Being in business caring for pets generates a lot of funny stories, especially after 30 years. Margie Berger, owner of Critter Corral pet grooming salon in Washington, has enjoyed remembering some of the funniest ones that customers have been sharing on her Facebook page.

One of her favorites is a story from Gene Holland, who has been bringing his pets to Critter Corral for 28 years. He brought his dog, Texas, in for grooming, and while he was giving the dog’s information to Berger’s mother, Margaret, who was working the front desk, she misunderstood that the dog’s name was Texas, and instead thought Holland was telling her where they were from.

The shop’s mascot, a highbred macaw named Lucy, interrupted with squawks of “Texas, Texas, Texas!” at Margaret.

“Mom told her, ‘Oh, shut up, you dirty bird!” and Lucy proceded to throw toys and food at her,” Berger recalled, with a laugh. “It was so comical. She and that bird got into a fight over his dog.”

Berger hopes more customers, past and present, will stop by the shop to share their favorite and funny stories during an anniversary block party she is planning for Saturday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Activities will include:

Pet blessings with Father Joe Wormek of St. Francis Borgia Church from 11 a.m. to noon;

Vaccination clinic with Dr. John R. Kansteiner, DVM, from 1 to 3 p.m.;

Franklin County narcotics dog demonstration with Officer Tommy Pracht and Sadie at 4 p.m.; and

Adopt-A-Pet booth with the Franklin County Humane Society beginning at 10 a.m.

There also will be a washer toss booth game with prizes, a pet photo booth, free face painting, free pet nail trimmings, free balloons and a hot dog stand.

Inside, the 800-square-foot salon has been renovated to make the grooming area larger and more open.

The shop now features four pet-grooming stations, including a self-grooming station where customers can come in to groom their pets themselves.

“They can use my clippers, my dryers, and the mess is here,” said Berger.

Two of the grooming stations have hydraulic tables to lift large dogs.

Berger welcomes groomers who would like to rent or subcontract a station at Critter Corral. Groomers provide their own supplies, but Critter Corral provides the station.

Had Planned to Be Photojournalist

Although Berger had grown up with pets her entire life, when it came time to decide on a career after high school (Union, Class of 1982), she settled on photojournalism.

She was taking classes at East Central College with that in mind when she decided the Army would offer her a great opportunity in that line of work. She enlisted in 1985, but was injured during basic training and forced to take an honorable medical discharge.

Berger went to work for a childhood friend, Stacy York, who owned York’s Pet Parlor, while she decided her next move. Then one day, Berger accidentally overbooked York.

“She said, ‘You know what, you’re going to help me groom. You’re going to learn,’ and I fell in love with it,” Berger recalled. “Stacy taught me everything I know.”

Then in 1988, another opportunity presented itself when York needed to step back from her business to care for a sick family member. Berger purchased the business and renamed it Critter Corral, an all-breed dog and cat grooming salon that offered some dog and cat supplies.

She opened March 14, 1988, at a location on Fifth Street.

That makes Critter Corral the oldest and longest established grooming shop in Franklin County, said Berger.

Business Comes Full Circle

Two years after she opened Critter Corral, Berger also began selling rodents and rodent supplies. In 1991, she added birds to the inventory and in 1993, iguanas and freshwater fish.

The shop began selling saltwater fish and supplies in 1995, and was the first pet shop in Washington to sell marine fish, Berger noted.

Margaret Berger came to work there in the ’90s to help manage the pet shop and care for those animals.

“Mom has been a big part of the business,” said Margie Berger, noting she also helped as a receptionist in the early years.

“Although she isn’t around as much now because of health problems, she is met with much enthusiasm from the customers when she shows up for a visit,” said Margie.

“Many of the older clients reminisce with stories about Mom and her adventures with taking care of the animals, such as the time mice crawled up her smock and had her dancing a tune trying to catch them, or new shipment of iguanas came and one got loose.”

With her mother unable to manage the pet store part of the business, Berger has let that go to focus solely on pet grooming.

She has, however, taken on one employee — Stacy York.

“So the teacher is working for the student,” said Berger with a smile. “She came out of retirement to help with the grooming right before Christmas.”

Accommodates Customers’ Needs

Over the years, Berger has offered a variety of pet services to her customers. She operated a pet photo studio for a while (and she still can do this for customers, if they would like it). She also offers the occassional doggie-day care experience for her existing customers who find themselves in need of help.

About five years ago, Berger began to offer pet boarding. She does this in her home and limits the number of dogs to four.

In the days when she operated a pet shop, Berger would take some of the animals to day care center and elementary schools as part of students’ lessons. She also welcomed schools to the salon for field trips.

Occassionally, high school students have come in to shadow her as she worked and learn more about the career.

Critter Corral is open Tuesday through Saturday, but Berger said she does try to accommodate her customers’ schedules as best she can.

“I think that’s one of the greatest things about the success of the business is I pretty much, whatever the customer needs, I will try to do it to the best of my ability,” Berger remarked.

All Dreams Fulfilled, One New Possibility

Critter Corral called two locations on East Fifth Street home before moving to its current location, 301 E. Eighth St., in October 2000.

Looking back on her 30 years in business, Berger said she has achieved every work-related dream she ever had, but that hasn’t stopped her from looking ahead to other possibilities.

One idea she has is to add a doggie day care service by converting the area behind the salon into a play space for dogs. It would require a lot of work to get the space ready to make sure the service could be offered safely, so she isn’t sure if or when it could become a reality.

“That is my next dream,” said Berger.

She’s also looking ahead to grooming a person to take over the business some day. She would love to see it continue when she decides to retire.

“This is a great opportunity,” Berger remarked. “The building is already set up, and the customer base is established.”

Because it is such a physical job, pet grooming can be challenging work, said Berger.

“Most groomers burn out after 10 to 15 years. It’s hard work, very strenuous on the body,” she said, before quickly adding that it’s also very rewarding work.

For many of her customers, Berger is like an extended family member. She has been there for them when their pets pass away, and sometimes much more.

“I was a youth minister for many years, and I do minister my faith to customers as needed or as wanted. I don’t push it on them, but if they are open to it,” said Berger, who attributes her success with Critter Corral to her faith in God, along with hard work and loyal customers.

“I get very involved with my customers. Many times I have consoled them.”

For her customers, Berger has helped care for pets after their owners have passed away. In one case, she has even taken in a dog while trying to find him a new home.