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May 4, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: His dog grooming an art form

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Bob DiNunzio with a standard poodle at his shop, Hound ’N Hair on North Fifth Street in Warrenton.
I do dogs where their hair is long, and I can make them look like something. It’s just like us. A great hair style can really do wonders.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Warrenton dog groomer owes his career to a couple of mongrels.

Sort of.

The youngest of three children, Bob DiNunzio grew up fending for himself around the family’s Hershey, Pa., home.

“When I was a kid, my parents owned a restaurant very much like the Copacabana,” recalled Mr. DiNunzio, 72, the founder and owner of Hound ’N Hair at 5 N. Fifth St. “They opened at night with showgirls, and I was the only kid at home. So I was kind of lonely.”

At about age 7, he took in two stray dogs who became his “best friends.”

Later, a dog act appeared at his parents’ night club, and the boy struck up a conversation with the animals’ owner and handler, who encouraged him.

The youngster soon liked the idea of working with dogs.

His father told him that “if you really want to do something in dogs, you need to pick a breed and we’ll go from there,” Mr. DiNunzio remembered.

Mr. DiNunzio chose a sable-and-white-colored collie that he named “Queenie.” Later showing collies, the teenager made an impression at a Harrisburg, Pa., competition with a Northern Virginia couple who specialized in poodles.

Vernelle and Calvin Hartman of Chantilly asked Mr. DiNunzio’s parents if the boy could work for them during summers and the school week, as his schedule allowed.

His parents agreed, and Mr. DiNunzio “commuted” from Hershey to Chantilly year-round.

“I was 16 and had a license,” said Mr. DiNunzio, whose parents bought him an MG Midget. “I was going to school two or three days a week. And sometimes not at all, because I would go on the circuit instead. I graduated, but barely graduated.”

Dyslexic, he “really, really hated” school, Mr. DiNunzio said. “Had a lot of trouble with it. I really shined in the artistic things. But school wasn’t one of them.”

He likened the unconventional arrangement with the Hartmans to “running away to the circus.”

Laughing, Mr. DiNunzio added: “My parents were in show business. My mother was a Rockette. My father played bass with big bands. They thought nothing of it, because they did the same thing.”

Big names in the dog show world, the Hartmans owned about 60 poodles, Mr. DiNunzio said.

He learned much of what he knows about dogs from Mr. Hartman.

“Every Sunday, when we weren’t at a dog show, we would pull dogs out,” Mr. DiNunzio said. “He would teach me what was good about this one, what was good about that one. He also taught me how to show these dogs even better than I was doing.”

Mr. DiNunzio lived with and worked for couple for about 10 years — “I was more like their son; I went everywhere with them” — until the dog show circuit became a grind.

In the early 1970s, he discovered a new love in breeding and showing horses. That led Mr. DiNunzio to buy a farm near Orlean that he later sold when his interest in the avocation faded.

In 1976, he opened Hound ’N Hair at the North Fifth Street space. Employing two people — a bather and a “right-hand, Girl Friday” — Mr. DiNunzio styles 10 to 15 dogs per day, Tuesday through Friday.

Show dogs comprise about 20 percent of the business, he said.

“I specialize more in non-sporting dogs and soft-coated dogs,” Mr. DiNunzio explained. “I do dogs where their hair is long, and I can make them look like something. It’s just like us. A great hair style can really do wonders.”

About a dozen years ago, Mr. DiNunzio started to breed and later show Norfolk terriers, including a 2-year-old named Boom-Boom who won a best bitch award at the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club’s Annual All Breed Dog Show in New York City.

He still breeds “Norfolks,” which sell for $4,000 each, and personally shows them at about 10 competitions per year.

Work, his home and gardens and dog shows keep him busy, said Mr. DiNunzio, who has no plans to retire.

“I try to keep it moving,” he said. “I once took off two weeks, and I was going crazy.”

• Age
72

• Home 
Warrenton

• Work
Owner/groomer, Hounds ’N Hair, Warrenton, 5 N. Fifth St., 1976 to present.

• Why do you do the job?
Most people just use clippers. What I do is different. I hand-scissor the dogs. The clips last longer, and they’re much more beautiful. And there are very few groomers in today’s world that do that. It’s a true art form for me.

I like the work. I like the dogs. And my customers are just wonderful. I’ve been here so long they have become my family.

• Family
A sister and three nephews.

• Education
Annville-Cleona High School, Pa., 1966.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 45 years.

• Why do you live here? 
“I had a friend who had a horse, and I’ve always loved horses. When I started buying horses and showing horses, the interest grew. That’s when I decided to have my own place, where my horses could be with me rather than boarding them. So I bought a farm off Crest Hill Road (near Orlean).

• How do you describe this county? 
It’s a great place to be. It’s quiet. The people are nice, friendly.

With the horses and the dogs, it makes it a very happy place to be. People are relaxed, and they enjoy their animals. It just kind of makes everything kind of mellow and nice.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I just wish there were some more interesting shops and great restaurants. I wish we could have a movie theater also.

I have clients who come to the shop from all over — D.C., New Jersey, Richmond. They get here and there’s nothing for them to do. Once they’ve done this town, it’s done.

Hopefully, maybe it’ll turn around soon.

• What do you do for fun? 
I show and breed Norfolk terriers. I’m one of the top breeders in the country. I have puppies 7 weeks old, and they’re darling.

My house is also my fun. I’m a crazy decorator. My house is Italianate, and it’s just wild. I have a great time doing things in my house. I’m always adding to it. And, I have big gardens.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My house.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
I’m worried. The growth isn’t very good. They’re just sticking things everywhere. But, hopefully, maybe somebody will get in there and get some sense. We’ll see.

• Favorite TV show?
“CBS Sunday Morning”

• Favorite movie? 
“Rocketman”

• Favorite book?
I read magazines more than anything: Architectural Digest, the design magazines — those kinds of things. I’m not a big book reader.

• Favorite vacation spot?
Italy

• Favorite food? 
Spaghetti

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
I think everyone has told me this: Just relax, be yourself and people will accept you for who you are.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Calvin Hartman. He was a great teacher. He taught me everything. He always praised me. And, he never wanted anything back.

He was almost the father I didn’t have, because my father was gone. He was on the road with big bands.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
I’d put $1 million under my bed. I don’t know that I would do much different.

I probably would stop working and just enjoy the rest of my life. My life is pretty much set up pretty well.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or Lou Emerson at LKE@fauquiernow.com
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