility tubs to bathe the animals.

"That worked out well," she said. "It just wasn't growing enough."

Remembering her days working with the mobile grooming service in Florida, Chew began searching for a van that she could use to launch her own mobile salon.

Late last year she purchased an already-equipped, heated and air-conditioned van from a Tionesta groomer whose growing business demanded a bigger vehicle.

By January, Fur Pawz Only was officially in business. Chew relied mostly on word-of-mouth to gain customers, but the van itself serves as a mobile billboard. "I drive down the road and people call me," she said.

The Fur Pawz Only van can be seen within a 25-mile radius of Blairsville. Chew goes as far north as Clymer and as far south as Ligonier for her clients. "But that's about as far as I go," she said, especially with gas as high-priced as it is.

Chew installed a generator in the van to power the equipment if needed, but she can also plug into a customer's outdoor power outlet. Because the generator runs on gas, and gasoline prices have skyrocketed in recent months, plugging into a client's power source ultimately saves them money. The high price of gas means she has to charge her clients extra if she's forced to use the generator.

The gas price situation worries her a bit, Chew admitted, but she said, "I'm hoping that, with having the option to plug in, it won't affect me too much."

Eventually, she looks to get an inverter system installed. The inverter system draws power from a series of car batteries that would be powerful enough to run all of the equipment. Like an electric car, the batteries would then be charged overnight.

Rub a dub, dub...

All breeds can be serviced by Fur Pawz Only, but due to the size of the tub in the van, Chew cannot groom anything larger than a standard poodle. If the client has an outdoor hose, that is an option for the summer months when the weather is warm enough.

Owners are always invited to sit in on their pet's grooming session, but Chew said if the dog is distracted by the owner's presence, it may be safer for the owner to leave.

To clean clients' pets, Chew uses a hydro-surge bathing tub system that has a recirculating pump and massage nozzle. The van holds a 50-gallon tank for fresh water used in bathing, with a tank underneath for the used "gray water."

A hydraulic table in the van can be raised and lowered depending on the size of the dog, and features a grooming arm and loop -- a metal appendage that hangs over the table with a large eyelet that can be looped around the dog's neck to keep it steady.

The van is equipped with a clipper vac that keeps fur from flying when it's cut and a dryer that blows dry any moisture remaining in the coat.

Chew hopes to attend a yearly grooming expo that is held in Hershey, where she can take classes and learn about new products.

Chew tries to keep her prices all-inclusive, so her clients are never surprised by extra costs.

"A lot of places will charge extra for things like brushing their teeth, de-shedding treatments and flea baths," she said. With Fur Pawz Only, "If your dog needs a flea bath, he's going to get a flea bath."

When a dog is groomed by Fur Pawz Only, it is not a simple wash and cut. A basic haircut will include a nail trim, an ear cleaning, a clipping of the paw bottoms, choice of shampoo, a doggy facial, a teeth cleaning, coat conditioner, and a blow dry and brushing.

The cost for Chew's services is calculated by the size of the dog and whether or not a haircut is needed.

The cost for a haircut, including all of the above services, starts at $50 and goes up from there depending on the dog's size and the condition of the coat.

If a haircut isn't necessary, and the dog simply needs a bath and a little sprucing up, Chew lowers the fee.

Felines aren't neglected by Fur Pawz Only -- Chew also offers a variety of services for cats, also beginning at $50.

"When I was doing house calls, my target market was senior citizens," Chew said. "It kind of grew from there. That's when I decided to go mobile, but I didn't want to kill people with prices."

Mobile grooming usually costs $15 to $20 more than a regular grooming salon, but for some, the convenience it provides pays for itself.

Since the groomer comes to their home, the client isn't paying for gas to get to a salon and back, and if the salon isn't near their home, they don't have to worry about where to kill time while their animal is being cared for.

"With gas prices going up, some mobile groomers have seen business pick up," she said, noting that clients "would rather use someone else's gas."

Though she's been serving clients for just three months, "Business is picking up," Chew said. "I'd like to see it pick up a little more, but it will come."

Chew operates Fur Pawz Only on weekdays with appointments beginning at 9 a.m. With summer approaching, she said she may try to add one evening per week as well and will schedule the occasional Saturday appointment if needed.

For more information about Fur Pawz Only, visit or call 724-541-6204.

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