City council candidate Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft sends her dog there. So does opera singer Eileen Meredith, Dog Bone Alley’s Elizabeth Pinkerton, WABA’s Kathy Moehring, Saboor Zafari of Angela’s Bistro and Bar, Raiders head coach Tom Cable and Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter founders Nancy and Chuck Bianchi. The place? Seiji Morikawa Pet Grooming, a teeny, tiny dog and cat salon on the West End that bathes, dries, fluffs, buffs, clips and dips more than 500 island doggies and kitties every month.
Morikawa, 54, turned to dog grooming in 2002, after working in the travel industry. “After 25 years, I was a little tired of that business,” he says modestly. And when he and his partner, Allan Mann, brought their adopted cockapoo, Tony, to another local groomer, Morikawa had an “aha” moment in which he realized, “Wait a minute, I could do that, too.”
After a four-month grooming program in Santa Clara (Morikawa was one of only three of the original matriculants who graduated), he set up a small grooming shop in the basement of his house in Central Alameda. His client base grew, he hired more staff and in 2006 he opened his shop at 647 Central Ave. (510-523-3224).
Four years later, Seiji Morikawa Grooming has become the most popular spot on the island to get dogs ranging from 2-pound Chihuahuas to 100-pound malamutes prettied up. And Morikawa is as in love with his business as he was when he started.
“I just love dogs,” he says with a big grin. “They’re really cute. They all have different faces and different proportions, and I
enjoy the creative process of imagining what they could look like and then bringing that to life.”
The business does come with its hazards, of course. Owners sometimes want a longer coat than they can manage on their dogs (“3 inches is about as much as most people can handle on their own,” Morikawa says). And frightened or stressed dogs sometimes bite (“Look at my arms!” Morikawa says. “I used to have beautiful skin! Now I have scars.”). But Morikawa believes in talking to the dogs and trying to understand just what they’re upset about.
“We take in a lot of dogs with difficult temperaments,” he says. “But it’s often because they’ve had a bad experience — like their nails might have gotten cut too short and started to bleed. If one of our groomers has trouble with the dog, we’ll just have another person try. Sometimes a different personality is just the thing.”
The shop does take cats. “Cats are self-groomers,” Morikawa explains, “but it’s good to get them bathed about twice a year. We often find lots of dead fleas and eggs and it’s good to get those off.”
Morikawa also often gives owners tips on how to help their dogs with grooming stress. “Sometimes just tapping their nails with a pen helps desensitize them,” he says. “And if they’re afraid of our electric clippers, you can run an electric shaver near them to get them used to the noise.”
Morikawa hopes to eventually open a pet hotel that will combine boarding, grooming and self-wash stations overseen by helpful employees. But wannabe professional groomers have to be a special breed to get hired by Morikawa. “I only want people who are passionate and who still love the animals,” he says. “If I don’t see the passion, they can’t stay.” He admits, in fact, that his own passion is so strong he sometimes wants to grab dirty or overgrown dogs on the street, bring them inside and clean them up. In November he gifted Helen Bignone, the 80-year-old owner of the stolen Yorkshire terrier Deuce, with a free grooming session when the dog was returned. “It’s not the money,” he says. “It’s the fun of working with the dogs and making them look good.”