Gray-based dog groomer driven to do better job

Last month, Darleen LaFontaine debuted her new business, Pixie Willow’s Mobile Pet Spa.

A local dog lover and trained pet groomer has found her perfect job, surprisingly, in a trailer.

Darleen LaFontaine of Gray started Pixie Willow’s Mobile Pet Spa, a truck-based pet-grooming business, in mid-April. A custom-made trailer, complete with a shower and grooming station, allows her to drive to customers’ homes to give their pets the royal treatment.

“I’ve seen a lot of people who have problems with salons,” LaFontaine said, “because clients have to schedule an appointment, cart their dog to it, and then their dog waits in a kennel for hours. I can breeze up and be done in one to two hours.”

LaFontaine is no stranger to the pet-grooming business. The proud owner of Australian shepherds, long-haired herding dogs similar to border collies, she started grooming out of necessity.

She received more than 500 hours of training at A+ Groomers in New Gloucester. She worked as a groomer at Gray Doggie Cottage, a day care and salon for dogs, where she met Janet Macomber, now one of her regular customers.

Macomber, a New Gloucester resident, said LaFontaine is “my favorite person I’ve had work on Murphy,” her Labradoodle.

LaFontaine is her go-to dog groomer because Murphy is so comfortable around her, Macomber said.

“She is very loving and Murphy looks adorable when she’s finished,” she said.

Macomber has continued to hire LaFontaine now that she has a mobile service.

“It’s more convenient for me if she can come to my house,” Macomber said, “and more comfortable for Murphy, as well.”

The business is named after for LaFontaine’s youngest of her three Australian shepherd pups, Pixie Willow. The breeder gave her the name Pixie after the candy, and LaFontaine added Willow because she thought it suited her.

LaFontaine’s truck is a self-sufficient spa. The pet-shower conserves water by recycling the sudsy water after the dog’s first wash. The truck doesn’t rely on the homeowners’ water or electricity.

The spa is designed like a tiny house, with built-in shelves and mini-fridge. It has heat for the winter months and air conditioning for hot days.

The van was constructed by Wag’n Tails, a business that specializes in designing mobile grooming trucks, and shipped to Gray from Indiana.

The sides are decorated with Pixie Willow’s brightly colored logo, featuring two fairies in an outdoor scene and a cat and dog in a suds-filled tub. The logo grabs people’s attention, and, LaFontaine said, she’s been stopped in parking lots and asked for tours of her van.

She charges about $100 for a spa visit , LaFontaine said, but the price varies depending on the dog “and many other factors.” A dog with matted fur, requiring thorough brushing, may take longer and cost more. The dog’s size, weight and coat type, as well as the type of services the customer requests, are all factors in the cost formula.

The price of a Pixie Willow visit is about twice as much as a comparable visit to a brick-and-mortar groomer, but LaFontaine said what customers gains in time, convenience and comfort for their dog makes it worthwhile.

LaFontaine offers first-time customers a free consultation, so “they can meet me and learn about my services and make sure it’s a good fit,” she said.

LaFontaine services 13 towns, according to her website, including the Lakes Region towns of Gray, New Gloucester and Windham. However, she would travel to some towns not listed on the website, and a potential customer should “call and see if I can make it to their town.”

A closer look

Darleen LaFontaine of Pixie Willow’s Mobile Pet Spa says her top tip for dog owners is to brush their dog daily. She has seen dogs whose fur has become so matted, it “sticks to the skin and becomes an irritant to the dog,” she said. “It can cause problems with the dog’s skin.”

If a dog requires more than 20 minutes of brushing to remove the matted fur, “it’s easier and kinder to the dog to shave it off,” she said.

For more information or to contact LaFontaine, visit

Darleen LaFontaine and her dog Pixie Willow stand outside LaFontaine’s new rolling business. LaFontaine, owner of Pixie Willow’s Mobile Pet Spa, started offering at-home grooming services last month.