Cyndie Rodriguez never pictured herself running a dog grooming salon, but now that she does, she loves it.
After 10 years, it’d break her heart if she had to close, but this may be it for her.
Rodriguez, who owns Grooming Boutique on Poquonnock Road in Groton City is having knee surgery on Jan. 28 so she’ll be closed for the month of February. She has a bank of about 150 clients, and plans to reopen. But she’s not sure she’ll make it another year.
“I’m just getting by, really. I’m a couple of bills behind,” she said. “I do the best I can, and that’s all I can do.”
Rodriguez became sick in 2008 with Lupus, an autoimmune disorder than can affect the skin, joints and other organs, and she was forced to close for about a year and a half.
But she reopened after getting well enough to work. She grooms dogs on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and typically takes in five animals. She’d like six.
If she could, she’d work five days, she said.
“It’s my way of getting out of the house and doing something I enjoy,” she said.
Her clients include Rudy, a Shih Tzu who won’t go anywhere else, but that’s just as well, because no one else will take him. He bites.
She also grooms a camera-shy and "very timid, but very sweet" gray Labradoodle.
“Every day is different because each dog has a different personality,” she said. “So every one is unique.”
Rodriguez turned 56 on Jan. 2. She grew up in New London and Stonington, graduating from New London High School in 1976.
She went straight to work at age 1 as a ship fitter at Electric Boat after high school, and stayed there 14 years. Then a management job opened up in planning. She took, it, then got caught in company’s round of layoffs one year later.
“I was devastated,” she said.
She had no idea what she wanted to do next, but said she’d always loved animals. So she went to Groton Public Library and read everything she could about animal-related careers; salaries, requirements, problems and rewards.
At first, she wanted to be a veterinarian. But she would have had to go to school for six years, and spend a lot of time away from her daughter, who was then 4 years old.
Finally, she decided on grooming. She attended school in Lynn, Mass. for six months, and graduated second in her class.
She then worked at Fin & Feather in Groton for 12 years, until the store stopped offering grooming.
Rodriguez figured it was a perfect time to go out on her own.
She rented the shop in Groton City, picked up animal cages from a farm, bought a bathtub at Home Depot and drove it across the Gold Star Bridge on top of her car. Then she and her boyfriend at the time installed it.
She built stairs for the animals to easily climb, and bought other supplies, opening in 2002.
Some Fin & Feather customers followed her, she said.
Then in 2008, she got sick, with what doctors finally decided was Lupus. She was hospitalized and the store closed for a year and a half. But she wanted to reopen, and she did.
Today, lives on social security and disability, and grooms three days a week so she can work, enjoy the dogs and keep her business.
She wants to keep going, be able to buy the shampoos, and have a scarf or something special for each of the dogs she grooms.
“I’d be heartbroken if I had to close this place,” she said.