Love at the End of a Leash: A Tale of Second Chances

NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) - At Dog Alley, there's being busy and then there's grooming Bizi, the sweet-tempered but insistent Irish Setter who won't take no for an answer.

It's clear from the moment you walk into the shop that Bizi is Robyn Foust's dog.

"I love her and she's a part of my life," says Robyn. "I love her some days even more than Mitch."

She looks at her husband and laughs out loud.

Robyn and Mitch run a dog-grooming service, a business they freely admit was born of necessity--in Robyn's case, an employer ready to down-size.

"My boss spoke to me and knew about my love of dogs and that we did dog shows. He said, 'Ya know, my dog groomer works out of her garage and you could do that part-time.'"

Bizi nuzzles Robyn as if to say, 'Enough already.'

"So I'm getting all prepared for my Plan B," she says, "and getting laid off, and, lo and behold, Mitch ends up getting laid off."

Mitch, who grew up in the construction business, picks up the narrative with his own tale of woe.

"It was kind of, 'Go to work out of town or we're going to have to lay you off.'"

He grows quiet as he recalls the tough times.

"Is it gonna be go deliver pizzas, have to get my hands dirty and digging ditches? I didn't want to do that," he explains.

Instead, they took a cue from their first love, grooming and showing dogs in competition. They're every bit as serious as anyone you'll find on the circuit, and Robyn freely admits it.

"Most people go to Hawaii or the Caribbean. We'll be going to a dog show."

But that commitment proved to be their salvation.

"Because of the show experience, we had experience getting dogs ready and getting them ready in a certain time frame," explains Robyn.

A customer comes through the door and Robyn's laser-like focus is on her next four-legged client--one she's seen before.

"Hi, Cubbie. You ready for a haircut today?

Mitch watches the exchange from his seat by the sink and reflects on those difficult early days, when they questioned whether they could make a living from what began as a lark.

"You start out with one person walking through the door and then another and another and another and it just kinda snow-balled into that and, lo and behold, we're just as busy as we want to be."

Longtime customer Vella Edwards arrives to pick up tiny Grizzy. She takes one look and approves.

"They make him look like he's supposed to look," she says with obvious satisfaction.

The Fousts will do what the customer wants, but only up to a point.

Robyn shakes her head when she says, "We've had people say, 'Don't be particular. If it's a little uneven, don't worry about it.' Really? I want it to look good."

Mitch is a cut-to-the-chase guy, pointing out there's no room for error.

"You give a dog a bad hair day, sorry Charlie," he says with a sudden turn toward the serious. "They're gonna go to your competitor, so you have to be 'A Game' every day."

And that includes an extra effort to make the animals as comfortable as possible.

They keep a pair of ring-neck doves cooing in a cage in the corner. And every dog gets the hoodie treatment. It's a soft terry-cloth hood that swaddles the head and cuts down on the noise of the dryer.

Mitch explains the grooming experience can be traumatic, even for dogs they've seen before.

"They come in. They're nervous. It's a strange place. 'Why is Mom leaving? My mom's leaving me. I can't stand it.'"

Judging by the fur on the floor, theirs is a formula that works, but maybe not for everyone.

Robyn's advice is to follow your own path, and not chase your dreams down a well-worn alley.

"Don't look at another person and go, 'Oh, they started a dog-grooming business, I'm going to start a dog-grooming business. You persevere and do what you love."

But the Fousts are luckier than most.

What they love also loves them back.