The majority of homes in the U.S. today – 67 percent – have a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2019-20 National Pet Owners Survey. That’s a lot of dogs and cats being dunked in laundry sinks or outsourced to professionals who have the tools and set up.
Grooming legend Rhoda Stahlman is a pet whisperer who is trusted by Atlanta’s elite. Those pampering pet owners patronize Stahlman, who was flown multiple times to France to groom media scion Anne Cox Chambers’ pooches.
Beginning with an early love of pets, Stahlman grew up in Chattanooga in her grandfather’s home. No pets were allowed. Her favorite store was the feed and seed downtown. She saved enough to buy two baby chicks, which she raised in the backyard. They grew up to be beautiful Rhode Island Reds. Unfortunately, one day they disappeared and were served for dinner. She laments, “Yes, this is one of the reasons I am so obsessed over living creatures.”
Stahlman explains how she fell into the profession. “When the economy took a downturn in the late 70s, it was time for a career change. I left the office world and followed my lifelong passion of caring for pets. My husband and four teenagers were supportive, and I started a pet sitting business. I took care of a parrot who said ‘Good Morning’ even at night, and visited with ‘Baby Cat’ on whom I never laid eyes, but hissed and growled the whole visit.”
The tide turned when Stahlman spotted an ad for a pet grooming school in Sandy Springs. Stahlman enrolled and her career took off. In the meantime, she told her hair stylist about this new endeavor. Three chairs over was a friend of one of the country’s wealthiest women, Anne Cox Chambers, heiress of Cox Enterprises, who had just rescued a dog and was looking for someone special to spend quality time with it. Thus began a storybook adventure of grooming in Atlanta, New York and France. Stahlman opened a grooming salon in Marietta. When that closed, she began grooming at home. “My clients are amazingly loyal. I try to retire, but who can resist a new puppy or one newly adopted?”
From that point on, Stahlman was on call for Chambers’ pets until the billionaire died in January at age 100. Chambers was a major donor for the Atlanta Humane Society and the High Museum of Art. Stahlman went several times to France to groom Chambers’ dogs. “She was most gracious and welcoming, and I will always cherish those times. Her dog Helen was given to me and went on to become a Happy Tails therapy dog. I now have Leila, who came from the Atlanta Humane Society, adopted by Mrs. Chambers. I was asked to find her a home; she came to my house and never left.”
Another high-profile client is real estate magnate Jenny Pruitt. Stahlman said, “She has known and trusted me for decades to care for her dogs.” Arts advocate Jan Collins brings her Havanese dog. “Rhoda does a wonderful job. Her doggy spa is as clean and sterile as an operating room. She is like the ‘dog whisperer’ and can get them to do what she needs with only gentle persuasion.”
Stahlman recalls some near misses, “We’ve never had a dog disappear, but we’ve had scares. One ran outside up and down every neighbors’ driveway and finally returned because she was thirsty. I boarded a cat that vanished within hours. I was mortified, called the owners to come over, shouted for the cat, put food out and several neighbor cats came, but not the missing one. Panic set in and ‘kitty’ remained missing for days. A few afternoons later, I heard a jingle bell, and there was missing kitty behind a door. She later came to adore the shop and sat on the table whenever a dog was having his hair done.”
To keep current, Stahlman reads the latest information on dog health, behavior, and signals. “Every dog is different, but they all have the need to be loved and give love back.”
Stahlman and her husband also “share love” with 10 grandchildren.
“During COVID-19 lockdown, a clean, fresh-smelling pet brings joy. Grooming shops are open and welcome your pet in the safest distancing manner.”