Not just anyone is on a first-name basis with Katy Perry, but even fewer are on a first-name basis with her dog. "Nugget!" L.A. groomer, comedian and director Jess Rona said with affection. "I groomed her yesterday."
Rona shot to insta-fame with her Instagram account @jessronagrooming, an ingenious feed that transforms her stylishly groomed dogs into movie stars – literally.
Dogs of all breeds become the stars of their own music videos, set to a soundtrack of pop and indie rock songs and filmed in slow motion, a fan blowing their freshly fluffed fur just like a model's hair on a fashion shoot.
The videos are hypnotic – and hilarious, a testament to Rona's talents as a longtime dog groomer and improv comic.
Although her Instagram account has exploded in popularity, her expertise didn't happen overnight. She started working at PetSmart in Reseda when she was 18, a dog bather who knew nothing about dogs.
"My boss was like, 'Can you go put that lead on the Lab and bring it out?' " Rona's reaction: "What's a lead, and which one's the Lab?"
She worked on and off as a groomer while in her 20s, then threw herself into the job. "I started to develop my own style," she said, which she described as "Japanese-influenced pet trims," a whimsical look "for people who aren't going to sit and brush their dog every day."
The Instagram account "became an outlet for my urge to create," she said, and a way to showcase her meticulous cuts and comic timing.
After she groomed and filmed Marni in April 2015, the dog's owner reposted the video and Rona's following ballooned. "I never tried to get followers. I never did hashtags or anything like that," she said.
Rona has since landed a deal for a book of her dog photographs and is writing a television pilot loosely based on her life. What's next? She wants to continue writing and directing bigger projects, and "develop a product line and grooming kit for at-home groomers." In the meantime, Rona has some do-it-yourself tips for getting your dog Instagram-ready:
How to get dogs to sit still for pictures? "I just hold the treat bag" in one hand, she said, "the camera in the other. I have squeaky toys; I ask them if they want to go on a W.A.L.K." She also recommends seating the dog on a counter or table. "If a dog is high up, they're less likely to walk around."
For at-home grooming, Rona recommends the Artero Double Flexible Slicker brush and, her favorite, the Mark VII Curved Back Large Slicker Brush by Chris Christensen. "I would recommend getting a pair of thinning sheers versus regular shears" for at-home trims, she says – they're better for blending.
Once you've taken the perfect shot, it's time for the fun part: filters. Rona's visual approach is intuitive. For her dramatic bath photos, "I take out the warmth and make it really blue," sharpening the resolution to highlight long, sudsy fur. For a happy, glamour shot, "warm it up" with sunny tones.
The most important thing, said Rona, is to project calm and confidence. "Dogs are not word readers; they're energy readers," she said. She encourages her clients to avoid baby talk when communicating with their pets. "When a dog is seen and validated and heard, they calm down," she said, adding, the "same with people."