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San Diego creative dog groomer gives makeovers to shelter dogs being overlooked

Posted at 6:13 AM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 10:57:56-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- So many dogs need forever homes, but sometimes good dogs in shelters, go unnoticed.

If only there was a way to draw more attention to them — that's where a well-known local dog grooming artist comes in.

At the San Diego Humane Society campus in El Cajon, the day has come for groomer Gabriel Feitosa to meet Gram-Gram, an American Pit Bull Terrier mix with a big grin and an even bigger affectionate kiss.

Gram-Gram is about to get a makeover, but not an ordinary one.

“We are giving Gram-Gram some leopard spots. She is 11 years old so I want to make sure she looks young and fresh and gets the most attention that she can get,” says Gabriel.

Attention she needs, because according to the San Diego Humane Society, Gram-Gram has been passed over again and again for months. SDHS public relations director Nina Thompson says there are a couple of reasons for that.

“She's a senior dog. She's 11 years young and she's a bigger dog. She's about 55 pounds and those dogs are typically a little bit harder to adopt.”

So Gabriel volunteers his time, talent and staff about once a month to turn sweet but shunned dogs into showstoppers. He applies the dye, formulated for pets, freehand. Many people may recognize him or his work. Two years ago he made it to the finals of the ABC dog grooming competition show "Pooch Perfect" and he has a salon in North Park where he has transformed people's pets into giraffes, pandas, even Pokémon characters. He started helping shelter pets in December 2022.

“This is the 20th dog, our 20th transformation.”

Now it's time for a bath.

“So now we're just doing a quick shampooing on this baby, and then some conditioner,” says Gabriel as Gram-Gram shakes off showering him with water. That's how Gabriel sometimes ends up with spots too.

Once Gram-Gram is dry it's back to the main room, but all this care is not without controversy. Some are concerned about the safety of the dyes.

“The dyes that we use are completely nontoxic. It's made for dogs,” Gabriel says, “I've been doing this for 20 years. I've seen everything about the dog grooming industry, and I would never do anything to ever harm or make a dog uncomfortable.”

Nina says the San Diego Humane Society would also never sign off on this if it were harmful and that the grooming brings an added benefit.

“The really nice thing is that he's getting these dogs out of their kennels. Typically they lie in their kennel most of the day waiting for an adopter to notice them.”

For Gabriel it goes even deeper. It goes back to his tough childhood.

“So growing up in the Favela in Brazil, it's very easy for you to get into the wrong path. You know, because most kids start working when they're very young as long as sometimes they can find a way out. I felt like dogs were a blessing or I was lucky enough to have found them because they kept me focused.”

Now the focus is on Gram-Gram as her new temporary spotted fur dries.

When asked how grateful SDHS is that Gabriel volunteers his time and his talent Nina responds, “I don't even think I can put it into words. It's really priceless.”

While a leopard may not be able to change its spots, sometimes with a little help a dog that needs to, can.

“I want to do for them what they did for me. I want to save a dog the way they saved me.”

Gabriel and his staff also give other overlooked dogs standard grooming so they'll look their best. His creative grooming can run anywhere from $500 to $1200, but the shelter gets his services free of charge. Nina says so far, every dog Gabriel has transformed has found a forever family within days after being overlooked for months.