By Heidi Baumstark

Reputation. Everybody has one. Whether you want one or not. 

When it comes to Liz Washington, her reputation as a professional groomer surpasses all. That’s what her customers at Middleburg Humane Foundation (MHF) say. After all, she’s been grooming dogs and cats since 1978, and has earned a raving reputation like none other.

Washington lives in Middleburg and grew up on Windy Hill Road when Windy Hill “wasn’t renovated as it is now,” she says. Back then, this neighborhood on the western edge of town was in rough shape until the early 1980s when English-born Rene Llewellyn came to the area as a young war bride and decided to take action, raising local funds for a HUD grant to renovate the mix of houses. “My mother loved Rene,” says Washington. Five generations of her family lived at their Windy Hill house.

As a kid, Washington always had a heart for animals. “We always had dogs and cats, and any injured animal we could bring home, we did,” she says. “My mom loved animals. We also had a chicken coop in the yard, and I’d get the eggs.” 

All this love and care for animals would lead to her 42-year career as a professional groomer. Ironically, that career began with an unfortunate accident involving a BB gun. The year was 1978 and Washington was a young 23-year-old. Her neighbor’s dog was shot by another neighbor. “I picked up the dog and brought him to Middleburg Animal Hospital, at that time, it was Blue Ridge Animal Hospital.” (Today, it’s Family Veterinary Hospital.) 

(Above: Liz Washington, professional groomer at Middleburg Humane Foundation, loves the animals she grooms. Photo courtesy of Joanne Maisano.)

  Dr. John Holland was the veterinarian at the time and saw her genuine care for animals. “He said to me, ‘How would you like a part-time job? I heard lots about you from Mrs. Dimos. My animal attendant is leaving for college and do you want the job?’ That was it. No interview, no application, nothing. My life started on a new path that day.” 

The job turned full time and she worked there for 35 years from 1978 until 2013, and was trained in several vet assistant skills including dispensing medications and drawing blood. “I was there forever. They referred to it as ‘my’ hospital because I knew everything about the building, the people, the customers,” she said. 

During a time of transition in ownership in 2013, Hilleary Bogley, founder of Middleburg Humane Foundation (MHF), stepped in. “She said, ‘Well, you can come here and work with us.’” That was it. The following week, she started working at MHF, which at that time, was on Whiting Road in Marshall. Now in a brand-new, beautiful facility that opened in October 2019, MHF—a non-profit incorporated in 1994—is a 23-acre farm shelter on the west end of Marshall. The goal? MHF’s mission is to provide all animals—both large and small—safe and sanitary living conditions, protection from abuse and neglect, and the ability to live in an environment free from pain and fear. And part of their facility includes the grooming salon.

Washington grooms between six to nine dogs a day of all sizes. “I like the transition of when animals come in and how they go home. I just love what I do, period. It’s not like going to work for me,” she says. 

One of her long-time customers is Nathalie Kaye who lives just outside of Middleburg. She has been bringing her poodles to Washington to groom over the last ten years. “I’ve known Liz for years; I also knew her mother. Liz is very good and nice to the dogs. No dog really likes baths, but she’s very good with them.”

Another customer, Krasi Henkel of Purcellville, is an avid animal lover. She has seven horses, five cats, two dogs, and is a long-time supporter of MHF. For over eight years, she brought Connor, her Goldendoodle, to Washington. Sadly, Connor passed away in April 2019; now Henkel brings her two dogs, Giselle and Sophie to MHF. 

Henkel has recommended Washington to many people. “You want your dog to be safe and not have a traumatic experience; I’ve tried other places, and even tried to do it myself; but I’m no good at it. I had heard about Liz, so decided to try her. Though we were not that close living in Purcellville, we just kept coming back.”

Henkel lives on a horse farm and the dogs play and pick up hay in their fur. “Liz understands that and doesn’t lecture you if the dog’s fur is unkempt,” Henkel said. “She’s patient and very calm. She loves them, respects them, and dogs pick up on that. I’d tell Connor, ‘We’re going to see Auntie Liz.’ He understood and he loved his Auntie Liz.” 

(Above: Giselle and Sophie, two happy customers of Liz Washington. Photo courtesy of Krasi Henkel.)

Referring to the dogs she grooms, Washington said, “If they can feel your love and have a calming environment, that makes a big difference. They know me—and they also know where the cookie jar is! I have three jars of dog treats. And fresh water.”  

Thinking about how she got started, Washington says, “I just brought in a hurt dog and got a job. I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Years ago, I took business classes, but that wasn’t really for me. God is in control and I get up every day and walk the path that’s before me.”

Life for Washington has had its own challenges. After bouts of cancer in 2002, and then again in 2006, Washington understands the need to take life as it comes, one day at a time. And her heart to care goes far beyond the animals she grooms, including to her husband, daughter, grandson, and extended family. Active in her church, Shiloh Baptist in Middleburg, she spreads her care and faith to her close church family and to everyone she meets. 

“Things come along our path and we need to accept it,” Washington says. “That’s how we live, we trust God, and go with the flow. And pray.”

Henkel added, “Some people come into your life who are really special. Liz is a dear friend; I care about her and her family. She’s a magician with these dogs. I believe in going with the best, and that’s Liz. People say, ‘Oh it’s so far away.’ But I say, ‘Oh, she’s so good.’” 

So, whatever happened to that shot neighborhood dog? Thanks to Washington’s quick actions, he survived. 

“We had all our wishes come true when we found our Auntie Liz,” Henkel said. “When you go to someone and you like their work, you keep coming back. There’s no one better.” Now that’s a reputation that lasts. ML

For grooming, call 540-364-GROOM (4766); grooming gift certificates are also available. MHF is located at 5000 Cunningham Farm Drive in Marshall, Va. For more information, call 540-364-3272 or visit middleburghumane.org. MHF also runs the Resale Boutique located at 8351 W. Main Street in Marshall, Va. Call 540-364-3272; proceeds go to MHF.

An upcoming event benefitting MHF is their annual Spay-ghetti and No Balls Dinner on Feb. 15, 6-9 p.m. at Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane, Va. Visit MHF’s website for more information.