Meet Your Merchant: River Dogs pet groomers bring experience, passion to pamper your pet
671 Maltman Dr., Unit 6, Grass Valley
Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mon. through Sat., closed Sundays
Facebook: River Dogs – Dog and Cat Grooming
After 22 years of working as a pet groomer, Billie Alvarez-Declusin has seen it all.
Dogs with young children in the family seem to suffer the worst fate when it comes to getting things stuck in their fur. Paint, gum, play dough and Slime are a few semi-common occurrences. More memorable was the dog whose face had been drawn on with a permanent marker, or the once-a-week customer whose dog had developed a lifelong friendship with a neighborhood skunk.
But Billie takes in all in stride. Clearly a natural “animal whisperer,” she’s not likely to recognize regular customers outside of her Grass Valley shop, River Dogs, unless they are with their pets.
She started working with animals at age 15, where she landed jobs as a pet-sitter, then got hired on as a bather at a pet grooming business, then at two separate kennels. Five years ago she was able buy River Dogs from former owner Tasha Pluim, who moved out of the state. By then she’d worked at River Dogs for two years and already had nearly two decades’ worth of pet grooming experience under her belt. She knew it was her passion.
But two years ago, Billie experienced a crushing blow — her husband passed away and she became a single mother to the four children in her blended family, now ranging in age from 2 to 15. It was her staff who helped her through the initial pain and grief.
“I have an amazingly supportive staff,” she said. “I’m so glad I was able to come out the other side of this.”
But another healing and meaningful aspect of her work, of course, has always been the animals. Billie’s remarkable skill of communicating with pets and reading their emotions is instantly apparent.
“People say animals can’t talk, but they can — just in a different way,” said Billie. “They have a different form of sign language.”
Rescued animals can be the most challenging, as many have been severely abused. Billie routinely goes out to shelters to volunteer her services, such as clipping toenails. But it’s all about giving the animals space and time, she said.
“It’s rare that I won’t go into a cage at a shelter,” she said. “But I go in with ‘the thousand-yard stare,’ with no emotion and don’t meet eyes. Then I wait for them to make the first move. Sometimes it can take up to 20 minutes. The longer it takes, the more severely they were likely abused. But most dogs are a lot like 2-year-old humans. After awhile they’re asking, ‘Why aren’t you paying attention to me?’ They’re like little people with their own distinctive personalities.”
In addition to volunteering at shelters, Billie also donates gift certificates for local fundraisers, many of them related to helping veterans in need.
“It’s about giving back,” she said. “I think that’s an important part of owning a business.”
“I have three large dogs weighing 120, 100 and 90 pounds,” said Dr. Kebby Margaretich of Grass Valley. “All three go to River Dogs to get baths about once a month. The biggest, Mable, gets sheared once a year. River Dogs always does a great job, the dogs are happy and the whole process is painless.”
From shelter dogs to purebreds, Billie seems to love them all, along with the other staffers, Darah Vaughn and Heidi Smith, who both work as independent contractors. Due to the trio’s collective skill, a fair amount of clients are show dog owners, and River Dogs has won The Union’s “Best Of Nevada County” in pet grooming seven years in a row.
But the shop is also known for being one of the few grooming businesses in town to welcome cats, rabbits, sheep, birds, snakes (for descaling) — even a pony once.
“I’ve been taking my 90-pound German shepherd mix rescue dog, Toko, to River Dogs for four years,” said Kathy Madison of Grass Valley. “I used to breed dogs so I’m very tuned in to how much a dog likes going to a specific groomer. Toko always walks right in to River Dogs — Billie treats the dogs really well.”
“It’s rewarding to me to see the animals feeling good when they walk out the door,” said Billie. “It’s all about making them feel better. I just feel so lucky for my supportive staff and to have been able to start this business all on my own.”
To contact Staff Writer, email Cory Fisher at Cory@theunion.com.
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