The Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania was a buzz with energy and excitement as Sunday marked the final day of one of the biggest pet grooming expos in the country, the 25th annual Groom Expo. The venue was packed wall-to-wall with hundreds of booths for the annual weekend trade show that featured the latest technologies, beauty tools, live demos, techniques, and accessories for furry friends.
Although the various goodies, lectures and workshops were a huge part of what made up this year’s Groom Expo, it was Sunday afternoon’s final event that really engaged both spectators and industry professionals alike. The Creative Styling Tournament is not your run-of-the-mill grooming competition. While it warrants skillful scissoring skills and comprehensive knowledge of dog grooming, it, unlike most traditional dog shows, challenges competitors to get in touch with their inner Andy Warhol. "The whole show really culminates in the 'Creative' – it's the most eye-catching, it gets the biggest crowd and it's what grabs people's attention the most," said Todd Shelly, President of Barkleigh Productions, the main force behind the Groom Expo.
What started as a basic cut and style competition 25 years ago, when the Groom Expo was first incepted, has now transformed into an all out art battle. "It started very innocently as a way to do something kind of goofy with a dog's hair," said Judy Bremer-Taxman, one of the competition's judges. "I've seen a poodle that looks like a buffalo – it's just incredible what they can do." Each year the stakes are higher and new creative elements get introduced. Many years ago when hair color was first submitted into a design; it opened up a whole new playing field that demanded more innovation and thought from designers. Themes became the essential centerpiece behind each competitor’s design – the glue that made their wild concepts stay looking put together. These can range anywhere from backdrops to music, poetry, dance or a short skit – anything that calls even more attention to their already wild creations. With this year’s contestants armed with their most trusted styling tools, and pre-dyed poodles, it was off to the races as they had three hours to cut, shape, color – yes, even more – and assemble their entire presentation for the panel of judges while in front of a live audience dor the duration of the contest.
The Expo doesn’t just draw a national crowd, but also catches the eye international industry professionals. One of the only offshore competitors this year, Su Eld Weaver, who is a native of the United Kingdom, ended up taking home the grand prize of $2,500 and the coveted honor of adorning the cover of an issue of Groomer to Groomer magazine, with her artful “Memoirs of a Geisha” themed look. While the other eight contestants went with more pop culture subject matter, such as The Simpsons, Batman, and Alice and Wonderland, it was Weaver’s imaginative tribute to culture that had the judges fawning all over her handiwork.
While the Creative Styling Tournament is definitely something that had onlookers oohing and awing with enchantment, many couldn’t help but ask out loud: “Is this humane?” The answer seems to be a resounding yes. The Groom Expo is a welcoming, friendly function that embraces dog lovers of all breeds and Creative is a way for passionate, highly trained artists to celebrate their love of dogs and grooming. The dyes used are non-toxic, their styling techniques are safe and harmless, and the dogs absolutely love all of the brushing and attention from their owners and the audience. For a quarter of a century the organization has never received a single complaint from an animal humane society or the notorious PETA; and that’s because these people are the absolute pinnacle of animal lovers. They couldn’t be more grateful to share their joy and passion with others.