News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

New groomer emphasizes holistic approach

When Suzy Korn-Keefe looks at a dog, she doesn’t see just a coat that needs tending. Her eyes scan the animal to gauge its comfort level, keenly searching for anxiety or stress. Gum color, tail and ear position, demeanor, and things most of us, even pet owners, don’t see let her know what questions to ask of the owner, what steps to take with the animal who, let’s face it, really doesn’t want to be in her shop nor any groomer’s for that matter if left for the dog to decide.

And she doesn’t see only a bunch of hair, often matted — sometimes beyond repair. Under that furry mass can hide health issues — rashes, sores, hot spots, swelling, inflammation to name a few.

“Most owners only touch a few parts of their dog – ears, head, shoulders, down the back,” Korn-Keefe said. “I get to touch every inch of the pet and am in a good position to spot possible issues.”

Canine skin, like humans’, is the largest organ on the body.

Korn-Keefe is the owner and lead certified groomer of the just-opened Sisters Groomery at 581 N. Larch St., across from The Lodge in Sisters and a few hundred feet from the Post Office. She is also a registered vet tech with a degree in animal science, making her well qualified for assessing more than a dog’s coat, although she quickly points out that she is not a veterinarian and doesn’t make diagnoses.

She and husband, Mark, who owns Coco Loco at the Eurosports Food Cart Garden, arrived in Sisters in 2019 with their three children, now first-, fourth-, and sixth-graders in the Sisters schools. They lived and worked in San Diego for years, where Korn-Keefe opted out of a career as a vet tech and entered the world of mobile grooming. By the time they left California for Sisters, she had four mobile grooming trucks.

“Our timing could not be worse,” she said. “No sooner than we find our dream of a smaller, more natural place to raise our children, start a business and — bam! COVID.”

The pandemic did not extinguish the couple’s entrepreneurial flame. First the food truck and now the Groomery. The couple express confidence that their visions and determination are paying off.

About five years ago, they discovered Sisters on a vacation to Bend, their first in years sans kids in the car.

“It was love at first sight,” Korn-Keefe said.

A client in California had put the bug in her ear telling Korn-Keefe that Sisters would be a match for the groomer’s holistic approach to grooming.

“It’s all about the dog, not the grooming,” she said.

She explained how she schedules clients and allows time for the dog to be in her care. As a mobile groomer she had to groom a dog from start to finish. In her permanent setting she can let a dog who is showing stress on the table take a break, get down on the floor, while she works with another pooch.

Korn-Keefe did her undergraduate work at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, near the area where she was raised. Upon attaining her vet tech credentials in California she worked a few years for Canine Companions in Santa Rosa, a national leader in the service dog industry. While fulfilling, she wanted to transfer her skillsets into a business, one that she would own. She bought her first mobile van and has been excelling in grooming ever since.

Safety of the dog is critical to Korn-Keefe who never takes her eye off the dog for a second on the grooming table.

She will soon be mentoring an intern from a grooming school in the Valley.

“My intern will learn as my associate groomers do, that the animal’s safety and positive experience top how the dog looks when picked up,” she said.

When asked about the most difficult dogs to groom, Doodles were at the top of the list. Most Sisters dogs are privileged to have active outdoor lives and are not groomed as often as city dogs.

“Get a good brush and spend more time with your dog’s care,” Korn-Keefe advises.

Her holistic model includes using only products free of harmful chemicals. She welcomes dogs with a history of skin disorders.

For now, Sisters Groomery is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., by appointment. “Hours will expand as I work in and train more staff to my standards, but I’ve always been about quality, not quantity, Korn-Keefe said.

 

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