Tucked away and invisible from the main road, Cally Robbins has operated her pet grooming business in Alcoa for 25 years.
One day, it might be a brand new customer with a terrified dog she has to calm down. Or, she might welcome in one of her familiar faces, customers who’ve been coming to her since she began.
On this day, Robbins had to squeeze in an extra client. A woman’s dog had been skunked and needed treatment badly.
Robbins was just 26 when she took a leap of faith in her abilities and opened Cally’s Pet Grooming, 369 Sanderson St., in Alcoa, just across the street from New Midland Plaza. A friend, Pete Breeden, had that faith in her talents as well, loaning her the $1,000 she needed to open the doors. She paid him back 11 months later.
She got her training, she said, while working at another grooming business in Maryville. For the past 25 years, she has provided grooming and spa treatments to hundreds of Blount County’s pets. Her sister, Vicki Grodeman, worked for her for 10 years before deciding to open her own grooming business in Seymour. Robbins’ son also spent years in the shop, too.
Mud baths, teeth brushing, nail trimming and grinding, and even facials — Robbins offers these services in addition to the regular bathing and hair cuts. She tended cats for years, she said, but stopped a few years ago after getting bitten.
Stacy Jenkins serves as the shop’s manager and grooming assistant. She’s been with Robbins for 14 years. She’s like a sister, Robbins said. The two said they mesh well because they have so much in common, with a love of animals forging a strong bond.
More than furry friends
“The relationships we have with these dogs is like being a grandparent,” Robbins said as she prepared to leave the shop after a long day. “But we don’t have to pay for food and other stuff.”
Kristen Cummings has been bringing her dogs to Robbins for years. She pointed out that Robbins has worked hard to make a living, but she also has a heart to serve her community.
“She has been a great ally to the Blount County Animal Center,” Cummings said, “donating to every silent auction, collecting supples and donations on her own and most notably donating her time to give completely free haircuts to shelter dogs in need of some TLC and a makeover.”
Robbins said it’s the right thing to do. She felt especially good when after grooming one shelter dog, it was immediately adopted.
It was Robbins who took in a dog rescued from a puppy mill in Rhea County and gave it a second chance, Cummings pointed out. The dog had lived its entire life in a crowded barn stall and was unsocialized. Her hair was matted, full of tangles and filthy.
“Without question, she worked her into her schedule the very next day, patiently bathed and groomed her and did so with refusal of accepting any payment. That rescue dog is now my personal pet,” Cummings said. “She grooms her still today.”
Helping one another
Over the years, Robbins has raised money and provided supplies to nonprofits like People Promoting Animal Welfare (PPAW), the Humane Society of East Tennessee and the Blount County Animal Center. She and Jenkins, along with others, helped raise the necessary funds to provide two pet drinking fountains — one at Sandy Springs Park and the other at Springbrook Park.
Then there’s a fund Robbins calls the Loving Heart Fund. A woman who wants to remain anonymous puts money into the fund and allows Robbins to use it to help those unable to afford animal care. It began after Robbins said a man in his 80s brought his dog to be groomed and then said he was off to work.
When he came back to retrieve his dog, Robbins said she asked the elderly man why and where he was working. He told Robbins he had spent the day digging ditches so he could afford to have his dog groomed.
“I didn’t charge him,” Robbins said. “How could I? That’s when the fund was set up. We want to be able to help those who are struggling.”
Jenkins, the shop manager, was a server at Shoney’s for 10 years before coming to train and work under Robbins. She calls her boss the Dog Whisperer and has seen her in action many times. Dog owners tell Robbins she is the only person who can work on their animals.
Despite being tucked away from the traffic flow of Alcoa, Robbins has made a good living. She said new customers come by word of mouth. Some customers have been with her since the beginning. Their children are now coming for her services.
Robbins is 51 but said she wants to do this for at least 25 more years.
This business owner does admit to not recalling the names of all of her clients. Their dogs are another matter.
“I will remember your dog’s name before I will yours,” she said, unapologetically.
A servant’s heart
Cummings was in the shop recently and saw Robbins in action. She was tenderly grooming a dog that was blind. It was completely at ease, Cummings said. Turns out, that senior dog has been coming to Robbins for 14 or 15 years.
“I have been a dog lover since I came out of the womb,” Robbins said. “I was always the one growing up that took care of all the animals.”
When she was about 11, she told her mom that her goal was to have one of every dog breed. To which her mom replied, not possible. Twenty-five years as a pet groomer will get you there, Robbins said. Twenty-five years that have quickly passed, she added.
Years after making that statement to her mom, Robbins called her mom to give her an update.
“I told her I have one of every breed,” Robbins said. “I guess you do,” her mom responded.