NEW PORT RICHEY — By the second trip to her pet grooming shop, dogs couldn't wait to get out of the car.
Poodles stood on their hind legs, paws on the window. Bulldogs slobbered and retrievers wriggled. For the past 18 years, Patty Wolf had provided a mini spa for hundreds of four-legged friends — a place to be shampooed, shaven and shorn, even massaged.
They emerged wearing bandannas and canine fragrances from coconut to "fresh and clean," the owner's favorite.
The Classy Canine found a way to please every dog. Even cats submitted to baths and grooming there.
Mrs. Wolf, who also excelled in dealing with people, spent her off days waiting tables or behind the cashier's desk at the Wolf's Den, her husband's diner. Nothing slowed her down, not even an ovarian cancer diagnosis nine years ago.
She just worked harder and raised money for cancer research.
In recent months, Mrs. Wolf might have been the only home hospice patient in the area who was still driving herself to work every day.
Mrs. Wolf, a magnetic personality to animals and humans, died Feb. 28, at home. She was 53.
"Patty had a way with dogs. Even with cats," said Alice Beck, Mrs. Wolf's mother. "The dogs would get so excited when they pulled up front."
Growing up in Glenview, Ill., Mrs. Wolf wanted to be a veterinarian. Instead, she spent just a year in college, then worked in a Lake Geneva, Wis., restaurant and married the manager.
After a stint in Pinellas County and time back in Wisconsin, Mrs. Wolf opened her dog grooming shop in the late 1990s in New Port Richey. Instead of a waiting room, dogs played in the back yard. Inside, they got their nails clipped, their ears cleaned, a bath and a massage under the dryer.
"All dogs like massages," said Michele Stebbins-Towns, a former employee who now runs a rescue shelter.
Favorite styles included the close-trimmed "puppy cut," a teddy bear cut and a lion cut.
Some customers wanted their cats to look like lions, too. Mrs. Wolf left them with a mane, shaved sides and fur-tipped tails.
"They don't like it at first," Stebbins-Towns, 53, said of cats. "But she was good, she had a way with all animals."
She could groom a chihuahua in no time. Chows, cocker spaniels and Shih Tzus were another matter, Stebbins-Towns said.
"People do not brush their dogs. They come in all matted, and they want us to make them beautiful."
Mrs. Wolf worked alone or with a few employees, whom she rewarded with bacon and cheese bagels from the Wolf's Den, or "take-and-bake" pizzas to cook at home. Sundays and Mondays, her days off, Mrs. Wolf waited tables or worked the restaurant's cash register. They shared their Wesley Chapel home with her mother and four Shih Tzus and vacationed at Disney World when they could.
All, however, was not normal. Friends knew Mrs. Wolf had battled cancer since her late-stage diagnosis in 2003. She threw herself into the Relay for Life, helping raise more than $10,000 one year by raffling jewelry and airline tickets for the American Cancer Society.
Mrs. Wolf continued to work until mid January, despite being under home hospice care.
"They told her not to work and she said, 'I'll know when I can't work anymore,' " Stebbins-Towns said.
Mrs. Wolf died in her bed with Snoopy, the youngest Shih Tzu, beside her.
This past week, Beck said, her daughter's dogs have been "very lethargic. They are not their usual rambunctious selves."
Stebbins-Towns bought the Classy Canine in June. Flutie, her 13-year-old Shih Tzu, has stopped running or barking at the shop, she said.
"He knows she's gone."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.