America has just had its Intergroom International Grooming Conference in New Jersey, USA. A Photographer, Paul Nathan, was there photographing the contestants. Professional grooming competitions like this take cat and dog grooming to new heights or lows depending upon your point of view.
I can understand competitive dog grooming – just. However, I do not believe that cat grooming for competitions is appropriate, in general. Some cats may enjoy it but I don’t think that grooming a cat in intricate detail, which requires the cat to be extremely still is going to work. I don’t believe it is practical and I wonder how the groomers manage it.
The only way that I can see that a groomer can groom a cat to a sufficient standard to be in the competition would be to tranquillize her cat, at least to a certain extent, so that he or she keeps still. Grooming at this level must take hours of work.
In contrast, grooming a dog is different because a dog wants the attention. I’m not saying that grooming a dog to competition levels, with extreme grooming techniques, is acceptable. I’m just saying that it is more acceptable to a dog than to a cat. I suppose that is obvious.
Understandably, creative grooming to competition level of companion animals has been criticized. Competition tends to force competitors to go extremes to make their pets stand out and you will see some very extreme efforts. People do complain about it and, I suspect that I would be one of them. However, there is no doubt that the pet owners love their cats and dogs with deep affection and it would seem that the majority of dogs accept being groomed in minute detail, with intricate styling, because they are receiving lots of human attention. The attention element is certainly a positive and a bonus in what otherwise would have to be called exploitation.
Critics of competition dog and cat grooming would say that the dogs and cats are being used for the entertainment of the owner. The owner is receiving enjoyment from the whole process through their dog or cat. The dog or cat is a vehicle to that enjoyment. The competition element is about people, of course. For the companion animal competition is pointless.
For me, there is another reason why competition grooming of dogs is more acceptable than for cats. I am informed that even the most ostentatious grooming styles can be traced back to functional reasons. A good example is the poodle. Poodles were used as hunting dogs, even though that is hard to believe today. Their fur would have been closely cropped to help them move through water and negotiate dense undergrowth etc.. Their fur was less closely cropped at joints which needed to be kept warm. So the powderpuff bracelets on their fore and hind legs are rooted in a working dog history. In a way, that at least partially justifies grooming dogs to competition level. Although, as I hate hunting so this does nothing for me, personally.
Paul Nathan, the photographer, says that:
“I think in a lot of ways these dogs are compatible to child actors. You can’t just force the dog to do that”.
Well we know that child actors can be exploited in the same way, so I don’t think that is a particularly supportive statement to make. However, Nathan makes an interesting point. He queries the possibility that a cat or dog’s personality may change with the change in appearance. He says:
“… How much of the dog’s character is present once the groomers have done their stuff?”
He says that top groomers understand that their styling should reflect the animal’s character. So the groomers should understand the companion animal’s character before they embark on their grooming creation.
What are my conclusions in respect of dog and cat competitive grooming? Well, being the sort of person who likes naturalness, I don’t like it but I can understand it and I don’t want to be too critical. Therefore, although there is an element of exploitation in the process, I think in respect of dogs it is probably or possibly just about acceptable but with regard to cats I do not think that it can ever be in the best interests of an individual cat’s welfare to put him or her through this experience.