A Dog and Pony Show, Year After Year
Local pet groomer has been pampering Upper East Side pooches for decades
Veronica "Cookie" Gallea has been trimming your neighbors' hair for a generation. Since 1981, she's been parked in a space at 400 East 88th Street and 1st Avenue, and in that time she's rubbed shoulders Jackie Onasis, every New York City mayor, and countless other Upper East Side glitterati who've clamored for her stylistic touch.
But if you hadn't heard of her yet, don't feel too bad about your place in New York's hierarchy. It's nothing personal; she just prefers her clientele to be four-legged.
At the Shaggy Dog, Gallea's pet grooming salon has endured the test of time as the world around it has been radically altered. Much has changed since Gallea first made forays into the industry in 1976: back in her early days, pom-pom tailed poodles were all the rage. Today, small designer dogs and mohawks are in - as well as some other questionable trends.
"I have not gone the way of food coloring," the animals, Gallea says, even though that's very in right now with New York pet fashionistas. "I think that my outlook has always been more down-to-earth" than that.
While trends in animal fashion have changed over the last thirty-something years, the breeds themselves have not, and Gallea has gotten to know them all very well.
"There are certain things you can make generalizations about: Cocker Spaniels hate their pads being clipped, and their nails being clipped; even the sweetest cocker on earth will usually try to bite you for that. Westies [West Highland White Terriers] hate the vacuum cleaner; if people with Westies have the housekeeper on Wednesday, I get the dogs on Wednesday, because they can't run the vacuum cleaner," with the dog in the apartment. "Labs like to bring you their leash."
With all the different temperaments and all the different dogs (and cats), Gallea has inevitably run into some unruly customers. She freely admits that, "it's very dirty work. There's no way around that. We get bitten; sometimes there's blood. We get peed on. Sometimes a dog will be completely finished and decide to defecate and stomp in it."
But, Gallea isn't most frustrated from her encounters with petulant pets. It's the vanity of the owners that gets her most steamed.
"People that are more concerned with the look of their animal than its well-being" get her particularly upset, she said. "Sometimes, someone will come in with a matted animal, and it would hurt the dog or cat to brush it out." When those owners refuse to listen to her explain less painful grooming alternatives, she politely shows them the door.
Today, Gallea is preparing to develop her storefront by renting out the front of house to an additional retailer for high-end petware sales, such as collars, leashes, and organic food; she hopes to have that operation up and running in time for the holiday mobs, and is currently looking to find the right business partner to sublease to.
Until then, Gallea will continue to work with the animals in the back of her store. And the joy of doing the job right will continue to be the work's biggest blessing.
"After bringing me a filthy, horrible looking disaster, when that client picks up the animal and is just blown away by how gorgeous [their pet is] and they really appreciate the job that I've done, I love to see the dog leaving with its tail wagging like crazy and the customer almost in tears they're so happy," she said. "If they bring in something they don't even want to touch, and then I give them something they can't stop kissing - it's very gratifying. I love that."
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