GROOMING animals is a form of art, according to Cyndiann Acosta. After studying and gaining ten years of experience in the US, she returned to TT to open Wagamuffin Pet Grooming Salon.
Acosta, 34, was born and raised in San Fernando. She told Newsday her fascination with animals began when she was a child, thanks to television shows.
“Growing up, I used to watch Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and I had this love for the documentaries they had. So I always had a love for all animals.”
Her first animal-related job was being a vet technician at a veterinary clinic in San Fernando.
While she enjoyed it, her true dream at the time was to become a zoologist as she felt she would have “a bigger variety of animals to work with.”
So at 18, she moved to Miami, Florida, USA, and began to study zoology at Miami Dade College and secured a job at PetCo. And after working at a grooming salon, she was chosen to further her studies by attending grooming school for eight months. But, she said, it was the work experience which followed that truly helped her master her craft.
“I worked with so many different groomers. There was Best Friends Grooming Salon, Dog from Ipanema…All my learning and grooming skills did not come from grooming school. That was just what every basic groomer learned.”
Keeping in line with her love for zoology, she then worked at a wildlife park called Monkey Jungle. There, she worked with gorillas, orangutans, java monkeys and squirrel monkeys, among other types.
In 2018, she decided to return home for two reasons: To help out her parents and to open her business.
She said she receives regular compliments about the name, with many saying that was what caught their attention.
“I was trying to do a play on words, I remember always hearing ragamuffin when I was growing up and I thought about it and it became perfect. I was supposed to open it in Miami but it was difficult at the time. But I still ended up branding it so nobody else could take it in all of Florida, and I did a separate thing here in TT.”
She added, “Funny enough, the name didn’t catch on (in Miami), family and friends over there were like. ‘Waggamuffin?’ They weren’t familiar with the word ragamuffin, so…”
At her salon in Gulf View, La Romaine, she regularly grooms dogs, cats and rabbits.
“For me, it’s more about benefiting the animal, it’s not about the money. This is another reason I wanted to open it here. I thought there was a big need for it here because I just wanted people to know how to take care of animals properly. When I was living here and worked at the vet, I saw the condition of some of the dogs that came in and it was heartbreaking.”
After the pet owner drops off the animal for its appointment, the first thing that’s done is cleaning/trimming its nails and cleaning of ears. The pet is then taken to the bathtub for two shampooing –or three times if it is“extremely dirty” – and conditioned once.
“I don’t bathe rabbits because many of them actually go into a state of shock when you bathe them and it’s not worth taking that risk.
“After baths, I use a dryer that shoots out all the water off the fur, then the fluff dryer to get the dampness out. You can’t groom a dog unless they’re 100 per cent dry.
“I also clean out their anal glands if needed. A lot of dogs suffer with that problem, and you can tell. They scoot their butt a lot and it could either mean they have worms or need that done.”
After combing, trimming and brushing, the animals get cute bows and a bandana, topped off with a splash of perfume at no extra cost.
Services that require additional costs include fur dyeing and teeth brushing, as well as the use of flea and tick shampoo.
She said in combining her experience in the US and TT, she has probably worked with “every breed of dog imaginable.”
While many of her TT customers are small-breed dogs like Maltese poodles and toy poodles, she has also dealt with bigger ones such as huskies, Samoyed, German shepherds and golden retrievers.
But she said bichon frises are her favourite breed to work with.
“I love the style, the haircut…You can mould them into anything. For a groomer, there’s no limit and it’s a white coat so you can dye them many colours. They’re my favourite dogs to sculpt, you literally sculpt them.”
She usually takes an hour-and-a-half to two hours to groom a dog, and gets assistance from her husband, Michael.
Asked which breed is the silliest during bath time, she immediately said huskies.
“My husband always says to tell him in advance if I’m getting any huskies so he can bring an extra pair of clothes. He will even put a garbage bag over him if he has to. Huskies will bathe you from head to toe.”
When it comes to cats, she said many people often tell her, “I bet it’s difficult to groom a cat.” But for Acosta, that is not the case.
“I’m actually very comfy with cats. I’ve always had an obsession with cats since I was little. I love when customers bring in cats for me to groom, it’s just the best.
“Their skin is different to dogs. They have very thin skin so you have to go very slow and be very careful. Cats will definitely take two to three hours.”
She said Christmas time is always the busiest for her. Her regular hours are from 9 am-5 pm but around that time, she may end up in the salon as late as 9 pm.
Asked what the funniest and grossest thing to happen thus far during grooming, she said, “I’ve gotten pooped on so many times I can’t even count. Anal glands have been sprayed right in my face. It’s the grossest thing in the world. When I was teaching my husband to do it, he was like ‘Nope, you’ll do the anal glands,’ but he does it now with gloves.”
Her ultimate goal is to open a pet hotel in TT. She isn’t a fan of boarding pets in cages and crates for extended periods of time, and said the freedom a hotel would give the animals would be great. And in addition to her regular salon, she wishes to offer mobile services using a “grooming van.”
She said all pet groomers in TT are in constant communication.
“I’m happy there are so many other groomers out here letting people know how to take care of pets. Most times, I’m booked a month in advance and I can just communicate with all the groomers. If we can’t take any (more) pets, well talk to the others and ask, which is great. I like having that correspondence with them.
“I wish people did more research about the different breeds to know just how much they need to be maintained. A lot of people don’t brush their pets and it causes mats to form. Under mats, there can be yeast infections, abrasions…It’s a lot of work to take care of an animal.”
She said it is recommended that pets be brought in for grooming from a very young age so they can get used to it early.
She owns a three-year-old English bull terrier named Charlie. His full name, she said, is Charlie B Barkin, taken from the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven.
“His grandfather was a champion show dog. I’ve always loved bull terriers, they’re such goofy dogs; I love them.
“He looks so intimidating to people and they’re like, ‘Omg, he’s a pit bull but I say ‘No, he’s a bull terrier.
"He does this thing called the bully run where he puts his tail between his legs and runs in circles, it’s hilarious. he’s an inside-outside dog so whenever he wants to get in, he just yelps at the door. he sleeps on the couch, he’s just spoilt rotten. he’s a great dog.”
She said she often takes care of stray dogs and cats in the area and try to get them veterinary assistance as well as a permanent home. She also carries pet food in the trunk of her car so she can feed any stray animals she sees on her journeys.”
Asked if she would ever teach dog grooming in TT, she said people ask her that all the time. At the moment, she said there are no active plans to do such. She did a few tutorial videos during the covid19 lockdown period which she posted to social media. She said that is possibly something she can continue.
“There are little things people can do at home. But I did only eight months of school but it’s the experience over the year that helped me get to where I am. And I’m still learning. So you don’t want after one class, a customer picks up a scissors or clippers to an animal. They can really injure it. I have thought about it, but maybe down the line.”
Asked what her favourite part of grooming was, she said, “I love art. I think what I love about the actual grooming apart from spending time with the animals is I love the sculpting. To me, it’s an art. One of my favourite things is sculpting a dog. They make me happy, especially when I’m having a bad day and you have a dog that wants to play. Animals relax me.”
She said the reaction of the animals and their owners also makes her really happy
“Sometimes the dogs come to the gate and you can hear him barking to come in. Some customers ask me, ‘What did you do to my dog? They’re so well behaved now.’
"I just want them to have a great experience with grooming so the next time they come back they’ll be more relaxed knowing nothing bad is gonna happen.”