Dog grooming business opens in Polson amid pandemic
Brenda Grogan and Lance Best, owners of The Barking Lot, groom dogs by day and tend their menagerie of critters – including two cattle dogs, two dachshunds (one with puppies), a team of sled dogs, two mares and a foal, a BLM rescue burro, and free-roaming chickens and turkeys – by night.
“To be a really good groomer you have to have a lot of empathy and really care about animals,” says Grogan. “It’s not about what they look like, it’s about what’s best for them.” She says this while shearing the long locks of an Australian Labradoodle named Elke, as her partner, Lance, bathes Zorro. The couple grooms an average of nine dogs a day at their shop on Thirrd Ave. E. in Polson.
In a way, it’s a logical trajectory for a girl who aspired to become a veterinarian. Grogan grew up in California’s central valley, and earned a degree in wildlife biology from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She worked her way through school as a veterinary technician, and met Best, another biology major, along the way.
After graduating the young couple found work at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Valdez, Alaska – the largest pink salmon hatchery in North America. Although it paid well, the work was grueling. Employees spent hours in the dark, attired head to toe in rain gear, standing in a cascade of cold water while harvesting and incubating salmon eggs. Grogan said of the work: “I thought, is this my life?”
Grogan began working for a local dog groomer on her days off, who encouraged her to learn the trade. She found a course near her hometown, the Cal-A-Hi Dog Grooming School of Chico, Calif., and returned to Alaska in 1997 with certification in hand. She eventually purchased the pet store and grooming business from her boss, and says, “I’ve been grooming ever since.”
When the couple relocated to the small community of Willow, she started a grooming business in her garage. Best began to lend her a hand on weekends, and when they moved to Montana last summer to be near her family, he became her full-time assistant.
The couple works in unison – he bathes the canine customers with a system that mixes shampoo and water (like a pooch-friendly pressure washer) and uses a high-velocity dryer to prepare them for the grooming table.
“As I get older, it’s a lot of work, so now, I can just do the grooming part and not the bathing and drying,” says Grogan. Best also helps hold wriggly or reluctant customers. “It’s a lot easier for me, and it’s easier on the dogs, too.”
Grogan admits that grooming is rarely a dog’s idea of fun. “I equate it to going to the dentist or a gynecologist – it really doesn’t hurt but you don’t want to do it,” she says. Dogs who have been groomed since puppyhood tend to be more relaxed, while older dogs or those with behavioral issues can be a handful.
“My favorite thing is to see relationships be built,” she says. “It’s always nice to have the easy dogs, but it’s neat to see problem dogs who have been abused, or whatever, get confident with me grooming them and learn to trust me.”
While pets leave the shop with a new haircut, fresh scent, dapper kerchief and tasty dog treat, “I realize I’m not going to be their favorite person,” she says. Despite the popularity factor, “It’s a neat craft and I enjoy it.”
Starting a business last July, with the pandemic still raging, was a daunting proposition. But word spread, aided in part by her mother, who resides in Mission Bay, handing out business cards from her golf cart. Customers were a little sparse last winter, but now, she’s typically booked two weeks in advance.
The couple usually finishes by early afternoon heads home to tend an even larger collection of critters. “There’s always something,” she says.
For more information on The Barking Lot, call 406-270-9985 or find the shop on Facebook.