Grooming is about more than just looks for shelter dogs

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COLUMBIA - Grooming helps dogs not only physically feel better but mentally, as well, one groomer says.

Stephene Wilhite has groomed dogs for 23 years.

"But I want to make a difference while doing it, not just be a regular dog groomer. I want to help with rescues," Wilhite said. "I want to help with rescue dogs and give them a good home, you know. Everybody needs, they need a second chance."

She has seen dogs come in with tangled fur and overgrown nails, which all make it difficult for dogs to walk and move naturally.

"Sometimes they come in all matted, where you couldn't even see their skin" Wilhite said. 

While grooming, she said, she will sometimes find a sore or wound an owner did not know about, and she has saved dogs' lives by finding cancer early. 

Wilhite has groomed dogs to help them get adopted, and she especially focuses on the long fur around their eyes. 

"That's the most expressive thing on a dog," she said. "I really think that their eyes, sometimes I've looked at a dog's eyes before, and it's like looking at a human's eyes."

Wilhite remembered one time where she was grooming a dog that had just been relinquished from its owner. 

"Sometimes, actually, a lot of times, it's funny because you go and you remove all that hair, and you're thinking the dog's still going to be all sad," she said. "It's, like, they have a new life to them."

The Central Missouri Humane Society's goal is to tap into that new life, as well. When dogs come into the shelter, the first thing the staff does is give them a good scrub. 

"We do all we can as far as hygiene to get them looking their best and feeling their best," Michelle Casey, Assistant Director of the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS), said. "Make sure everybody's healthy and happy before we place them up for adoption."

After making the dog as comfortable in their own skin as possible, shelter staff works to socialize them and get them on track to a happy adoption.

"All of our staff works really hard every day to really enrich these dogs and to boost their confidence," Casey said. "We want to empower our dogs, just like we empower people and just set them up for success in the future."

Casey said CMHS tries to promote the dogs for their personalities instead of how they look.

"I think some people come in with an idea of what they want to go home with, and I encourage all of those people to not have any expectations, to come in, to spend as much time as they need, to talk to our adoption counselors, and to get to know the animals for who they are, and find one that's going to be the right fit for them," Casey said.

Mary Click is a professional photographer and loves working with rescue dogs to help them get adopted. 

"I try to be in the right place at the right time to get that great photo," Click said. "They often will do something candid and you just have to be ready for that one moment."

Click teamed up with Wilhite and CMHS at the beginning of October to photograph the dogs Wilhite grooms pro bono and give them a better chance of finding a new home.

"The grooming transformation really lets the animal put their best paw forward," Click said. "I also believe showing animals in more natural and beautiful environments like the park or trail and letting the animal simply have fun allows people to see the beauty of each little spirit and how happy they are just to be us."

Wilhite has rescue dogs at home, and she hopes to help get as many dogs adopted as possible. 

"There are dogs out there that don't get taken care of, and it's sad sometimes," she said. "I just want to make them better."

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