YORK — The cat is an unpredictable creature. Even in the most comfortable of circumstances, it can suddenly decide it is DONE with you.
Now try grooming one.
That’s LaDean and Tabetha “Tabby” Gordon’s job at Purrocious Styles Feline Designs, LLC, a cats-only grooming salon and boarding business in the Grafton section of York County. Both mother and daughter are Certified Feline Master Groomers — yes, that’s a thing — and experts on safely handling cats for baths, nail trims, clipping, de-matting and more.
“You can never trust a cat,” LaDean Gordon says, carefully shaving a senior feline named Tiger to remove pelts, or hardened knots of fur, along his back. “You’ve got to be able to read their body language and understand what they can and can’t tolerate.”
Regular scratches and occasional bites are part of the job. Yet Tabby, almost 16 and a homeschooled student, already plans to graduate from high school early with a GED and open a second Purrocious Styles location in Hampton Roads.
“One hundred percent, I want to do this for a living,” she says. “I love that cats feel so much better and can just be happier.”
The Gordons have mastered techniques to hold cats still and keep them as comfortable as possible, whether with “scruff holds” of their necks, swaddling them in towels or double-teaming more uncooperative animals to secure their legs.
Noise-sensitive cats wear a homemade “hoodie” — the cut-off ankle of a sock — over their ears. Cats that are hissing or trying to bite go into an “air muzzle,” a hollow circle that slips over their necks and surrounds their face. After baths, cats go to crates outfitted with dryer nozzles.
Once the Gordons learn more about an individual cat, they aim to tailor grooming sessions to ease anxiety. Often, they leave the most hated service, such as a nail trim, for the end of an appointment.
Purrocious Styles averages 10 to 14 feline clients a day, some with human owners who travel from North Carolina, Maryland and Washington, DC LaDean and Tabby work quickly but take time to reassure each cat along the way.
“It’s OK, baby,” Tabby says, clipping the long back claws on Jinxy, a year-old orange cat. “You’re so handsome.”
Removing dogs from the equation is a major advantage, LaDean says: “If dogs are barking all around, that’s really stressful for most cats. Even if a cat likes a dog at home, that’s ‘their’ dog. Strange dogs are different.”
LaDean, a Nebraska native who grew up with cats, started helping her mom bathe pets owned by her family, friends and neighbors around age 12. She has been grooming animals professionally since 2008, including dogs like the Standard Poodles she used to show.
When she moved to Newport News in 2015, she opened a cats-only salon in a remodeled home office but eventually outgrew the space. The mother of six relocated to her current spot, in the York Business Center off Route 17, in 2018 and added boarding services in 2020.
Tabby was practicing on family cats by age 8 — her mom raises Main Coons, a large, long-haired breed, and currently has 13 with plus one “mutt” — and became a CFMG at 13. The certification is awarded by the National Cat Groomers Institute in South Carolina, which offers two-week schools or a self-paced distance learning option.
Students must pass written and practical exams on CPR/first aid, health and anatomy, breeds and genetics, and temperament and handling.
“It wasn’t hard for me,” Tabby says. “There are always the challenging cats, but I’m not scared of them. It came naturally.” One of her older sisters, who lives in Colorado, is also a CFMG.
Tabby’s most painful injury to date was a bite through her thumb nail, but she usually can avoid bloodshed even with angry cats: “They warn you. Their entire body tenses if they’re about to strike out. You just need to react quickly.”
CFMGs study important differences between dogs and cats, such as the thinness of feline skin. If a groomer does not remove matted fur correctly, that skin can easily tear. Greasy skin and coat combined with natural shedding will also lead to matting on many cats, especially senior animals that don’t self-groom as well.
And while people tend to think cats hate water, the Gordons say the majority really don’t mind baths and might even relax in warm water. “I’ve literally had some fall asleep,” LaDean says.
Purrocious Styles offers grooming packages for $72 to $102, based on coat length and requested style of clipping or shaving. Optional add-on services include toe tuft trims for hair on the paws and placement of SoftPaws, temporary nail caps for problem scratching.
If a cat clearly has had enough before a grooming session is over — if it is DONE — the Gordons don’t press the issue. With Tiger, they removed his matted areas but didn’t shave off as much coat as planned, instead moving him to a bathtub as he fidgeted and meowed.
“It’s still a fresh start for him, and he should do better if he keeps coming back,” LaDean says. “Cats aren’t easy, which is why a lot of groomers won’t touch them. But this is our passion.”
Alison Johnson, [email protected]