Friday, October 12, 2007
Going to the dogs: Dave Bitzer's Paws on Wheels
Bitzer provides a valuable service to busy area dog owners — he picks up your dirty, matted dog and hours later returns your clean, trimmed, sweet-smelling pet. There are many pet groomers in the region, but you have to provide your own transportation. In addition, Bitzer gets to know each dog and his or her personality, and each one is welcomed into his home on Rutland Street.
A tall, trim sixtyish man with silver hair, Bitzer is soft-spoken and has a way with dogs. He grew up in Wayland ("we had a bassett hound and three cats") and became an optician. "I was working with Bausch and Lomb for a number of years," he says, "and then I got my license as a dispensing optician. I went to work for one of the major chains in Holliston." The career path from the optical business to dog grooming is unconventional, and Bitzer agrees: "To get into the dog- grooming business was quite a change, to say the least."
Volunteer dogs for grooming course
He explains that he and his wife Rosemary have lived in Carlisle for more than 25 years. In the mid-'90s, they had four dogs that needed grooming, so "I thought it might be fun to learn how to groom them. I took a grooming course at Mount Ida College three evenings a week, which was very helpful. The class was always looking for volunteer dogs for the students to work on, so we would ask people in town and friends if they would like to volunteer their dogs." Before class, Rosemary would bring one or two dogs in their station wagon and meet Dave who was coming from work. They would exchange cars, the borrowed dogs went to class with Dave, and he returned them to their owners after class. He adds, "We had lost one of our own dogs, so we had three, and I would bring them to class quite often, maybe once a week," he says, chuckling at the reality that he had the cleanest dogs in town.
Part-time business and referrals
In 1994, with his certificate in dog grooming, Bitzer started his own part-time business at his Rutland Street home. His early customers included Bob Dennison, Carlisle's dog officer, who sent his non-sled dogs to Bitzer for grooming, and Liz Moseley, who runs a kennel in town, whose cocker spaniel became a client. In addition, he received referrals from Carlisle and area veterinarians. Two years later, he left the optical business to do dog grooming full-time. "If it didn't work out," he says pragmatically, "I could always go back to being an optician." The first few dogs "didn't turn out too well," he admits with a smile, but things improved. Rosemary, who had retired from teaching, did all the contacting and outreach in Carlisle and Dave did the bathing and grooming. Now, Rosemary often drives the dogs home and she does some drying if she has time — all the dogs are hand-dried, which takes time.
Holidays and mud season
Asked how many dogs he grooms in a day, Bitzer replies, "We don't run a production line, so three or four. During holiday season, from mid-November until mid-January, we'll do more than that, as time permits." Mud season in the spring is another busy time, but Bitzer points out, "We don't overbook like the airlines do, so that each dog can get the time it takes to do the job right." Some breeds take longer than others; a golden retriever takes about two hours whereas a Labrador retriever with its short coat takes only one.
Bitzer learned to do all kinds of cuts, depending on the breed, in his Mount Ida class, but he emphasizes that "basically, it's what the customer wants." Most of the dogs are pets, not show dogs. Bitzer tells the story of one customer in Acton who called him about her standard poodle. "She asked if we did poodles," he says. "I told her, 'To be honest, we don't do fancy poodle cuts.' She laughed and said, 'I don't want him to come back looking like a poodle — I just want a short trim all over!'" Once in a while Bitzer meets a breed he never knew before — one of his customers on Elizabeth Ridge Road has a Briard, a huge, fuzzy, herding dog that is, according to Bitzer, "a beautiful, gentle dog."
Only a few difficult dogs
Has Bitzer encountered any difficult dogs, ones that were so frightened about the bathing/grooming process that they bit him? "We've only had probably half a dozen over the years," he says. "One lady had two Lhasa Apsos; they hadn't been groomed in three or four years. One of them was a biter. We took the other one home in a crate, but we couldn't even get the dog out of the crate. We had to take him back, and the customer had to take them to a vet who tranquilized them [before grooming.]"
Most of Bitzer's clients are in Carlisle, but news of his service has traveled to surrounding towns, where he has done no advertising. "Except for the Mosquito, we haven't advertised at all," says Bitzer. "Word of mouth has been a big help."
One of the advantages of the Bitzers' home-based business is the flexibility it provides. When their son Ty was in high school at Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, he was involved in several sports, but particularly basketball. The Bitzers could take time off to go to their son's games and to school functions. "This was very important to us," says Bitzer. "If you miss those years, you don't get them back."
In the decade when Bitzer was growing his grooming business, he and his wife were also involved with the Council on Aging. Rosemary was the transportation coordinator for the COA van, and Dave drove the van, taking town seniors to appointments and functions. Last year, after ten years, the Bitzers stopped working with the COA, but they remain enthusiastic about the "great service" that the town is providing to its seniors.
In his off-time
Within the constraints of his flex-time business, Bitzer enjoys playing golf, working in the garden ("although Rosemary does most of the gardening"), and taking day trips to the Cape or the North Shore. They share their home with two miniature schnauzers and a wire-haired fox terrier.
It's clear that Bitzer enjoys his work. It shows in his respectful and warm attitude toward the dogs, and his courteous dealings with his human customers. "We've met some wonderful people and their dogs in Carlisle," he says. "For the few hours they are with us, the dogs are part of our family."
Editor's note: This is another in an occasional series on town residents who run unique businesses.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito