“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
~ Immanuel Kant
If you’re a dog nobody loves, it’s good to meet Mary O’Malley. Especially if you have curly poodle hair.
Nine years ago Mary O’Malley set up shop as a dog groomer in Gulfport. Since then, she’s groomed perhaps thousands of dogs. If you have a dog and live in Gulfport, odds are you know Mary.
What you may not know is that Mary spends a lot of time grooming unwanted dogs. For free.
Mary works primarily with VIP Rescue, a rescue group that deals handles unwanted poodles and other non-shedding dogs, although she works with other rescues as well.
“I met her many, many years ago when she was the founder of Get Rescued in Gulfport,” VIP co-founder Terri Ensign says. “I bring her a lot of dogs. She probably does 70% of the animals who require grooming. Not only does she just groom them, a lot of the times they get to the point where they have to be buzzed down entirely. Mary will go through the extra effort to try and save the coat if possible.”
Rescue dogs don’t always know what it means to get groomed.
“They’re typically more challenging than your average pet,” Ms. Ensign says. “The challenge with these dogs is that they’re not particularly socialized.”
It doesn’t matter to Mary, who has taken on some pretty rough cases made them look like pampered pets.
When rescuers removed 260 dogs from an animal hoarder in Sarasota County last month, Mary offered her services to VIP Rescue. The dogs, caged in chicken coops, had received minimal care. They had fleas, intestinal parasites, and limited human interaction.
“These dogs didn’t know they were being treated poorly, because that’s all they knew,” Ms. Ensign told the Gabber.
VIP Rescue wanted to try and find “forever homes” for the poodles rescued, but before these dogs could even be considered for adoption, they had to get them in better shape. Mary and her staff had to cut away matted fur, wash away pounds of fleas, and try and get these scared and neglected dogs to trust her while she worked on their haircuts.
“Dogs have a much better chance of getting adopted when they look the role of ‘I want you in my house pet’ as opposed to some of the matted, flea infested, poop-infested messes we get,” Ms. Ensign explains.
And this group of dogs fit that description. On tops of that, they weren’t used to being touched.
“They were so frightened,” Mary says of the dogs. “It was just awful.”
It took her and her staff hours to groom the dogs.
She will groom unwanted dogs every couple of weeks, as the need arises. Usually she keeps her emotions under control. Not this last time.
“I broke this time,” she says. “I fell to pieces. I was sobbing. It was devastating to look at, that someone could do this. They didn’t have a hope or a prayer.”
“I expected to get bit,” she says, “but they came around so quickly. It was just amazing.” The dogs she groomed are slowly finding homes through VIP Rescue.
Mary doesn’t stop with grooming the dogs. In her shop you’ll find two formerly– unwanted dogs who live with Mary full-time. VIP Rescue brought Daisy, now six, to Mary for grooming when they found her tied up in a Jacksonville sand pit. When Mary first saw Daisy, matted curls obscured the dogs eyes completely. Terri Ensign brought Daisy in and told Mary, “I have your dog.”
“I thought, ‘you’ve got to be joking’,” she recalls, but sure enough, she fell in love with the sweet, curly-haired pooch. Next came Lance, now three. When his owner died, none of his family wanted the young poodle, so he, too, came to VIP Rescue and, in turn, to Mary. They go to work with her every day, lazing about the shop and watching over Mary as she grooms all types of dogs.
Dogs might love Mary the most, but they aren’t the only ones. Gulfport Merchants Association president Mike McCue called Mary “instrumental” in building the Gulfport Merchants Association.
“Her spirit and passion for Gulfport has resulted in great improvements in our community spirit and the visibility we’ve accomplished as a destination for visitors,” he says. “She is also an very accomplished businessperson while maintaining a free and creative spirit.”
Mary loves Gulfport – she’s quite clear on that – but for her, it’s all about the dogs. She loves grooming the rescue dogs.
“It’s the least I can do to help them out,” she says, adding that she gets her reward from the dogs themselves:
“Every single last one of them is so grateful.”