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Gary Woman Finds Passion Grooming Pets

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  • Gary Woman Finds Passion Grooming Pets

    Michelle Robinson is a certified master stylist who owns and operates Clean Paws Mobile Grooming Salon. Her work van, which she calls "Proud Mary," was in the shop for repairs the day of our interview.

    Robinson also is a mentor for the Gary Literacy Coalition and Gary City Council's representation to the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority.

    "I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in the Roseland and West Pullman areas," Robinson began. "I went to John Marshal Harlan High School. The thing that's different now is that people in neighborhoods are not connected. When I was growin' up, we were a community. Everybody knew each other. My grandmother used to bake cakes for people in the neighborhood. All the kids knew each other. All the parents knew each other."

    Did you have a favorite subject in school?

    "Science and math."

    Are you right-handed?

    "I'm left-handed. Actually, I'm ambidextrous. I can scissor while grooming with my right hand. I'm kind of what they call dual-brained; I'm very analytical and creative at the same time. I was raised Catholic. The nuns frowned on left-handedness."

    When did you move to Northwest Indiana?

    "In 1998. I found a house in the Small Farms community of Gary that was perfect. I love the Small Farms, and I love nature. I've been an animal person all of my life. I love the fact that I can now get up in the morning and have a herd of deer walkin' down the street. Because I'm so close to the Little Calumet River, I saw a fledgling eagle a couple of years ago in my neighborhood. It's very peaceful to me listening to frogs singing in the spring and summer. I just discovered the Little Cal River Trail that goes from Burr Street all the way to Martin Luther King Drive. It's 12.5 miles one way."

    "When I first moved to the area, it was so beautiful because right along Clark Road and Ridge Road you have the wetlands where you can see all kinds of herons and cranes. But after a while, you start seein' all the dumping. Some of the animals have gone away because of that. That's the disheartening part."

    That's a shame. I do know several people who try to keep that area free of debris. Let's talk more about your love of dogs and cats.

    "It's funny, I can be out with friends having a conversation and a stray dog or cat will come straight to me in a big crowd of people. One time, a girlfriend and I went out and a cat came up to me. I played with the cat for a few seconds. When my friend and I went into the club, the cat followed me in."

    Do you have pets of your own?

    "Yes, two dogs and a cat. All of them were rescued. I also feed the birds."

    So do I.

    "Feeding birds is a trap."

    Why's that?

    "It all started when I saw this little electric blue finch in my yard."

    Probably an indigo bunting.

    "Is that what it is? It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I thought maybe if I put some seeds out, he'd come back. That bird never came back. The next thing I knew, I had all these other birds coming to eat. They'd sit on the phone wire if I didn't have the bird seed and poop all over my car."

    It's not nice to fool Mother Nature. Tell me about these grooming competitions that you enter.

    "It's funny, at first, I felt that I needed a poodle to practice on. That's when this little black dog came walking down the street. He was a mess and looked like a Rastafarian with the dreadlocks and everything. Finally, he let me hold him and I shaved him down. He had a tick in his foot the size of a dime. When I finished shaving him down, I said: 'I'll be darned, it's a poodle.' I named him Scruffy Dog."

    What became of Scruffy Dog?

    "He went from rags to riches. I started competing with him, and we started winning in competitions. About a year or so after we competed, he started having seizures and eventually passed away. My Rottweiler and I grieved for Scruffy Dog for a long time."

    Proud Mary?

    "She's a full-sized grooming salon on wheels that is 10-and-a-half-feet tall with an air conditioner on top and a furnace inside. She carries 55 gallons of fresh water. Yeah, she's a 16-year-old Dodge Ram with nearly 300,000 miles on her. Proud Mary might not be the prettiest girl at the ball, but she's at the ball."

    How far do you and Proud Mary travel?

    "We have a 15-mile radius. It's by appointment only."

    How many cats and how many dogs do you service?

    "I have more than 200 clients, 60 percent of which are dogs."

    How long have you been in business?

    "Since Nov. 8, 2010. In 2001, I started working at a big box store — Petco in Calumet City, Ill. I was the salon manager there for more than eight years. I started as a bather. When I saw my first soapy brown-eyed dog, I was in love. I knew I was in the right place. It's like when you know, that you know, that you know — you know."

    Final thoughts?

    "I'm one of those fortunate people who found a career that I'm passionate about. That's makes a big difference because I never work a day in my life.

    "I'm also passionate about bringing an off-leash community dog park to the city of Gary. There is no place in the city of Gary where I can exercise my dogs off-leash. I've started a not-for-profit organization called Cause4Paws Gary Inc. We are now 501C3. I've applied for a grant to help raise the money. I want the park to be centrally located."
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