If there were an award for best slow-motion music videos of fashionably groomed dogs on Instagram, Jess Rona would win it, hands down.
It’s an art the Los Angeles-based groomer has mastered since she began chronicling her freshly styled four-legged clientele on her feed, after launching her own business in 2015. Now Rona channels that same sense of creativity and humor into her newly released book, Groomed (Knock Knock), showcasing portraits of dogs in various stages of the grooming process, shot by Rona.
The photo book is not only evidence of Rona’s talent with scissors and a comb, but also a window into her humor, honed over the years both behind the camera directing commercials, music videos and comedy shorts, and in front of it with guest-starring roles in shows such as “New Girl” and “One Mississippi.”
“Grooming is like training a man,” jokes Rona, who works out of a private home studio in Lake Hollywood by referral only. “You have to make dogs think that they’re in charge.” She’s learned this lesson over almost two decades, starting with her first gig at age 18 as a dog bather at a PetSmart in Reseda. After a two-year stint in New York to pursue acting at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre while waiting tables to make ends meet, Rona returned to Los Angeles in 2009 to continue to follow her career path in Hollywood, while returning to her grooming skills on the side.
Through Instagram, Rona would study the work of groomers around the world, including Japan’s affinity for “whimsical, cartoonish grooming,” she says. “Once I started to master what they did and kept in mind AKC breed standard correct grooming which I learned at shows, I created my own style, which is a hybrid of both,” says Rona of her lower-maintenance version.
A chance encounter with Sara Quin, one half of the twin duo Tegan and Sara, led to the musician promoting the groomer’s Instagram account on her own (Quin doesn’t own dogs, notes Rona); that, topped with Rona’s viral videos of her customers, has garnered the groomer a sizable following.
Over the years, Rona — who lives with her husband, actor Eric Edelstein, and their dogs, Chupie and Meemu — has built up a star-studded clientele, including Katy Perry’s dog, Nugget; Natasha Lyonne’s pup, Rootbeer; and Instagram sensation Marnie The Dog, all of whom appear in the book.
There have been times when Rona’s furry clients haven’t always been camera-ready she says, recalling an incident very early in her career when she accidentally dyed a celebrity’s dog a deep shade of Smurf blue instead of a pastel teal. And there have been a few unusual requests, she adds, such as the time a client asked Rona to keep her dog’s clipped hair so she could fashion a sweater out of it.
It’s unpredictable moments like these that Rona hopes to capture in her next big project, a pilot that she’s co-writing with her friend, Sammi Cohen. “Just like I got sucked into improv, I got sucked into the dog-grooming world,” says Rona, who may (or may not) be the world’s only director-comedienne-groomer. “It’s a weird hyphenate.”
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.