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Prettying Up People’s Pets

Sunday, March 23, 2014
Fairlee — Spooky was nearly finished being brushed when a visitor at the door startled her. The Siberian tuxedo cat leapt off the portable table, but didn’t get very far before groomer Dirk Ussler scooped her up.

“Good kitty,” Ussler said softly, as he combed her long hair. “It’s all good.”

He finished up by smoothing on some waterless shampoo, and the newly fluffy Spooky slipped off into the kitchen.

Ussler, the owner of Fresh & Furry Pet Grooming, counts the Lyme home among his regular stops. Every week, he drives to the house to groom “whoever’s available” among the family’s pets, which include two dogs and two cats.

Having Ussler come to their home has been great, KJ Dell’Antonia said. In the past, they drove the animals to a grooming business 30 minutes away.

The dogs barked the whole way, and one of the cats gets carsick, Dell’Antonia said. “It’s just one less thing that you have to drive to do.”

Ussler, a native of Hamburg, Germany, started his mobile pet grooming business last fall. It was the latest turn in a career path that has taken him from computers to cats and dogs.

In 1995, he was finishing a degree in economics in Germany and planning to work on Wall Street. But then, a Vermont vacation led him to change course.

He was sitting on the shore of Lake Morey, eating a sandwich, when he met Martha Wright, of Fairlee. A year later they were married.

“There are not too many economists needed around here,” so he never worked in that field, he said. But an online financial site he created gained him notice, and he became self-employed as a website designer and Internet consultant. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy tanked and people started cutting back on IT services. It was “a perfect time to call it quits,” said Ussler, 49.

“Web design is all fine, but it doesn’t really touch you emotionally,” he said. “My wife suggested, ‘You’ve always loved animals …’ ”

He shadowed a local veterinarian for a day, and a week later was offered a job there as a veterinary technician. He worked in the office for almost two years, training on the job and earning a veterinary assistant certificate. Along the way, he realized he wanted to care for animals in a different way.

At the vet’s, “you prod and poke them and do all the things they don’t like, and they are scared,” Ussler said.

His new role allows him to interact with them in their own environment, where they are more relaxed.

Sometimes the owners are present and “really part of the whole thing” or “doing their own thing within earshot,” he said. “The pets know mom or dad is around … and I am in my place.”

Ussler is in the process of becoming a certified dog groomer. For now, his charges include just cats and dogs, although he may add rabbits and ferrets down the road.

“A lot of people don’t really realize that we take a shower pretty much every day. … We groom our hair,” he said. “For animals, it’s equally important.”

True to what he imagined, Ussler finds the work more rewarding than building websites.

“If someone says, ‘Hey, my dog is so happy’ … and the cat is really fluffy and purring along, there is an emotion behind there.”

Recently, he started traveling to Alisa Brisson’s home in Hanover.

“I think it’s easier on the people and the pets,” said Brisson, who has two cats and two dogs, including a 15-year-old golden retriever.

Daisy is “just too fragile to be loaded into the car and be standing for extended hours,” she said. “The last time I took her (to the groomer), it just really stressed her out. Even though I’m sure they’re careful, the dogs are waiting and they’re tied up.”

Ussler is “super intuitive” with the animals and takes his time with them, she said.

“He’s really gentle. He could tell when (Daisy) was getting tired and give her a break.”

And although the dog seems a little unsure when Ussler first arrives, “within 10 minutes, she just melts,” Brisson said. “She knows he’s not going to hurt her.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at or 603-727-3210.

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