By Alison Rooney
Is there someone in one of our local stores or businesses who always make you feel welcome, or well taken care of? In Philipstown, we often interact multiple times daily with people we don’t know much about, but whose company we briefly enjoy. Here is the latest in our “Behind the Counter” series.
When it comes to dog groomer Sherri Urtz, who takes the shears to the pooches at Nelsonville’s Hudson Hounds, ‘Behind the Counter’ isn’t quite the right description; it’s more like up, down, all around the grooming table. Bathing and clipping up to 9 or 10 dogs a day during busy periods, Urtz loves her job, calling it perfect. A farm girl originally, growing up in a little town in the Adirondacks called Bolton Landing, Urtz was always crazy about animals, “I’ve taken care of animals my whole life. I was the kid who brought home every stray, wounded, whatever.” Perhaps caring for strays and the wounded served her well in her former occupation: she was a bartender for 25 years! Seeking a change, she fell into dog grooming by accident. Spotting a help wanted ad at a Pet Smart, with no prior training she applied, and, starting as a bather, within two years was made manager, supervising a busy salon with seven tables. She calls it “the Super Cuts of pet grooming.”
Pet Smart sent her to grooming school, where, Urtz says, “they teach you everything but how to deal with the dogs. You really have to make a dog trust you. They’re nervous when they come in, sometimes terrified. I try to get down on their level and talk nicely. What I’ve found here, versus at Pet Smart is that because it is usually one dog at a time, I can let the dog feel the place out and that helps him get comfortable with the surroundings. This is actually a great grooming shop for timid animals and older animals. It’s not fast-paced. I try to have just one dog here at a time, although sometimes when people don’t pick up right away there are more. I do a lot of dogs who are afraid of other dogs, so I try to have it empty for them when they come. They get my undivided attention.”
Urtz came to Hudson Hounds, which is owned by Kurt Lauer, through a friend, Carol Marangoni of Doggie Adventures Day Care. It was Marangoni who advised her that there was an opening. Urtz is happy to have made the transition to working on her own. “I’m not a good boss — I just want to do my thing.” Lauer, whom she describes as an ideal employer, trusts in her experience and in the positive feedback from clients. Lauer has nothing but praise for Urtz: “Sherri is an expert groomer who takes pride in making both the pet and the owner feel confident in the grooming experience. She is happy to best accommodate the owners’ needs and the best possible care for the pet. She cheerfully will help to educate clients as to the best home maintenance techniques. Sherri is a delight to have as a part of Hudson Hounds.”
Hudson Hounds is now open six days a week, Mondays through Saturdays, hours dependent on how many appointments there are, but often it goes from 9 to 5. Urtz says dog owners often have misconceptions over how long it takes to do a thorough grooming, noting that many are in disbelief that it can take a full hour and a half. But an hour and a half is needed, in particular for the 50 percent of the dogs who receive a “pattern cut,” that is to say a breed-specific shaping. Poodles, Schnauzers, Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels are just a few of the breeds which usually get these kind of cuts. Then there are the more free and easy clients (two- and four- legged), “My favorite clients say ‘do what you think is best.’ I don’t shave them down, I do what is most comfortable and best for the animal.”
As expected, Urtz finds a lot of ticks on dogs from this area. She rarely finds fleas, citing the now-common use of products which deter flea infestation. If she does spot fleas, the dog immediately goes to the tub for a flea shampoo, and the entire facility gets sprayed down. People can be unaware that their dog has fleas. It was at Pet Smart, when Urtz told someone her dog had fleas and got this response, “It can’t be — I have a fenced-in yard.”
The biters are an occupational hazard, but Urtz is experienced enough to usually stay one step ahead of them. She explains, “Big dogs warn you with their body language. Little dogs try and bite you once and then you know! I do all I can do. A lot of dogs don’t like their faces being done. You can only push them so far. My tools are sharp. Over the course of the visit I can accomplish more by making the dog comfortable. Most people with ill-behaved dogs know it, so they’re understanding. However, I did have one woman who said, “My dog doesn’t bite, he just grabs your arm with his teeth. Actually”¦ I knew what she meant.”
Asked if people bring their dogs in often enough, Urtz says it runs the gamut, from those who are diligent and bring their pooches in once a month, to others for whom it is a once a year expedition. Urtz notes that “it’s very hard on the dog when they go too long. People think it’s hard on me, but it’s really the dog who suffers.” Urtz uses only a natural oatmeal shampoo on dogs, although lots of people bring in their own shampoo to use. “I’ll use anything as long as it is made for a dog. Dogs have a different PH balance than we do.” In addition to overall grooming, Urtz also does walk-in nail clipping, tooth brushing and ear cleaning, which she says is popular, “people come in a lot.” Despite one request, she sticks to dogs only, and doesn’t do cats, rabbits or birds or anything but canines.
Watching over the proceedings each day is her tiny Chihuahua “Roo” (a/k/a “Rooster”) who is minus his front legs and makes his way just fine by hopping across surfaces on his two hind legs or dragging himself at times. Urtz and Roo were a love at first sight match, “One of my clients had eight dogs. I fell in love with this one and asked her if I could have him. I just fell in love with him. She gave him to me. Now he’s the mascot, the general manager — he thinks he’s the boss.” Urtz was considering changing his name to “Posada” because his large ears somewhat resemble those of a certain Yankees catcher (she’s a fan) but Roo wanted to remain a Roo. Urtz, who has a grown son who just graduated from auto mechanic school (and is looking for a job, hint hint, any garage-owners out there. . .) also has two cats at home. Home is Putnam Valley, but she’d love to move right into Cold Spring if the right house with a yard for the right price became available.
And if you’re thinking that your dog might be one of those who acts up while you’re there and then turns into a veritable pussycat when you leave, you’re probably right. “Dogs behave differently as soon as their owner leaves. Most are better! They get dramatic, thinking it might keep their owner here, but once the owner leaves, it’s ‘let’s do this’ and they stop shaking, stop whining. All dogs know how to play their owners. They’re pretty intelligent animals!”
Hudson Hounds is located at 290 Main St. in Nelsonville. The phone number for appointments is 845-265-2251.
Photos by A. Rooney