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As casual as a day at the Spaw

Lori Karn loves your dog as much as you do. The owner of St. Jacobs Dog Spaw began her career in dog grooming because she didn’t like the way her own dog was treated when she took him to be groomed.

Twelve years and seven grooming shops later she treats every dog she grooms as if it were her own.

“It’s almost an art, you can’t be a negative person and carry a lot of stress because then the dogs can feel it,” she said.

Karn’s new shop is located in the basement of her St. Jacobs bungalow, its entrance an unassuming door next to her garage, almost unnoticeable. Inside customers are greeted by exciting barking from four-legged clients and a wall of brightly-coloured dog coats. Her last shop, Peticare, was located on
Albert Street in Waterloo. The successful business had a much larger clientele that kept her away from home more than she liked, so in late 2010, she sold it to move to smaller surroundings.

MUST LOVE (CLEAN) DOGS Groomer Lori Karn hangs out with Lennon, a client of her St. Jacobs Dog Spaw. Karn’s shop, run out of her basement, opened in late January.

Karn enjoys setting her own hours and the freedom that brings.

“When the kids get home from school, mommy is home,” she said with a smile. Although she takes great pains to separate her home life from her work life, even packing her lunch and bringing it downstairs with her at the start of the day. “When I’m at work, I’m at work.”

Even though she is scaling back her practice to spend more time on her personal life, Karn still sees up to 10 dogs in a typical day. Each dog starts with a bath, including conditioner to help moisturize their coat and reduce shedding. After the bath, fur is blown dry, nails are clipped and the dog is given a trim. Ideally, Karn likes to see her clients once every eight weeks, which allows the dogs’ fur and nails to be well maintained.

While Karn’s focus will always be pet-centered, gentle grooming, she’s pulling away from the kinds of dogs she used to specialize in, those who were traumatized at other groomers and needed special attention so they wouldn’t be afraid. Like a bad trip to the dentist, Karn said a bad trip to the groomers can impact a dog for life.

“I had dogs come here and they were really crazy and they leave here and they are so good,” Karn said, noting owners are shocked and delighted when their pets get good report cards. “It’s almost like I offered a daycare atmosphere, but I really didn’t charge for daycare, so that was a bonus.”

With smaller facilities Karn isn’t sure she can handle as many big or skittish dogs as before.

“That’s probably not so much my focus now,” she said. “I like to try the dog first and see how it goes, but if he looks bored or starts fights with the other dogs then I would say, ‘probably not the best facility for you.’”

Although, Karn would like to see fewer large breed or skittish dogs, she has yet to turn down a client. In a spare moment after a bath, Karn gets down on the floor with two Shitzus, Kayla and Sadie, and a husky-border collie cross, Lennon. She plays, pets and cuddles with the dogs, offering them the ‘good treats’ for their excellent behavior. The dogs act as though Karn’s basement is home, getting comfortable and enjoying the attention. Karn has kennels, but rarely uses them.

“I let them walk around, that’s been my philosophy all these years. Most people come to me because they don’t want their dog kenneled,” she said. “For 10 years I’ve groomed petting the dogs and letting them be at my feet. I can’t get away from that.”

Karn admits her own dog, a long-haired dachshund named Diesel, is kennel-trained, but she feels its mean to cage the dogs while she’s in the shop. Her soft heart wins out and the dogs are allowed to roam at her heels or find a quiet spot to lie down under her table.

The relaxed kenneling policy Karn has is in line with the rest of the operation, where she maintains her first priority is always the dogs.

“It’s all about love and kindness and gentle grooming.”

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