Jess Rona‘s unlikely career in dog grooming began thanks to one very particular family cat. As a teen growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, Rona and her mom would drive to a PetSmart 20 minutes from their home “to get this specific cat food,” she recalls. There, they spotted a help wanted sign, and Rona, who was looking for a new part-time job, was hired as a dog bather.
If you thought this was the part of the story where Rona fell in love with the craft and immediately ascended to her throne as the Jen Atkin of the dog world, you’d be wrong. Rona says she “learned slowly,” due in large part to the fact that her sights were set on acting, not grooming. “I went to acting school and groomed dogs. I waited tables and groomed dogs. So grooming was always a thing I was mediocre at. I would just do it to give me supplemental income.”
Rona eventually moved to New York City, where she did improv every night at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) comedy school. But facing burnout, and with her 30th birthday on the horizon, she decided to transfer to UCB Los Angeles and double down on grooming. Says Rona, “I started to really try to get good.”
She voraciously studied breed-standard haircuts and found mentors through the grooming competition community. “I got sweaty and freaked out when I met Jay Scruggs, because he can hand-scissor a poodle,” says Rona. (Most groomers would use clippers.) “He was so gracious. He allowed me to send him pictures of my work and he would critique it.”