When they arrived at the Tampa Bay Humane Society, Tiffy and Bruno were hardly picture-perfect pooches. Tiffy, a bichon frise with matted, soiled white hair, and Bruno, a one-eyed Shih Tzu, were dirty and tired, a hard sell for a loving owner, much less a person in search of a pet to adopt.
Enter Emily Pryor, known in her trade as "Miss Emily." Pryor, who owns That's Groomer to You, a mobile dog-grooming service based in the Brandon area, swooped up the dogs and took them to her van for a day of pampering. She gave them warm lilac bubble baths and combed the knots from their coats. She cut their toenails and trimmed their hair.
Tiffy got a blueberry facial to get the brown stains off the white hair around her mouth. And just so Bruno wouldn't feel left out, he got one, too.
"She transformed them," said Sherry Silk, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Humane Society. "All these dogs have the potential to be beautiful. We really appreciate Miss Emily."
Tiffy and Bruno are just two of more than 20 rescued dogs in Hillsborough County that have been lucky to come across such pampering from Pryor.
She grooms the dogs for free as part of "Mobile Grooming for a Cause." The campaign was launched nationwide by Wag' n Tails Mobile Conversions, a Granger, Ind., company that manufactures vans like Pryor's. Across the country, 1,300 van owners are participating in the program, which aims to beautify shelter dogs during October, Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.
"A nicely groomed dog has a much better chance of being adopted," Pryor said.
Several months ago, she heard that 60 Yorkies had been rescued and taken to Hillsborough County Animal Services. With her business slowing because of the sagging economy, lots of free time on her hands and a full tank of gas, she figured grooming needy dogs would be a great way to give back.
"I offered my grooming to Animal Services knowing that getting (the dogs) ready for adoption might prove challenging for their day-to-day volunteers," Pryor said.
After her first grooming session in July, she knew that she was doing the right thing. Smitten, Pryor kept coming back.
On a typical service call, the dogs enter her van — a self-contained grooming studio with a water tank, steel tub, dryer, grooming table, central vacuuming system and an onboard generator providing electricity — like canines on a pampering mission. Pryor gives them a shampoo with conditioner, blow dry and a haircut if necessary.
Pryor marvels at how well behaved the pooches have been.
"They lay like canine croissants in the bathtub two and three at a time waiting for their turn," she said. "It was like they knew why they were here."
Pryor, who has also groomed dogs at Heidi's Legacy rescue center in Lithia, says the work is addictive.
"It's also helped me keep my sanity now that my client lists are down," she said.
In doing her volunteer work, Pryor has become a bit of an evangelist for the dogs' cause.
"Each of these dogs stretches their little necks trying to look out the window while I groom them whenever a person or car comes near," she said.
"They are sure that someone is looking for them. Maybe that someone is you."
Traci Rader can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.