AUBURN — Cassi Sullivan first started working with animals when she was 16 years old.
"My mom called up and said 'I got you a job,'" Cassi recalled. "I was bathing dogs for a groomer in Liverpool. She (the groomer) saw I was sticking around and started teaching me."
The next year, Cassi said, she opened up her own grooming business, Fabulous Furballs, in Weedsport. She was 17 years old.
Three brick-and-mortar shops and 10 years later, Cassi is taking her business mobile. At the end of October, she began primping dogs and cats in her new mobile grooming bus, Fabulous Furballs Mobile Grooming.
The change from a permanent animal salon to a full-service mobile operation took about three months, Cassi said. She left her previous location next to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car store on Grant Avenue in Auburn at the end of August. Her mom, Annie Sullivan, found their bus online. The small school bus-sized vehicle was already set up for grooming — with a walled-in tub along the back, an adjustable table on one side and room to store equipment and tools on the other. All they had to do was paint the outside with the Fabulous Furballs logo and plenty of cute animals, Annie said.
"I've wanted to go mobile for a few years but never went forward with it," Cassi said. "Closing the shop down, we decided to jump right on the bandwagon and go mobile."
Cassi said she is still learning the ins and outs of being a mobile business, such as making sure her water tanks are always full and working out new pricing. But she has had her family to help with the transition.
Annie runs the Facebook page and website, while Cassi's dad, Sully, keeps the van in shape and helps his daughter hold difficult dogs while being groomed. Cassi's 6-year-old son even helps brush and dry the dogs from time to time.
"It's a family-run business," Annie said. "We all pitch in."
The benefit to being a mobile groomer, Cassi said, is more convenience for the customers.
"You don't have to put your dog in the car and they get sick on the way into the groomer," Cassi said. "You just pluck them out of the house and I'm already there. Then, in an hour, they're done."
Cassi has appointments available after traditional business hours during the week and also works weekends as an extra convenience for her clients.
"I help the working folk out," Cassi said. "I've always been there to work around other people's schedules. I've always helped people. If you need me to come at nine o'clock at night, I don't mind."
Cassi, who is an Animal Behavior College-certified groomer and has four years of experience as a vet technician, offers services beyond traditional washing and cutting. She trims animals' nails, cleans their ears and will even transport them to the vet if needed.
"We're all about making the animal's life better," Annie said. "We go above and beyond, I think."
Fabulous Furballs mostly services Cayuga County and surrounding areas, but Annie said they are not opposed to traveling further for an extra charge.
"If we can get a bunch of people in a certain area, we don't have a problem going to Canandaigua, for example," Annie said. "But it would have to be like, 10 dogs that day to make it justified."
Cassi, who holds a day job as a bus driver, said she wants to expand her mobile business and eventually make it her full time job. She hopes, after at least two years, to purchase a new, larger bus and hire another groomer to run the other bus.
Annie is not surprised by the path her daughter has chosen in life. She said Cassi has been good with handling animals since she was a child.
"She's really good at reading animals," Annie said of her daughter. "She always has been, ever since she was a little kid. There were animals that nobody else could touch but she could."
"I just love the dogs," Cassi said. "Even the meanest ones that bite me will, at the end of the day, give me kisses. And that's what matters."