Scrub-a-dub-dub, get your dog in the tub | AspenTimes.com
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Scrub-a-dub-dub, get your dog in the tub

Brooklyn is a reluctant customer. Her claws scratch the asphalt as her owner pulls her toward the parked van. Her tail slides between her legs sheepishly.”Come on, Brooklyn,” coaxes Cari Kaplan, owner of The Dog Laundry, the Roaring Fork Valley’s only mobile pet washing service. “It’s OK …”Brooklyn begins to shake. Her owner begins to wonder if it’s really such a good idea for her beloved golden retriever to be the guinea pig for an article on this new business venture. Kaplan, the consummate pet grooming professional, digs into her bag of tricks.”Goldens are great,” she explains, whipping out a bone-shaped biscuit, “because they love treats.” With that, Brooklyn steps into The Dog Laundry. Parked in the alley behind The Aspen Times, this is Kaplan’s office – a large white van with a pop-top and comedic logo of a pooch perched happily inside a bathtub on wheels emblazoned across the side. Of course this is no ordinary passenger van. Nor is it a cargo van. It is, as the company’s name implies, a mobile pet-washing unit.

Getting into the groom Kaplan, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley 11 years ago, ended last ski season in the same conundrum as so many other 30-something locals. “I needed a job. It was a summer problem, really. Not necessarily a winter problem,” says the former Snowmass ski patroller, who has traditionally spent her summers searching for work as a waitress and the like. “It took its toll. I wanted to find something that would keep me really happy year-round.”That something, not surprisingly in a dog-loving place like Aspen, was pooches. But unlike other local canine-entrepreneurs – who have photographed dogs, opened boutiques that cater to dogs and created organic treats for dogs – Kaplan decided to wash dogs for a living, with a twist.”I needed a boost in my life, to reach a new level,” she says. “I wanted to be my own boss, own my own business.”And after doing some research on potential business opportunities, mobile dog-washing stood head and tails above the rest. The reasons were simple, she says.”I’ve always loved animals, especially dogs,” begins Kaplan, the owner of a chocolate Lab named Duncan and a black Lab named Turtle. “Other people fuss about their kids, I fuss about my dogs.”Plus, she continues, “How hard is it to wash a dog? I mean, it’s not rocket science.”

Of course that was before she opened up shop. “OK, it’s not really that easy,” she concedes, recalling a recent run-in with a malamute that outweighed the petite Kaplan by a couple of dozen pounds.Still, as any dog owner knows, the most difficult of keeping Fido free of filth is the hassle-factor of bathing him: “It’s a pain in the ass, your drains get clogged, the house smells like wet dog,” Kaplan continues.Indeed, the benefits of a dog groomer coming to your home or workplace are hard to overlook. The concept has become so popular, in fact, that mobile pet washes have sprung up across the world (a Web search for such outlets turned up thousands of hits). One Denver-area woman has even patented a “how to” kit for would-be mobile pet groomers.”Mobile pet grooming has been around for over 20 years, but in very small numbers,” notes Jodi Loomis, president of Mobile Pet, USA Inc. “Today it is gaining popularity because of its convenience for busy pet owners.” Loomis touts the fact that most visits to dog parlors comprise hours spent in cages with barking dogs, loud hair dryers and phones ringing all around. When your groomer comes to your door, it takes less time (Kaplan spends from 45 minutes to three hours on a dog, depending on the breed and condition of its coat), is less stressful for the dog, and affords man’s best friend a little one-on-one time.

Kaplan agrees. “I try to make them as comfortable as possible. I talk to them a lot,” says Kaplan, slipping into baby talk as she hoists Brooklyn into the tub. “I also have lots of treats.”All in a day’s workThe Dog Laundry’s standard service includes a wash – Kaplan’s soaps are environmentally friendly, with a concoction for all skin types – condition, blow dry, brush out, nail trim, and eye and ear cleaning. Prices begin at $45, with full-time locals currently offered a discount.She will also give your dog a basic trim, but stresses: “I am not a professional groomer. I’m learning, but this is really about the dog wash.”On this front, Kaplan has done her homework. The van she drives is wall-to-wall plastic. It is retrofitted for hot water, electricity, indoor heat and ventilation. The equipment she uses is state-of-the-art: a specially rigged bathtub, a “jet-action, invigorating shower massage for dogs” that busts out the dirt and a relatively quiet blow dryer (in summer, dogs are encouraged to go outside for an air-drying session, though).Of course it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since she washed her first dog in mid-July. The night before Brooklyn’s big bath, for example, the temperature at Kaplan’s Carbondale home dipped to single digits. And though she had prepared for the cold weather, the pipes in her bathtub still froze. Kaplan arrives at the Times with a hangdog look, hoping a bit of sunshine and a space heater would put her back in business.”I haven’t had to deal with stress before. I mean ski patrolling had its moments, but nothing like this … where my whole business, my whole investment could go down the drain,” she says, calling her “mechanic-turned-crisis counselor”on her cell phone. “At least I’m learning from my mistakes.”

A few hours later – and with a promise from her mechanic on a permanent solution – Brooklyn is washed, dried and proudly prancing through the office. Her owner is impressed; Kaplan is both relieved and pleased with another dog well washed.”I’m not doing this for the money,” says Kaplan, who has clearly fallen in love with Brooklyn. (The Mobile Pet, USA folks do claim, however, that a career in mobile pet grooming can earn a person up to $100,000 a year; they back their claim with the statistic that in the last seven years sales in the pet industry have ballooned from $16 billion to more than $23 billion, surpassing even the toy industry in revenues.) “It’s about doing something I feel passionate about.”Plus, the coolest thing about it is getting to know all these great people and their dogs.”Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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