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From Park Avenue to the World!
Shirlee Kalstone, Founder of Intergroom

Shirlee Kalstone wanted a poodle, and her parents gave her one condition: learn how to groom it first. Little did Shirlee—or her parents—know that the requirement would lead to a wildly successful career, not to mention a revolution of the grooming industry.

It might have been fate when young Shirlee walked into Poodletown on Park Avenue in New York City and was hired to wash dogs on the spot. Serving the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace of Monaco, Poodletown was the crème de la crème of grooming salons. It was high praise indeed when the owner recognized her talent. As Shirlee says, “It just escalated from there.”  

Shirlee eventually opened her first salon, The Poodle Boutique, back in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, and started showing and breeding poodles. As the first of many positions and titles she would hold in the world of dogs, Shirlee served as President and Show Chairman of the Greater Pittsburgh Poodle Club.

She and her husband, Larry, moved to New York after he sold his company, Ring 5 Grooming Products but stayed on director. Of her home in New York, Shirlee says, “It’s half way between the Metropolitan Museum and Bloomingdales. It’s always a difficult decision whether to turn left and experience culture, or turn right and go shopping!” She has a lot of hometown pride, “Even though we moved a long time ago, we are still Pittsburgh Steeler fans.”

But Shirlee hasn’t just moved to the Big Apple in the past thirty years. She has grown dramatically as a groomer. “I’ve been very fortunate in this industry,” she says. “Grooming is my work, whether that work is writing about the subject, organizing events, or judging at competitions.” But, as Shirlee’s expertise and career has grown, so has the industry—thanks in no small part to her efforts.  

At the 1980 Interzoo show in Germany, Shirlee met Kathe Winther, then-President of the Danish Groomers Association and had an epiphany. “The problems were the same for groomers no matter where they lived in the world.” Shirlee wanted to expand the dialogue between groomers internationally, to help try to find solutions for those problems. When her husband suggested a seminar, Shirlee began planning the “International Groomerama,” featuring Kathe Winther from Denmark and Paule Vuye from Belgium. 

A competition was added in the second year. The expo, now known as Intergroom, continued to grow, not only because of the seminars or even the competition, but also out of a sense of community. “No matter where you go, you always have a rapport with dog people,” Shirlee explains. “People come to renew friendships that were made at the previous Intergroom." 

Even after the success of Intergroom, Shirlee continued to wonder how she could help the grooming industry improve. She looked to other areas of the pet world for inspiration, “There were so many different annual events honoring show dogs, breeders and handlers. It always bothered me that there were no award ceremonies for groomers.” When Shirlee mentioned the lack of recognition for groomers over a lunch with Cardinal Laboratories, they saw an opportunity to help get Groomers the attention they deserve in return for all the support the groomers had given to Cardinal when the company started.

With Cardinal Laboratories acting as benefactor, Shirlee made the awards a reality. A fancy dinner held on Sunday night during Intergroom was the perfect occasion for an awards ceremony. The first Cardinal Crystal Awards were held in 1988. To ensure that people gave the awards the respect they deserved, Shirlee hired an orchestra and decorated the hall where it was held. It worked, “People started really dressing up for the dinner, tuxedos and gowns, because it became so special.  Just look at the photos of the winners and nominees of the past to see how proud everyone appeared.”

In 1996, Christine DeFilippo became a full partner, and later took over the show. Shirlee went on to create Intergroom International. The first was held in Brussels, Belgium in 1997. Shirlee continued to work with Intergroom International, partnering with European shows such as Ciseaux d’Or in France and Milan Groom in Italy, until 2002. 

She also became a founding member of GroomTeam USA, which was established to bring together the best groomers in the United States at World Team Competitions. Each member of the team competes abroad, all expenses paid, in events that are essentially the “Olympics of Professional Pet Styling.”

Shirlee judges grooming competitions at shows around the world, including GroomExpo, Italgroom in Milan, and Eurogroom. Additionally, Shirlee is the author of 15 books, three of which have been named “Best Book of the Year” by the Dog Writers Association of America. She also writes numerous articles for industry magazines such as Dog Fancy and American Kennel Club Gazette, among others.

Currently, Shirlee is working on a series of educational events called, “Show Ring Seminars” with her husband, Larry, and Frank Sabella. They are created to showcase show ring handling and grooming programs. The first will be held at GroomExpo in Hershey, PA, September 17-20, 2009.

While shows, seminars and extra courses can be expensive to attend, let alone to plan, Shirlee believes they’re more important than ever. Continuing education is priceless and essential to growing as a groomer, and even a business, “Whether an individual groomer is a novice or experienced, keeping current can be the key to his or her success. In these difficult times, knowledge can mean the difference between success and failure,” she advises.

Despite her awards, titles, and other achievements, Shirlee takes her own advice. “There’s nothing like seeing and learning first hand!” she says. “Learning about new techniques and the latest innovations makes our work easier and, more importantly, improves the ease of handling and grooming as well as the health and welfare of the animals we care for.”

During her long career as a groomer, Shirlee has dedicated herself to building a community and improving the industry. She gave groomers a forum for sharing their tips and tricks with each other when she founded Intergroom. She helped recognize and promote professional excellence in the grooming industry when she was responsible for the concept of the Cardinal Crystal Awards which recognize not only American and International Groomers, but Grooming Judges, Grooming Journalists, leaders who contribute to the grooming industry above and beyond their own goals, and of course the most congenial groomer—sometimes the most important.

Editor’s Note: This website wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Shirlee Kalstone. We’re proud to say that Shirlee herself has been recognized with 8 Cardinal Crystal Grooming Achievement Awards in several different categories. Cardinal is privileged to be associated with her in some small way, and would like to take this opportunity to both salute Shirlee for her contributions to the Grooming Profession and thank her for her vision!

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