If you decide to take your beloved fur baby to dog groomer Gabriel Feitosa, be warned. You may get back a giraffe, zebra, or even a Pokémon.
Growing up in poverty in East São Paulo, Brazil, Feitosa discovered his passion for decorative dog grooming when he was 12 years old. Taking inspiration from fashion icons like Vidal Sassoon and Alexander McQueen, he has invented his own world of art, fashion, and style for pets, which has led him to gain international recognition. Feitosa utilizes the traditional skills of a groomer to execute his unique designs and opts for vegan, pet-friendly dyes.
Now based in San Diego, Gabriel has become a viral TikTok phenomenon, garnering over two million followers and billions of views, and his work has led him to Hollywood, where he was a finalist on ABC’s reality competition Pooch Perfect. He currently owns and operates a successful grooming business, while also working with shelters and the Humane Society to help beautify dogs to increase their chances of adoption.
Feitosa took some time to talk more about his work and love of dogs with Instinct.
Can you begin by telling us how you fell into the world of decorative dog grooming?
I fell into the world of creative dog grooming when I was around 12 years old. I knew this lady who did creative dog grooming, and I thought what she did was amazing. She played with dogs all day and made money (laughs), and a lot of people think that’s what we do all day. But I just fell in love with the fact that dogs have so many different coat textures and personalities. It was like a never-ending learning curve, and I just got fascinated by it.
What kind of impact are you hoping to make on this industry?
I’m hoping to change the perspective of people when it comes to dog grooming. When I started doing this, the reception from my friends and family wasn’t the warmest. They weren’t like, oh my God! It’s so exciting that you’re going to be a dog groomer! They were like, why are you doing this? Why not do something else? And I have received many messages from people, telling me that their partner doesn’t understand why they’re so passionate about dog grooming.
So, I’m hoping to change the perspective and showcase that dog groomers are artists. I want to do for the dog grooming industry what RuPaul did for Drag Race. People suddenly saw the whole drag industry differently, and I want to be a part of that change for dog grooming.
Can you talk more about how creative grooming allows owners to bond with their dog?
Creative grooming definitely adds a lot of fun to the dog’s style, and I’ve seen owners match their outfit to their dog’s haircut. I have a lady that comes in who only gets her dog’s ears and tail colored, but she’s always like, oh my God. I need to buy a whole new wardrobe because I don’t have anything pink.
What do you love the most about working, playing, and just being around dogs every day?
The funny thing is, when people hear that you work with dogs, they think you automatically bond to every single dog. However, it’s really like building a relationship. Just like with a person. You get to see them every week or every couple of weeks, and you get to know them, and they get to know you. It’s very cool that we get to build this friendship with the dogs. They come in, they get excited to see you, and then they don’t want to leave. It’s very rewarding to know that you have so many friends.
Which breed of dog is your favorite?
Poodles are my favorite because they’re very smart dogs, but they’re also like a perfectly white canvas.
You now own a very successful dog grooming business in San Diego. What types of services do you offer?
We pride ourselves in offering everything possible, service wise, for dogs. We offer spa services, skin treatments, services for show dogs, handstripping – whatever desire or dream haircut you have for your dog, we can do.
Do you work with cats or any other kind of pets?
I do have a groomer that specializes in cats, so we are now opening more appointments for cats. It’s something that we’re still testing, so it’s currently a work in progress.
I’m sure you have encountered many people who have claimed that this is animal abuse. How do you respond to them?
You know, the animal abuse accusations never happen in-person because usually when someone sees the dogs, they see that the dogs are fine. I think when they have that glimpse on social media, people think it’s spray paint or acrylic paint. Some people even think that I color the dogs with sharpies. They don’t understand that there’s been a lot of development in this industry and there are products that are made for pets.
I understand when they are concerned because I feel like if I didn’t know how it was done, I would also be concerned, but I think my duty is to try and educate them. At least give them the option to see a video where I talk about how nontoxic the products are. I’ve eaten the dye to prove that it’s nontoxic (laughs). If they still don’t like it, then there’s nothing I can do about it.
Have you ever worked on a celebrity’s dog before?
No, I haven’t! I would love to someday, especially Paris Hilton’s dog. I’m such a fan.
You rose to national fame by appearing on the ABC reality show Pooch Perfect in 2020. What was that experience like?
That was such a mind-blowing experience! Like I said in the beginning, when I first started doing this, I didn’t have a supportive circle around me because nobody really understood. People were telling me that I was wasting my life by doing this, but this craft is so unusual that it took me all the way from the slums of Brazil to Hollywood. Suddenly, I saw myself on television, and I won the first episode of the show. It truly gave me this perspective that nothing is impossible. Even if you have this niche industry and this passion that’s very often misunderstood, it can take you very far if you really go for it.
What would you say are some of your best dog grooming creations?
In one of the episodes, I made it look like a fish was eating a dog, and I thought it was a very clever design! I really like animal transformations because I’ve found a way to acknowledge the dog underneath them. If I do a tiger, zebra, or giraffe, I don’t try to do the actual animal. I try to do the dog stylized as the animal. You can still see the animal, but you also see the dog. I love those.
For those who would like to pursue this type of work, what advice can you offer?
I would advise you to find a mentor in your area that you really admire and just learn what they’re doing. I’ve worked for less money, and I’ve sometimes worked for free, but I would tell people, hey, I’d love to help you. I’ll clean your shop, I’ll pick up poop, just let me see what you’re doing. You can do classes nowadays, but they’re very different from when I started, and you can pursue trade shows all over the country, so it’s up to you. It’s just like learning to play an instrument or how to paint or draw. The more you practice and the more you seek new techniques, the further you can get.
What are some future goals you hope to accomplish with your career and business?
I hope to open another store in a major city, hopefully LA, and I’m working on it. I also want to eventually create an education platform where I can pass on this knowledge to whomever wants to learn, and maybe I can have my own TV show someday. That would be amazing. I just want to keep pushing this industry forward. That’s my dream.
Stay up-to-date and connect with Feitosa by following him on Instagram and TikTok @gabrielfeitosagrooming, and make sure to visit gabrielfeitosagroomer.com for more information on provided services and to make an appointment.