A few years ago David O’Connor would have dismissed dog grooming as a “boujie” indulgence. This booming industry only caught his eye when a single mother posted in a neighborhood group urgently needing a space to continue her work.
“I studied public community service at Providence College, so I was keen to help,” says O’Connor. “In my research I found Charlestown’s PAWS Pet Grooming was going to close after 13 years – I didn’t want their community legacy to end, so I became the new owner.”
Thirty-year-old O’Connor’s dedication to running a socially conscious business kept him off the payroll for three years; only last year did he begin to draw a salary. “During the pandemic I became aware of people being forced to choose between grooming their pet and feeding themselves, or skipping coat maintenance appointments resulting in painful matting for their dog,” he says. “We launched a pay-what-you-can program and one woman broke down crying in relief, while another chose to pay it forward, covering the full price of her dog’s grooming, and then contributing $20 to help the next person in need. I believe people are inherently generous, given the opportunity.”
Not only does PAWS help clients and offer free grooming to local animal rescues, but the groomers also benefit from the process. “Many of the people drawn to this profession have overcome great challenges. Even an entry-level position as a bather has therapeutic properties. I also endeavor to create a calm, kind, inclusive work culture. People have enough stress in their own lives,” shares O’Connor, who wants to ensure their work environment isn’t a source of that stress.
O’Connor now has newfound respect for the industry and the dog-human bond. “For the past six years, my sister and I have been co-fostering a Pit Bull mix named Sidney,” he says. “She has her own fears and anxieties, but last winter when I was running an emergency homeless shelter, she offered great comfort to the people there – so much so that now two of them walk her on a daily basis.”
O’Connor’s goal is to open a series of grooming salons across Rhode Island, and he’s looking for dog-savvy partners, as well as local farmers or environmental groups interested in utilizing dog hair for composting.
“I understand how much love people pour into their pets. I want to extend that love into our whole community so that we can all feel more connected.”
PAWS Pet Grooming • 3810 Old Post Road, Charlestown • 401-213-6525
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