New line of business

Michelle Miller, owner of All Dogs Great and Small, blow dries a poodle inside her grooming business on West King Sreet in Strasburg. Miller is being forced out of the dog grooming business due to health issues related to pet dander and is planning to open a light retail and crafts store. Rich Cooley/Daily

Michelle Miller loves to wash and groom dogs.

But a recently diagnosed lung affliction means Miller can’t do what she enjoys as a business without further damaging her health.

Miller runs All Dogs Great and Small at 510 W. King St. in Strasburg. Miller started her grooming business about eight years ago in a space downtown before relocating. She is now in the process of changing the business name and focus from grooming to selling her homemade jewelry and crafts.

“That was like a side thing, so basically they just flip flopped,” Miller said. “It’s a good thing that I had that in the back pocket.”

Miller is in the process of changing her business to M&Ps, named for herself and her mother and “silent partner,” Patty. Miller sells stained-glass window decorations, bead jewelry, pillows and other handmade crafts. Miller has ramped up her production lately as she transitions to the new business model. She also plans to set up a booth at Mayfest.

Michelle Miller holds a bracelet she has created. She plans to phase out her dog grooming business due to health reasons and open a retail store of light arts and crafts. Rich Cooley/Daily

The owner has filed a request with the town to change the special-use permit for her business to reflect her revised plan. The Planning Commission and Town Council will need to hold a public hearing on the requested permit changes.

Miller also recently put her property on the market and said she intends to look for a space to rent closer to downtown.

Miller, 35, was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, known to cause shortness of breath and other symptoms, which she described as asthma but worse. Her doctors told her she could not groom dogs anymore. Miller had two words to describe how she feels about having to stop doing what she enjoys.

“It sucks,” Miller said as she blow-dried a wet dog while breathing from an oxygen tank.

Miller has cut back significantly on the number of dogs she baths and grooms – from 10-12 per day to about 10 total and only small, hypo-allergenic canines such as Lhasa Apsos and Yorkies. She doesn’t plan to take additional clients in her new business.

The ailment also affects Miller’s heart. Lifting even certain small dogs, let alone the larger canines she had groomed for years, put too much strain on her heart. Even West Highland white terriers, or westies, put more pressure than she can stand, Miller said.

“Basically I’m down to small dogs,” Miller said.

The illness also prevents Miller from doing much with her degree in environmental studies, she said.

Miller’s health problems arose about two years ago. She recalled that she thought she suffered from asthma. Doctors at Winchester Medical Center thought she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, she said. Miller said her business as a dog groomer never came up in conversations at the hospital about her illness.

Miller told doctors at a hospital in Fairfax that she worked as a dog groomer and they diagnosed her with the disease. Doctors asked about the number and kind of dogs she groomed and for how long had she done the work.

Miller’s immune system didn’t calm down after the last time she fell ill and it started to attack her right lung. The illness also affected her trachea, making it difficult to eat, Miller said. As a result, Miller said she lost a lot of weight.

“Basically, it attacked my right lung and what happened was, since I love to hike, do everything outdoors, garden, all the grooming, unfortunately all of that made me look like I had asthma but really I have pulmonary hypertension,” Miller said.

Medication and treatment has helped her tackle the illness. Miller said her health has improved greatly.

“There are high hopes that I don’t have to lose my lung and I probably don’t have to look at a lung transplant, hopefully never,” Miller said. “But basically grooming, never ever … Because if I ever go back to it full time, I’ll end up in the hospital again.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com