by BETH ALTENA
There are two things to know about Donna Bouwkamp, groomer and owner of Petropolis Pet Grooming Salon at 118-1/2 Courtland Street (across the parking lot from Rockford Lanes). She can read dogs’ minds and she does butts. Bouwkamp is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her dog grooming business and has seen the clientele grow over the years from 200 to 1,500 dogs. She credits the business success with repeat clients and referrals, and said it is interesting what they don’t teach in grooming school.
“The cuts aren’t hard to learn. What they don’t tell you is that every dog and every dog’s hair is different, just like people are,” she said.
Bouwkamp said she looked into grooming years ago when she became tired of factory work. She loved animals, so she asked area vets what service in the pet industry was needed in the area. “They all said we need more groomers,” Bouwkamp reported. She purchased Petropolis from the owner, who had just started the business and decided she didn’t like grooming after all, and Bouwkamp was on her way in her new career.
Bouwkamp said grooming is a somewhat seasonal business, being slower in January and February, and really busy before the holidays and in summer months. It isn’t for everyone, she said and noted most people have no idea what goes into a full groom. In addition to a bath, drying and brushing out, all dogs have their ears cleaned, nails clipped and their anal glands emptied.
“Dogs need it and vets hate to do it, so the groomers do it,” Bouwkamp said of anal gland manipulation. She said the glands are a holdover from when dogs were wild and very active, hunting their own food, and fighting for territory and mates. The couch potatoes of today need a little help in that department.
“I do butts,” Bouwkamp stated.
At Petropolis some staff members are better at tasks than others and Bouwkamp is the salon’s best when it comes to anal glands. Another groomer is very good with cats, and Bouwkamp admits she is squeemish when it comes to removing a stray hair from a dog’s eye—not so with anal glands.
The subject is just one of the things groomers don’t hear about in training. Another is the need to read dogs’ minds. Bouwkamp also has this skill, and can tell when a client is prone to getting nippy. This is a useful talent in the grooming business. Again, like people, dogs all have their own personality and need to be treated like the individuals they are.
The third thing Bouwkamp noted groomers only learn on the job is the sadness of losing a client after a lifetime of care. She said having been in business a quarter of a century, she has clients who are on their second or third dog. “I’ve been here 25 years and dogs just don’t live that long,” she said. “I cry with them [owners]. It’s a heartbreak to take care of a dog from a puppy to getting old and see them go.”
The job has its joys as well, and Bouwkamp said she loves every minute of work. A small-business owner, she knows putting in long hours is a given. “When you’re the boss, you’re always here for 10 to 12 hours.” She recalls the Christmas rushes, coming in at 7 a.m. and sometimes not finishing up with the last dog until midnight.
Bouwkamp said it is unusual for a groomer to stay in business as long as she has because of bad backs from “dog wrestling” and wrist injury from handling scissors and clippers so much. In her long tenure, she has seen so many businesses come and go that only a handful have been around longer. “Dr.Fowle, my eye doctor, Great Northern Trading, Baskets in the Belfry, Ward’s Hair Car, The Corner Bar, the gas station and the post office have all been here longer,” she noted (and The Rockford Squire).
“We have a good group here,” Bouwkamp said of her fellow groomers at Petropolis. “I love my job. I love getting to know the dogs.”
In addition to dogs and cats, Petropolis has had other requests over the years. Bouwkamp described a little boy who came in with a bucket and shyly asked her to trim the nails of his pet turtle. After some prodding and time, she was able to clip the nails. The cost? “I just let that go,” she laughed.
Bouwkamp is the wife of Mike Bouwkamp of the City of Rockford Department of Public Services. The couple will celebrate their 15th year of marriage in 2011 and have two daughters in Rockford Public Schools. They are the family that for years flipped the lights on at the annual Lighting Ceremony at the dam.
Grooming at Petropolis is by appointment during the week and every other weekend. You can reach Bouwkamp or her staff at (616) 866-2939 or in person in the parking lot behind Right At Home. Look for the red door with the paw prints.