The call of the wild

The growing trend in designer grooming circles: turning your dog into a panda, a tiger, a snake

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It’s the year of the tiger in China, and to celebrate, many pet owners have begun transforming their dogs to look like the orange and black felines. Some retrievers have their fur dyed a bright orange, with lifelike black and white stripes. There’s even a competition in which dogs are groomed to resemble other animals, ranging from pandas to fish. Ren Netherland, an animal photographer who has been shooting at dog shows for 25 years, has seen “just about everything”: buffaloes, giraffes, horses, iguanas.

While Japan, Korea and China are now gaining fame for their dyed pooches, the trend started at a Chicago grooming show in the late ’80s, according to Todd Shelley, editor of Groomer to Groomer magazine. It’s still growing. This year, Groom Expo, the world’s largest such show, held in Hershey, Penn., is doubling its creative grooming seminars, to eight. And Shelley has worked with the Learning Channel to shoot a pilot of a reality show called Extreme Poodles, which follows dog groomers as they turn their dogs into different animals and objects to compete. It aired June 13.

Despite their unusual hobby, Shelley says the groomers “aren’t people that stick out as being wacky. It’s no different than anyone being creative or artistic with a blank canvas.” They use vegetable-based dye, Blo pens (pens like mini-spray cans), coloured chalk, and water-soluble glue to stick on accoutrements like feathers.

“People will say we are being cruel,” says Valerie Weston, a dog groomer for 25 years and owner of Simply the Best Dog Gone Salon in Yorkville, Toronto, “but I’ll tell you, the dogs absolutely love the extra attention.” She draws the line at panda-dogs; she says the dye is too close to the eyes to be applied safely.

Still, some experts warn about the toll on dogs. “What does the animal need?

Companionship, exercise, veterinary care,” says Josey Kitson, a manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals in Toronto. “Anything beyond that, I get wary the owners are projecting their own needs onto the animals—they want the attention.”

Both Kitson and Weston caution that dying should only be done by a professional. Recently, Weston placed third in a contest after she fashioned a dog into a dinosaur. “I sprayed the hair up the centre of the back straight up and cut it into spikes like the ridges on the dinosaur’s back,” she says. “He looked absolutely adorable.”

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