Interviews with the Icons
line drawing of a plant
Irina "Pina" Pinkuserich title
Irina "Pina" Pinkuserich holding up a pair of scissors
by Jonathan David
Photo by Anthony Vargas
Irina Pinkusivich, fondly known around the world as “Pina,” is truly one of the most knowledgeable and skilled pet groomers in the world. As a refugee from the Soviet Union, she came to this country with an open mind and a thirst for success—and she found it!

Pina is widely respected as an expert in the grooming industry, as well as the dog show circuit, and her long list of accomplishments and awards speaks for itself. She has educated pet groomers in every corner of the world, and today she sat down with me to share her incredible journey in the world of dogs…

Jonathan: Hi Pina, you’ve accomplished so much in your career so we have a lot to cover, but let’s start at where it all began. You’ve been working with dogs your entire adult life as a groomer and as a breeder, where did your journey in the world of dogs begin?

Pina: I was 18 years old when my family came to the U.S. as refugees from the Soviet Union. Shortly after that, I won a scholarship to one of the most prestigious schools in NYC so I needed a side job for pocket money. Since I had always been an animal lover, I decided to try and work in that sphere. I found a job at a local grooming salon as a bather and there was only one groomer there. This was my opportunity, so I watched and learned from him for a while. He ended up getting sick, so I then became the main groomer in the salon. After a while, I got burnt out and quit grooming for a couple of years, but I missed it terribly. So, I decided to go back and make it more interesting. During that process is when I first met you, Mr. Jonathan David. You were actually the one to take my interview in the high-end Manhattan salon. I started educating myself about dogs by going to dog shows, taking private lessons, asking a million questions and then eventually competing. The rest is history, but I’m still learning every day.

Jonathan: I remember meeting you that day, we were all so impressed by you. During your extremely successful career as a competitive groomer, you earned yourself a position on GoomTeam USA six consecutive times and three times on the traveling team, bringing home two gold medals and one silver medal from the World Grooming Competition. What did that accomplishment represent to you?

Pina: I didn’t know that whole competition scene even existed. The GroomTeam, the world championships, it was all brand new to me, and when I realized what I had gotten myself into, my mind was blown! I felt incredibly proud of myself and so grateful for all the people that helped me get there. And then to win two Gold medals and a Silver, it was surreal. It represented the real possibility of reaching such high goals in the industry, all with love, hard work and dedication, no matter where you come from. I could not speak any English and I never went to school for grooming, I just loved what I did and worked very hard and never limited myself when discovering where grooming could take me.

Jonathan: Well, it has certainly taken you really far. Two of your biggest triumphs as a competitor were winning the Triple Crown competition at a Barkleigh show and the Superzoo Jackpot, totaling over $42,500 combined! How did such a big moment affect your life?

Pina: It didn’t really change my life in general, but it definitely improved my financial situation. One of the reasons I entered the big jackpot competitions was as a chance to maybe help finance my competitions in order to win GroomTeam points. I did not have any sponsors, so I paid for all the traveling and entry fees by myself. It gets expensive. Fortunately, it worked. But most of all, in those moments of winning, I realized I really was pretty good at what I do.

Jonathan: That’s an amazing story, and it was a dream come true! Throughout all of your incredible accomplishments in pet grooming, you’ve been honored with multiple awards across the globe. What is the one award that you hold the most dearly to your heart?

Pina: The one award that is my most proud is the “Show Dog Groomer of the Year” award that I received at the very prestigious Westminster KC Gala. It’s all been so special—the numerous awards, the recognition in the industry, Best In Show and Best All Around awards—but I still choke up when I look at the pictures and videos of the GroomTeam World Championship wins. It was a different feeling than anything else, and it was very emotional. Representing the USA, my second home that gave me freedom, and realizing that to even be there with all those amazing groomers by my side was something so few get to experience. Team spirit is something so incredible, and I’m truly so happy I got to experience that.

Jonathan: Those truly are some impressive accomplishments. Today you’re a sought-after speaker, judge and educator passing on your extensive knowledge to countless pet groomers whom have gone on to win competitions and awards themselves. How does it feel to see your students follow in your footsteps of success?

Pina: I love sharing what I have learned so far in this industry, and I have trained quite a few groomers over the years. Seeing their progress in skills and knowledge is amazing, but above all, it’s mentoring that gives me the most happiness. When my students win at a competition; when they become members of GroomTeam; when they win industry awards or open their own businesses, it honestly feels so much better to me than my own accomplishments. Some of them have become mentors to others, teachers and grooming contest judges, and it’s the best compensation for me. I hope to keep sharing what I know so far with inspiring pet and show stylists for years to come. And, at the end of the day, them becoming successful is what it’s all about!

Jonathan: That’s really inspiring. OK, one last question. What’s your best piece of advice you can give to all the new groomers out there just beginning their journey in the world of pet grooming?

Pina: My best advice to any new groomer is to love what you do and never stop learning! Remember that grooming can take you places, and when you have reached your goals and you find success, stay humble!

Jonathan: Now that’s some sage advice! Thank you for sharing your story with me.