by Len Lear
Heather Brooks, 25, who opened a dog grooming business at 831 Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown in January named The Life of Riley, before that had one of the most unusual businesses imaginable for the animal lover that she is or for anyone else. For two years Heather worked full-time for a pest control company.
“I trained a bed bug detecting dog, Scout, a Beagle,” she explained. “The bugs release a scent that the dogs can detect. The dogs detect live eggs. Eventually there were four dogs, three Beagles and one Jack Russell Terrier.”
Although she still works part-time with the ‘bed bug dogs,” Heather had bigger fish to fry (so to speak), so she opened her own business named for her yellow Labrador Retriever, Riley (show dog name, Halcyon Life of Riley), who died two years ago of cancer at age 9. (By the way, in case you think that dog grooming is small treats, the American Pet Product Association says that the money spent on dog grooming has been increasing every year and is now more than $5 billion yearly.)
Heather always had dogs growing up in Sellersville, where she still lives. She graduated from Pennridge High School in Perkasie in 2009 and from Delaware Valley College four years later with a degree in animal science. “I was always into animals and always had Labs,” she said. “At age 10 I started going to dog shows, and in high school I talked my parents into getting me a Lab.”
The Lab lover also “showed” Bernese Mountain Dogs at numerous dog shows around the east coast, including the prestigious Westminster Dog Show twice. “Every single week I worked with dogs,” she said, “even though you don’t get paid anything if you’re under 18. The family in Center Valley (that owned the Bernese Mountain Dogs) was so nice, though. We did dozens of shows and won some ribbons.”
Heather, who also played soccer in high school, has always loved working with dogs because “I understand how dogs work. Not every dog is the same. I understand their behavior very well, and it’s so much fun when you can say to yourself, ‘I figured that dog out.’”
When Heather was just 16, she started working with Anne Marie Forde, owner of Sudsy Dog in Flourtown, bathing dogs. She also worked on a farm in Ottsville, Bucks County, for one year, mostly drawing blood from blood donor animals, but she has been considering the grooming business since college. “For me grooming is fun; I always enjoyed it. I’m very compassionate, and I love taking care of animals. I love when they come in looking not so good, and I can make them look great. That is very rewarding.”
Brooks rents space in the Sudsy Dog building for her business. She and Anne Marie Forde have a non-competitive relationship despite operating from the same building. Heather has been putting up flyers in dog parks, supermarkets and bulletin boards, and she created a Facebook page. “In this community everyone seems to know everyone,” Heather said. “It normally takes three to four hours to do the complete grooming. The big thing that Anne Marie taught me is thoroughness. Trim all the nails, wash and comb out. Make sure the dog is comfortable. The dog comes first.”
With Heather’s animal science degree, she could teach, do conservation work, work on thoroughbred horse farms, do research in the rain forest, etc. “I couldn’t do the wildlife work, though,” she said. “There are too many bugs, etc. Give me air conditioning instead … I need a plan for my life, and once I found grooming, I thought I could do this for the long haul.”
Laura S. Thayer, of Flourtown, has been delighted with Heather’s grooming of her Portuguese Water Dogs, Tiger and Leo, who are 2 and 1, respectively. “We have been to Heather three times now,” said Laura. “We had a bad experience at the place we went to before Heather, and we are so thankful to have her now grooming our pups! She is very flexible and accommodating and always goes over the plan for each dog.
“She is also very thorough, cleaning their ears and eyes and clipping their nails. She is really good about spacing out their visits, and the dogs love it there. Leo howls when we arrive, which is a happy sound, and Tiger loves to be loved. We are super grateful to have found Heather and would highly recommend her to anyone!”
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