In the new HBO documentary Well Groomed, Martine Gold asks her daughter what she has planned for her poodle Ira’s next dog show.
“He’s going to be a chicken,” replies Nicole Beckmann, a competitive groomer from Ithaca, New York.
“He’s going to be a chicken?” says Gold, who adds: “You have dogs to have fun with them so why not be a little creative with them?”
How about over-the-top creative? This is the world of competitive dog grooming, where groomers use non-toxic dyes, quick scissor snips and dryers to sculpt their white poodles — the dog of choice — into dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, other pets (including chickens), and any wild designs they can come up with for a chance to win up to $5,000 at an event.
“I love to compete, it’s an adrenaline rush for me,” says Adriane Pope, a competitive groomer from South Carolina, whose poodle named Encore has served as a canvas for Pope to create the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. (Pope dressed up as Alice.)
The documentary, airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. on HBO and directed by Rebecca Stern, follows Pope, Beckmann and two other groomers for a year as they prepare to compete in the world’s largest competitive grooming event in Hershey, PA.
And this hobby can get pricey. Competitor Cat Opson from California, who owns her own grooming shop, says she’s spent almost $25,000 in a year, which can include renting someone’s dog to groom at an event.
Angela Kumpe, a seasoned champion competitive groomer from Little Rock, Arkansas, who teaches classes on creative grooming, explains their passion. “The point of it,” she says, “is to make people smile.”
But there are critics of this subculture, who claim the dogs are exploited. Stern tells Salon that in her four years spent with the groomers, “I never saw anything that I thought was directly harmful to the animals.”