The chicken whisperer shirt. One blistering July weekend, Leslie Waldrep, a pet spa owner from Tuscumbia, Alabama, stood behind a trestle table inside the so you should to go to store and get this Pasadena Convention Center. It was a Cinderella moment: She’d driven 29 hours to reach California, only to work against the clock onstage for two and a half more, transforming her once-white family poodle, Secret, into a pageant-ready rendering of Walt Disney’s 1950 animation. As Secret posed stoically beside the winning trophy for a swathe of self-appointed paparazzos—fuschia tail erect as a feather duster, a jaunty hat fashioned from her own hair atop her occiput—she looked less like a domestic pet and more a dazzling, cartoon canvas. Secret’s hair had been growing for a month before the competition. Just prior, sections were vegan-dyed into at least 13 saturated hues (“all products used are pet safe,” Waldrep insists). On stage, every inch of Secret’s body was primped and preened into narrative cues of the happy-valley kind.
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The chicken whisperer shirt . A buck-tooth mouse appeared on her side, grinning cutely. A gigantic pumpkin sprouted vines across her rear. On both sides of Secret, Waldrep had etched before-and-after renderings of Cinderella herself: alone in powdery, homely blue, and dressed in a ballgown, batting eyelids at Prince Charming. “A few years ago, I did my other favorite Disney movie, Lady and The Tramp,” Waldrep says. “So this felt like the next step. I was very nervous about the design because it was my first time doing people’s faces.”The creative grooming event—the climax of Groom Expo West—wasn’t Waldrep’s first rodeo, though it was her debut on the west coast circuit. She’s been competing for six years now, and sees grooming as “a unique, God-given talent.” (She also decorates cakes.) Her fascination began with the pilot of Clipped, a short-lived Animal Planet show featuring dog stylist Angela Kumpe (the two are now friends, and travelled to the expo together). “I recorded the episode and watched it over and over and over. I fell in love with the way she treated the animals—how they looked, how happy their owners were. I went to work the next day and thought, ‘You know what? I can do this.’ I got my first standard poodle the next week.”