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No paws for local dog groomers during pandemic shutdown, owners say

Penny's Pup Wash groomers, Lindsay Brown, left and Marylou Kaegebein, with canine clients.
(Susan Hoffman)

Even pets need regular grooming. Just ask Karen Mahmalji, owner of TOP DOG, a “barkery,” bath and boutique at Pacific City in Huntington Beach.

“By the time May and June [of 2020] came around, we were inundated with a lot of matted dogs,” Mahmalji said. “The dogs also had overgrown nails and dirty ears, which are all bad for dogs’ health.”

Karen Mahmalji, owner of TOP DOG in Huntington Beach, with dog customers.
Karen Mahmalji, owner of TOP DOG in Huntington Beach, plays with some of her dog customers.
(Courtesy of TOP DOG)

Pacific City had become a ghost town during the initial March and April shutdown of the coronavirus pandemic, and TOP DOG was the only store open.

Mahmalji said business tanked during those two months. “We never closed a single day,” she said. “We can claim a little bit of good fortune being able to stay open. Since we sell specialty dog food we are considered essential.”

With the grooming service part of the store, customers who happened to bring their dogs along when they picked up food could easily hand them off in a safe environment.

Standard deep-cleaning protocols, masks and hand sanitizer helped prevent TOP DOG from having issues with COVID-19. Neither of the two groomers or four sales people got sick, Mahmalji explained.

“Groomers are probably the cleanest people with their hands constantly in soap and water,” she said. “It’s an extremely clean profession — groomers are washing dogs 40 times a day, 20 minutes at a time.”

Savanna Fluter, owner of Grooming for Good, at work trimming one of her dog clients.
Savanna Fluter, owner of Grooming for Good, at work trimming one of her dog clients in her mobile grooming van.
(Susan Hoffman)

The first shutdown also affected Savanna Fluter, who three years ago started Grooming for Good, a mobile pet grooming service that serves Newport Beach and Costa Mesa and donates 10% of its grooming fees to a different local rescue each month.

Though she had to cancel appointments and put everything on hold during the first month or so of the pandemic, business has increased since then, Fluter explained.

“We’ve had a crazy influx of calls during the pandemic because everyone is working from home,” she said. “Mobile grooming has been a lot easier on our clients. They don’t have to leave home to get service.”

The beauty of mobile grooming is that it’s possible to have no contact, Fluter said. When people are concerned about COVID-19, dogs can be left in a side yard to be picked up, and payments can be submitted remotely.

Business is so good at Grooming for Good that Fluter is booked until June and currently not taking any new clients.

Jason Hassan, owner/operator of Penny’s Pup Wash, housed in a 60-year-old converted cottage in Costa Mesa, was a one-man show during the first shutdown of the pandemic last March.

The business is named after Penny, Hassan’s 9-year-old Italian greyhound, who is a regular visitor to the salon.

Hassan, who grew up in Costa Mesa, wanted to create a cool little spot in the neighborhood where people could come together to groom their dogs in addition to having access to full-service grooming, retail and special foods.

Owner Jason Hassan with Italian greyhound Penny, at Penny's Pup Wash in Costa Mesa.
Owner Jason Hassan, with his dog Penny, an Italian greyhound who is the namesake of Penny’s Pup Wash in Costa Mesa, poses in one of the claw foot tubs.
(Susan Hoffman)

“I thought the self-serve was a great idea, where we provide everything including cleanup,” Hassan explained. “There wasn’t anything like it in the community.”

When the first wave of the pandemic hit, the self-serve part of the business closed down, and frightened by the coronavirus, some of his employees decided to stay home and file for unemployment.

“I went from seven employees to one,” Hassan said. “I basically did all the bathing and grooming myself and did as many as I could do, between nine and six every day so I could pay the rent.”

In the middle of May, employees began to return to work as full-service groomers, while the self-serve area of Penny’s remained closed for another two months.

But since then, “Business has picked up,” Hassan said, “and we now have nine employees. It could have been a lot worse. I feel bad for the businesses that had to close down completely.”

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to the Daily Pilot.

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