Kitty's Guide to Good Grooming
Our cat Dinah has a self comforting habit, persistent since her kittenhood, that consists of madly licking a particular spot of fur on her hip while purring ecstatically. The licking is a little creepy-sounding and she always has a wet spot on her coat, but she never seemed to be doing herself any harm until the semi-recent convergence of two things: the fleece donut, and summer in Boston.
The fleece donut is a small blue cat bed that sits on our living room sofa. Dinah loves it so much, she consistently curls up in it rather than directly on the sofa, thus sparing our upholstery much cat hair and damage from the blissed-out kneading that happens during the lick sessions.
Unfortunately, the cozy, bowl-like shape of the donut causes her coat to rub and tangle against its sides. And this year, our first full summer in Boston, both Dinah and her brother, Bruno, shed like never before, which led to really big mats, basically covering her entire hind half. Even Bruno (who does not have the self-licking habit) developed a few nasty dreadlocks in hard-to-groom areas like the thickly furred neck ruff and the can't-be-bothered region around the tail. But those we could carefully cut out, with a little complaining on Bruno's part. With Dinah, even when we pinned her down for a two-person mat-trimming session, there seemed no way we could address the problem without having her fur completely shaved off.
So we resigned ourselves to having a professional deal with this procedure, and I finally settled on Brookline Grooming in Coolidge Corner, solely because a highly indulgent fellow cat owner I met at a party (he and his partner refer to their cats as "the princesses") told me, as I was asking for recommendations, "I haven't been to this place, but if I needed a groomer that's where I would take my cats." If it was theoretically good enough for the princesses, it was good enough for our beloved but distinctly plebeian Dinah.
When I made the appointment the clerk said I had to come in the morning - "we take the dogs in the afternoon" - and I asssumed this was arranged to avoid dog-cat conflict, kind of like the separate cat/dog entrances at our old San Francisco animal hospital. So imagine my surprise when I walked into the shop, fifteen minutes late and out of breath, to find at least a dozen dogs roaming freely behind the counter. I thought they might hustle us back to some safe, dog-free zone, but instead Dinah and I were led to a grooming table directly in the midst of the frolicking canine pack.
"Uh, you know this is an appointment to groom a cat," I said, vaguely pointing to the two standard poodles coming over to greet us.
"Yes, it's fine," the groomer replied. "This is our doggy day care. We find it keeps the cats on the table."
Well, all right then! And indeed, Dinah was incredibly docile, as she always is for the professionals. But especially so now! No mrowling or batting of paws, just the occasional half-hearted attempt to break free and make a run for it. Overall, she seemed to be attempting to keep as low a profile as possible until she was delivered from the nightmare. In short order the groomer had all four sets of claws clipped and was raking through those mats with various implements, with barely a peep from my cat.
Meanwhile a big golden retriever had made himself comfortable spread across my feet, and a little white poodle had settled in next to us, repeatedly balancing on his hind legs by my side, looking up at us expectantly. The groomer told me the little poodle lives with a cat at home. ("He likes to say hello.") At another table, a curly-haired brown dog was getting a thorough clipping, yelping at key moments. When the ordeal was over, his groomer held him steady and gave him a little spritz of perfume.
I've tried to use a de-matting comb at home like the one this groomer used, but neither of my cats would have any of it. In this new universe, this comb was all it took to remove Dinah's mats. The groomer didn't even think they were that out of control. (I had braced myself for a scolding for letting them get so bad.) What were once hard, felted lumps of hair lifted away like so many wisps of cotton candy, no shaving required.
None, that is, until the groomer asked if I'd like her to trim around "her behind." Um, is that a common practice? I decided we'd give it a whirl, and before Dinah could meow "Rio," she got her first kitty Brazilian.
The final step was a good tummy-brushing. To accomplish this, the groomer held her up full-length by the scruff of her neck and swiftly combed through the fur of her underbelly. By this point, Dinah appeared to have surrendered any idea of struggle and gone into a deep, pre-domesticated animal place. As she dangled limply from the groomer's grip, her yellow-green button eyes staring blankly into space, she reminded me of some sort of anonymous woodland creature, or even something hanging in a gamekeeper's shed - not my pet anymore, with all her quirks and characteristics so well known to us, but simply Cat, a furry animal with pointed ears and whiskers, and no personality of her own. It was a disturbing moment.
But then the indignities were over, and she willingly scrambled back into her carrier, never so happy to be there in her life. We skipped the bath this time - I figured Dinah had already been through enough for one day - but I may be a new convert to professional cat grooming. Dinah is obviously in a much better mood without the mats pulling at her skin, and I wonder if the summer heat would have been easier on both cats if we'd gotten their shedding undercoat fur more thoroughly combed out. I'm still undecided about the kitty bikini trim, but then again, Dinah does have occasional trouble with the old clinging dingleberries, and anything the helps avoid the dreaded dragging cat butt (cat owners know what I'm talking about) should be okay in my book.
Also, selfishly, while I know Dinah was petrified through the entire experience, it was fun for me to be out in the world with her. Cats are so different from dogs that way - you can't put them on a leash and go off for a day's adventure at the beach. And how proud was I, as we were leaving the shop, when the groomer said to me, as though we'd passed some kind of Miss Cat Manners comportment test, "She did really well today. She is welcome back here any time."
Little Dinah, princess cat at last.