SHE never thought a suggestion by her brother for a career change would lead to her current job as a pet groomer.
“Looking back, it was a suggestion that prompted me to try something new and eventually landed me my present job – and I have not looked back since,” recalled Suyee Chai.
She studied mass communications in Taiwan in 2009 and returned home to work as a graphic designer at a supermarket for four years before resigning and going on a working holiday to New Zealand.
She was unemployed for a year after what she called a “dream-chasing trip” to Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud.
It was then that her brother Patrick suggested she change to a new career path. Having managed the family’s aquarium business since 1996, he decided to expand it by bringing in other pets.
Chai recalled when she started, she thought she should just give it a go as she, “wasn’t so into the field back then”.
She loves a challenge and wouldn’t mind trying “something extraordinary”. So in late 2014, she went to study pet grooming in Guangzhou, China. Her friends were surprised to learn she has become a pet groomer.
In China, Chai went through a painful experience that taught her to better handle pets.
“I was studying pet grooming and staying alone that year. A dog bit me during one of the classes and I was told I risked contracting rabies. Dark thoughts ran through my mind – was I going to die?
“I should have saved more money because I needed to spend for a few injections. The doctor told me I could have died but thankfully, I survived. The experience left a scar as a reminder of that dog bite.”
Chai said cats were also very challenging pets and could be aggressive.
“They can injure with their scratches and bites. Once I had to rest my hand for a week after handling unfriendly felines. The experience taught me how to deal with aggressive pets and avoid rabies,” she said.
However, the upside is that for the past six years, good-natured cats have brought her warmth and affection she never thought possible before and she gets a lot of joy working with them.
“They’re like kids – they know when we treat them well and will love us back. They will run to us for a big hug. This is the satisfaction I get as a pet groomer – it’s amazing,” she said.
Chai offers are pet grooming, luxury pet spa, tartar removal, skin disease treatment, pet photography, pet boarding (hotel), pet grooming courses, cat grooming and care courses, and professional cat grooming and care (show grooming).
According to her, the number of pets a groomer can handle will depend on their size and coat and the service needed.
Normally, a groomer can do five full grooming sessions of small breeds and basic grooming of seven to eight pets a day, depending on the adaptability of the animals.
The charges depend on the pet’s physical condition (size and coat) and the services required – from RM50 to RM200 – with various packages available.
Chai makes it part of her job to learn about animal behaviour and care to provide the best service.
“As more people know about pet grooming, they will naturally go to the professionals. So on top of grooming, we also advise on animal behaviour, healthcare and nutrition, skin diseases, and even animal psychology.”
She said pet grooming could have been misunderstood, adding that it is not only for beauty but also basic animal care.
“For instance, the nail service – pets need to have their nails trimmed from time to time to avoid damaging the toe bones. I have handled a dog with an overgrown nail that cut into the flesh without the owner knowing.
“Another example is if we don’t brush the coat frequently, the fur will get entangled and cause skin diseases. All these can affect the lives of pets. Basic care is important for their skin and fur.”
Chai has launched an exclusive pet luxury service spa package for treating and preventing skin diseases, as well as maintaining healthy fur and skin.
“We must bear in mind that pets cannot tell us what’s wrong with them. It’s the owners’ responsibilities to care for them,” she said.
She has combined her graphic-designer background with her pet grooming business and done pets photography to earn her studio the distinction of being the first to merge professional pet grooming with pet photography in Miri.
“I’ve always insisted on combining the two because I believe what I’m recording in photos are not just the memories but also the sentimental attachments the owners hold for their pets.
“The photography of pets started at the same time as pet grooming but in the past, I wasn’t really focused on it. Then in 2018, I moved my shop from Morsjaya to a bigger place where I can concentrate on pet photography and have more grooming space as well.
“Pet photography is not easy as the animals tend to be emotional, flighty, and excitable – which means they can be very unpredictable but I enjoy every bit of it though and am happy to see the owners smiling when they get a complete service,” Chai said, adding that pet photography could be done both indoors or outdoors but most of her customers preferred the former.
The price range – depending on the requirements of customers – is RM499 (package with photo album) and RM50 (with themed pet photography) after a grooming session at her studio.
Chai said the most challenging part of the job was not aggressive pets but creating awareness on pet care.
“Monitoring the daily activities of pets is vital because groomers can create magic while owners should take responsibility for basic care of pets’ nails, ears, and coats. To have healthy fur and skin, all pets need nutrition and the love of their owners.”
Starting last year, she has conducted classes to educate customers on pet care such as how long should a fur-kid be bathed, what happens if the nails are not cut, and how to prevent diseases, fleas, and ticks.
“Sharing is caring, so we need to spread knowledge and love for the fur-kids. I’m honoured to share my knowledge with students from different places because I know knowledge will create better awareness and people will be more educated for it,” she said.
Chai aims to educate pet lovers and create awareness on pet care.
Last October, she conducted two sessions for 90 students in Pei Min Middle School, Miri.
Pet grooming is in Chai’s blood and the connection she forms with pets and their owners via her work sums it all up.
“Over these six years, the best part of the job is definitely the connection between us – pet, owner and groomer. Owners will often share their pets’ daily activities with us through video clips. Sometimes, we feel the connection when pets come for a great big hug. This is the warmth that makes us feel like a family,” she said.