When her mother took her to work on her first day at a Berea dog parlour at the age of 18, Princess Mngeni was terrified of dogs and wanted little to do with them.
Thirty years later, she is a sought-after mobile dog groomer and zips around East London’s suburbs tending to pampered pooches and ensuring they remain in tip-top condition.
“My mother Evelyn Gebe worked at Finny Flipper dog salon and one day when I was 18 she took me to work with her because there was a vacancy,” Mngeni said.
“At first it was very hard because I didn’t like dogs and was scared of them. At home in Mdantsane I would chase them outside.”
But as her skills grew, so did her confidence with her four-legged customers.
“I started to understand and like them and got very good at my job and by the time my mother died in 2004, I was the best in the business.”
After 20 years of dog shampooing, nail clipping, fur cutting and blow drying, Mngeni found herself out of work when the salon closed, but her customers quickly came to her rescue.
“My customers told me to carry on grooming dogs, but I told them there was no need for such a service in Mdantsane. They told me they would support me, so I bought some grooming equipment like dog clippers, blades and scissors. One lady gave me business cards, another advertised for me on Facebook and made me posters, which I put up at the SPCA and vets and I started marketing myself.”
Although she has no car, Mngeni sets off from Mdantsane almost every morning and heads to the suburbs with her grooming kit.
“I don’t own a car. I can’t afford one because I support four children, but I still manage to get around and sometimes do two groomings a day. Sometimes I go to one house where there are three or four dogs to do.”
Over the decades, Mngeni has mastered the cutting styles of many breeds, but says her favourites are miniature poodles.
“I also like Dalmatians because they are like Xhosa dogs and I like their spots.”
Remarkably, in the 30 years she has only ever been bitten once.
“It happened last December. I was bitten by a dog in Parkside. It was sore, but I bandaged the bite and carried on. I know how to approach dogs now. They are my friends. I talk to them. Sometimes I throw a ball.”
l For more information call Princess Mngeni at 083 717 5380.