Evacuating Fur-Citizens Needing Help Find a Warm Smile in Taos
by Edward Camp, Contributing Writer
As fires continue to burn across our state in this unprecedented wildfire season, many have stepped up to help those effected. Churches have opened as shelters, thousands have donated food and other essentials, and some have even taken evacuees into their homes. But it is not just people who are suffering. Our four-legged friends have also been displaced as well. With many families losing track of their pets in the chaos of evacuation, one local businesswoman and community member has stepped up to do her part for New Mexico’s furry citizens.
Sherri Perry came to Taos four and a half years ago looking for a change. As one of only about 200 master-certified dog groomers in America, trained and tested on all 200+ AKC dog breeds, the California-native had made a name for herself in New York City, working for celebrities and the Fashion Institute of New York. But the go-go city lifestyle was wearing on her. “It was like a 24-hour job, and I was burnt out working in New York around the clock. You know, you can do anything in New York until 3 in the morning, including groom dogs.”
Longing for peace, tranquility and, above all, to be “part of a community,” Sherri settled down in our little corner of Northern New Mexico, a place she had visited and fell in love with. Selling everything she had in Manhattan, Sherri purchased Super Groomers from retiring owner Audrey Farley in 2018 and set about establishing herself. It took some time to adjust though. “It was like landing on another planet… when I got here, I walked too fast, talked too fast.” When she arrived though, “…immediately my blood-pressure went down. I finally started slowing down a little bit, but the business exploded.”
Word of the 33-year veteran dog-groomer’s skill got around. “We do fear-free grooming… We take our queues from the dog. If the dog needs you to slowdown, we slowdown.
Our whole aspect is to let the dog leave, not only beautiful, but happy and not stressed out.” Sherri’s approach has been a hit in a community full of dog-lovers. Soon, Super Groomers went from 5 or 6 dogs a day to booked solid. “We were doing 30 dogs a day before Covid, when we were fully staffed.” Even with reduced staff, business is still brisk.
But brisk business has not stopped Sherri from finding time to give back to the community that has embraced her.
“We take the dogs for Stray Hearts [Animal Shelter] for free… we get it a makeover so it can get a home… We’ve been doing that since we got here.” Now with the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak fire displacing animals, Sherri is stepped up her efforts to help local animals.
“Some people were abandoning their pets, others got lost during the fires.” It started after a client brought her two lost dogs and Sherri published an urgent Facebook post. “Stray Hearts is full, the vets are overwhelmed, and so there’s me… I put a post up that said ‘Please don’t abandon your animals. Just bring them to us and we’ll board them for you for free. We’ll do whatever we can do to help you, just don’t abandon them.”
The response was immediate. “The dogs started coming. We have cats, dogs, all sorts of people bringing us strays running around out there.” They’ve come in all sorts of conditions too; “They’re mortified, they’re traumatized… they’re covered in soot and smoke. Some of them have been out in the woods for a month.” Sherri and her employees have been working until midnight some nights cleaning up the animals, grooming burnt coats and caring for their burns. “We actually cried,” Sherri said of one particularly injured dog
So far, Sherri has rescued over twenty dogs and several cats. “Some of them we’ve been able to reunite them with their families. If they had a collar on, if they were microchipped, we’ve been able to reunite a few. And then others, we’ve got fostered out with some of our clients and the rest are at our boarding kennel, the Perry Pet Ranch.” Sherri describes the 12-dog facility, built as an attachment on her house as “home boarding” with carpeted stalls and “no concrete or chain-link.” It has not been cheap though. Dog food alone is costing Sherri $500 a week, but, she says, “You can’t say no.” Fortunately, her clients and seven employees have stepped up to the plate to donated time, space, shampoo, dog food and other necessities. One client even donated a chain-link enclosure so Sherri could board one evacuee’s two outside dogs.
The reunions are the real payoff for Sherri though, like a family this last weekend whose tearful little girls thought they would never see their dog again. “It’s been 20 days of doing these dogs… but at the end of the day, as burnt out as I’ve been, I feel pretty good about it.”
It is not just animals Sherri likes to help, but people too. She has made it a mission to teach others the art of pet grooming as a path to a better life. “I love teaching what I do. My whole thing was to teach and empower people, so I wanted to find people coming from high-risk situations, people starting their life over after drug-addiction, prison, whatever. It’s called Rescue-Rescue where people and pets save each other. There are a lot of people that don’t fit the normal molds of society, but they deserve a chance too, if they’re serious about starting their lives over. And even women from domestic violence situations that… need a career that they can make good solid money, and quickly, and be able to support themselves.”
Sherri has trained twenty-one certified dog-groomers, three of whom are now master-certified like herself. “It’s really empowering to me to see it change someone’s life.” Right now, she is apprenticing local painter and sculptor Rick Farley, who is putting his artist’s touch to good use during this slowdown in the art market. “I’ve got a good eye,” he says, before Sherri says, “I’m lucky to have him.”
Taos can be a welcoming place for newcomers. “I’ve met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life,” she says of the locals. With such a big heart and generous spirit, it is easy to see Sherri Perry now is one of those nicest people in the world.