Groom or Doom

The loading dock in back of the south convention center at Mandalay Bay is empty except for all the barking. Its source is four dogs who spin around inside crates stacked two by two nearby.

All the subjects used in the inaugural Rescue Rodeo grooming contest — part of the SuperZoo pet products convention last week — are winners. That’s because they all reside in valley shelters, and groomed dogs are more likely to be adopted.

"If they don’t look good, it’s definitely harder — especially if they’re hairy," said Luanne Parson of Lied Animal Shelter, which contributed 20 dogs to the contest.

According to a Lied spokeswoman, an average dog brought to the full-kill shelter today has about a 38 percent chance of leaving alive.

On this Tuesday morning, after 27 professional groomers picked numbers pairing them at random with a furry client, four Lied dogs are left. (Not all the groomers showed up.)

"I can’t believe they’re not going to groom Coco," Parson said.

Coco is a Tibetan terrier and the only dog of the four with a name. This was not the first time he has been abandoned, either. He was found alone in a foreclosed home, and he looks it.

"His hair is so ratty," Parson said.

Lied has a groomer on staff.

"But he’s part time, and he can only do about three dogs a day," Parson said, noting that Lied can receive as many as 200 new canine residents per day.

Dog No. 23 jumps, nearly off his grooming stand. Lied employees call him Woofie, and they know only three things about him: his age (about 1 year old), his breed (Irish wolfhound) and where he was found by Animal Control (Lamb Boulevard and Sahara Avenue).

Now groomer Kristine Holmes from San Ramon, Calif., knows something else.

"He doesn’t like when you touch the sides of his belly," she said while pulling out his undercoat with a Mars comb.

This is the first grooming session for most of these abused and abandoned animals.

"Our focus is to get them beautiful so we can get them back to the shelter and adopted," said contest coordinator Janice Fehn, who noted she dreamed up this three-hour competition 25 years ago.

"This is the first time we had enough backing and support staff to make it happen," she said.

Three judges pace up and down the line scribbling notes to themselves.

"You have 15 more minutes!" Fehn announced to the groomers.

Holmes said she doesn’t care if she wins.

"I’m just doing it because the cause is good," she said as Woofie continues to fidget, this time in response to trimming his facial hair.

The winner is Barbara Prueckel from Calgary, Alberta. Her dog, a St. Bernard named Moe delivered by the Henderson Animal Shelter, is 150 pounds and required another groomer just to heave onto the table.

But the real winner is a white Maltese-poodle mix without a name, who also lived at Lied. She is the only dog to be adopted during the contest.

Mark Boonark, owner of Healthy Spot pet supply in Santa Monica, Calif., is one of the few conventioneers traveling home by car. As soon as he spotted the dog onstage, the imaginary violins began.

"I don’t know," he said. "I feel like the dogs pick you out."

Boonark said she’ll be a gift.

"My mother lost her golden retriever to cancer a long time ago and she’s been totally wanting another dog," he said.

Coco’s a winner, too. Intead of using her final 15 minutes to polish up her contest entry, Huntington Beach, Calif., groomer Tammy Colbert made the ultimate sacrifice. She marched into the loading area, alerted by all the barking. She returned with Coco and fired up her clippers.

"He’s so matted," Colbert said. "He just needs to be done."

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at or 702-383-0456.

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