Salon Spotlight
Whisker Tales Cat Grooming: Plenty to Purr About typography
by Kathy Hosler
Photos by NCGI, Nichole Taylor, and Whisker Tales Cat Grooming
Whisker Tales: Cat Grooming storefront signage
“Cat grooming is so rewarding,” says Debra Norton, Certified Feline Master Groomer and owner of Whisker Tales Cat Grooming in Victoria, British Colombia. “Yes, it’s a job and yes, I get paid for it, but at the end of the day, it’s very gratifying because I know that I’ve helped that cat,” she adds.

For more than 30 years, Debra had a career that she loved in the healthcare industry, working in Canada and Saudi Arabia. A lifelong animal lover, Debra also worked in wild animal rescue and rescued cats in Canada and in the Middle East where she lived for 12 years.

“Ten years ago, I had my cat groomed by a CFMG and I asked how she got into grooming. She told me about the National Cat Groomers Institute in South Carolina where she got her certification. It sounded interesting and I thought it would be something I’d really like to do,” shares Debra.

interior view of the workroom at Whisker Tales: Cat Grooming
close low angle view of a Tortoiseshell cat collared with a white ribbon an pink rose licking its chops while sitting on a grooming table
Debra Norton wears scrubs and gently grasps a black and white domestic short-haired cat while trimming its claws at a grooming table
“A few months later, I registered for the course at the NCGI,” she continues. “They sent me all of my study materials, and in November 2014, I took some time off from work and went to Greenville, South Carolina. There I did my hands-on training and exams and returned home a Certified Feline Master Groomer, a title that I am very proud of because of what it stands for. In the Spring of 2015, I returned to Greenville to do some private training with Danelle German, owner of the NCGI.

“I went into grooming with no previous experience,” Debra adds. “The training with NCGI gave me the tools I need to handle any grooming situation I may come across. The curriculum is excellent.” 

Debra continued to work full time at the hospital and groomed after work and on weekends. She officially retired at the end of 2022 and now only grooms cats.

“It didn’t take long for me to build my clientele,” she says. “I do have a website, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account—@whiskertalescatgrooming—but most of my clientele has been gained by word of mouth.”

Debra is super busy. She says there is such a need that she could work seven days a week if she wanted to. All of her regular clients book appointments for the entire year. It is difficult for Debra to take on new clients, and that usually only happens if someone moves away or a cat passes. Many of her clients have told her that they feel more comfortable bringing their cat to a trained, certified professional.

a seated Debra Norton gently holds a Ragdoll cat in her lap during a blow drying session

“I want to minimize stress as much as posssibe. Understanding cat behavior is essential, as not all cats are comfortable with the process.”

-Debra Norton

“I encourage owners to keep their cats on a regular schedule of maintenance appointments,” shares Debra. “Educating the client is something that is really important, too. I tell the client that they should have little to no maintenance in between grooms if they let me do all the ‘dirty work.’

“Cat grooming is becoming more and more recognized as a real need, but there are still people who think that cats don’t require grooming,” she continues. “The cats I see prove that isn’t true. Those who are matted or pelted, have ingrown nails, urine-soaked bellies and dirty bottoms, chin acne, stud tail, dirty and stained eyes, greasy coats and dandruff, as well as those who are just plain smelly, really need our professional attention.

“I have clients who have allergies to cats and regular bathing helps them keep their cats in their home. I also have clients who have cats in great condition and want to keep them that way,” she adds.

interior view of Whisker Tales: Cat Grooming, displaying shelves, closets, wall art and indoor plants
Debra has a good relationship with the veterinary clinics in her area and receives regular referrals from them. She says it feels good to know that the veterinarians trust her training and experience enough to send clients to her. Most of these referrals are for cats that need mat/pelt removal and the vet has suggested they try a cat groomer first to see if it can be done without sedation.

“It has been my experience, more often than not, that most of these cats do not require sedation,” says Debra matter-of-factly. “Once I remove the matting, I educate the client on how we can prevent the matting in the first place so that the cat is no longer living in discomfort/pain. My intention is to put them on a regular maintenance schedule as opposed to once-a-year shave-downs.

“As groomers, we see some of our clients’ cats more often than their vets do (with the exception of those who may have chronic health issues),” she continues. “This allows us to notice changes such as lumps and bumps, and even physical changes or behavioral changes that the owner may not be aware of. I have come across anomalies that I’ve mentioned to the owner, and encouraged them to seek veterinary evaluation if a health issue is suspected.”

While keeping in mind that time is of the essence when grooming cats, Debra says she works efficiently but doesn’t rush through her grooms.

“I want to minimize stress as much as possible,” she shares. “Understanding cat behavior is essential, as not all cats are comfortable with the process. Some cats love it, some are indifferent, and others need help by slowly introducing them to certain aspects of the groom such as the sounds of clippers, running water and blow-drying.

Debra Norton leans over a Tabby cat laying on a grooming table as she shaves the hair from the cats rear right leg
Debra Norton gently holds an orange haired cat on her lap during a grooming session
“Every cat is different,” Debra continues. “If a cat becomes stressed during anything I am doing, I will stop and assess the cat. If it calms down, I will continue the groom. If not, I will stop the groom, contact the owner, and depending on whether it was a medical issue or the cat was just highly stressed, we may try again another day. Sometimes very senior cats, for example, can only handle so much depending on what is being done, and I have, on occasion, split the groom into two sessions instead of pushing them through longer than they can manage.”

Debra is Fear Free certified and Pet First Aid certified. She feels it is very important as a groomer to know basic first aid and CPR, and to never stop learning. Debra has attended the “Bad Ass Cat Groomer Online Conference” and a cat groomer workshop/retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She is also a member of the IAPEG (International Association of Professional Esthetic Groomers) as well as the NCGI (National Cat Grooming Institute).

“Continuing education is important to me,” she shares. “Unfortunately, cat grooming seminars, shows, and exhibitions are not plentiful on Vancouver Island. I do follow some of my instructors and fellow CFMGs on their social media accounts. Also, the NCGI has an alumni Facebook page where there is always something to learn and a lot of support from each other.”

There are now five CFMGs in Debra’s area, and they all received NCGI training.

“There is no competition between us. We support and encourage each other and are all very busy,” she adds.

When she became a CFMG, Debra’s objective was to be able to safely groom cats and to do it in an environment where the cats would feel safe and comfortable, which is why she chose the home-based salon model.

“It is just me and the cat,” Debra says enthusiastically. “It is canine-free, has its own entrance off of a deck in a lovely backyard where clients can wait with a coffee if they like. The cats even have a big picture window where they can look out at the bird bath from the grooming table.”

At Whisker Tales Cat Grooming, the goal is for every cat to receive a gentle, stress-free, one-on-one grooming experience, and Debra Norton’s loving care certainly gives her clients plenty to purr about!