FOR THE RECORD CORRECTION: A Monday story reported incorrectly that Blue Ribbon Mobile Dog Salon is Spokane’s only mobile grooming servive. The Correction was published on Tuesday, April 11, 1995
Take an old Winnebago, invest your life savings in transforming it into a beauty salon, then let it go to the dogs.
No wonder friends told Darcy Witter she was crazy.
Last summer, she was a step or two from welfare, raising three young children on her own. She paid the bills by grooming dogs in her East Central home and delivering pizzas.
She was getting over a divorce - and still could hear her ex-husband saying she’d never amount to anything.
But there was Witter, 25, flipping through the pages of Groomer to Groomer magazine and getting zapped by inspiration.
Why not hit the road?
On a hunch, Blue Ribbon Mobile Dog Salon, the city’s only grooming service on wheels, was born.
The Spokane native traded her VW for an RV almost her age, then gutted the interior. Out went the dinette set and sleeping compartments. In went a bathtub big enough to soak a Great Dane, a hydraulic grooming table, a highpowered, fur-sucking vacuum and Dalmatian decor.
Now, Witter rumbles from house to house. There’s no shortage of appointments. Word of mouth is spreading, thanks to a network of supportive veterinarians.
Some of her customers are rich and insist on a groomer who makes house calls. Others work long hours and can’t squeeze pet-care duties into a 9-to-5 schedule. Still others are elderly shut-ins with poodles who need barbering.
On a typical morning, Witter’s rig is parked outside a South Hill home. Inside, she is blow-drying a freshly scrubbed 115-pound Samoyed named Teddy.
While dodging flying fur and strings of drool, Witter proclaims her one-woman enterprise a success.
“Don’t ever undersell someone,” she says. “I’ve always been a hard worker. When you start a business, you have to make up your mind that it’s going to work.”
Witter folds a piece of blue ribbon, places the bow on Teddy’s bobbing head. A final spritz of Doggie Cologne, and groomer and giant canine exchange smiles.
“I guess I had something to prove,” Witter says. “When you’ve been verbally abused all your life - told you’re a loser.”
Fluffy and white again, Teddy trots outside, where owner Jennifer Ferguson is waiting.
Before she found Witter, Ferguson wrestled her oversized pet into the family sedan every couple of months for the dreaded trip to the dog salon.
“She’s so big and hairy, it’s like putting a horse into a car,” Ferguson says. “And she hated riding in the car. She’d be stressed out, slobbering all over the windows. When we got there, they’d put her in a cage, and she hated that, too.”
On Witter’s next stop, cat lover Mary Kay Blaine is just as grateful.
It seems her pampered Persians get so spooked by the barking dogs at the local grooming shop they have to be tranquilized. Not any more.
“This is a thousand percent better,” Blaine says, admiring Witter’s skill at untangling matted fur.
It’s almost in her genes. She grew up helping out in the family doggrooming business in Spokane.
In July, the doggie RV idea struck after Witter read a story about a mobile dog salon in California.
That rig was new and very expensive. Witter had to settle for considerably less. Her choice was a 1972 Winnebago Brave with 160,000 miles, no shocks, fouled-up plumbing and a busted heater. The conversion took a full month, with plenty of help from her father, a mechanic.
It’s been a surprisingly smooth ride ever since.
Her biggest headache: cocker spaniels who poop like clockwork on her linoleum.
Brimming with newfound confidence, Witter is setting her sights on a small fleet of mobile salons, tuning out the skeptics.
“Don’t listen to the negatives,” she says, “and don’t second-guess yourself.”
ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo