Abigail Steponavicius infront of her grooming studio on Chilko St. (Black Press Media/Christian Apostolovski)

A chance encounter leads to a career in dog grooming

In Our Valley: Abigail Steponavicius

Born and raised in Kitimat, Abigail Steponavicius, 24, has started her journey of owning her own business and grooming dogs full time. Steponavicius was born in the old Kitimat hospital and had a typical childhood growing up in northwestern B.C.

She spent time outside with her friends as well as going on camping trips with her family.

Steponavicius went to Roy Wilcox Elementary school before making the move to MESS for high school. Her experience was a little different than average.

“Well, my mom was my principal for most of my schooling. She was my vice principal in elementary school and then when high school came around she said ‘I’m coming to high school with you’, so she was always around,” said Steponavicius.

Though her mom, Janet Meyer, who is retiring this year as the school district superintendent, worked at the schools, Steponavicius still didn’t enjoy school. During her high school experience, she worked at Rosario’s as a chef’s assistant, helping prepare food and doing whatever was needed in the kitchen.

“It’s neat to see how a restaurant actually runs, it is stressful as there’s a lot going on,” she said.

Steponavicius enjoyed cooking so following high school she completed culinary training at Northwest Community College in Terrace.

However, there was a slight bump in her career ambition. “I’m a very picky eater, going to school for cooking is not easy when you don’t like a lot of food,” she said.

Steponavicius worked at the White Spot in Terrace making breakfast and then at Wings in Terrace for a brief time before deciding it was time for a change.

She returned to Kitimat where her boyfriend at the time had a job and began working at the Chalet, a job she held for a couple of years. Eventually, her work at the Chalet moved to part-time.

“And I decided that I did not want to spend the rest of my life in a kitchen,” she said. “It’s too hot in the summer.”

Steponavicius then began work at Pet Valu and that was when she realized that she wanted to do something else.

“I’ve always really liked animals,” said Steponavicius. “I had my first dog who was named Harley and he kind of started my real love for dogs.”

Her family always had animals even a dog that her mom had named Jake that terrorized her. Despite the bad experience with her mom’s dog, her love for dogs grew.

While working at the pet store an opportunity presented itself for Steponavicius to get some training in grooming dogs.

“A lady came into the store one day and was talking to us and told us about her school called Northern BC School of Dog Grooming,” she said.

The idea of attending the school went to the back of her mind before she finally made the final decision to sign up.

She went to the school, located in Endako, with Blair Stoneman, a friend and colleague from Pet Valu. There they lived in a trailer for six weeks, grooming more than 125 dogs.

But getting to Endako proved potentially dangerous as Steponavicius forgot to torque the tires on her vehicle and one was on the verge of falling off. “It started shaking and I’m like something’s wrong,” she recounted.

Luckily, sister Kayla Steponavicius and her boyfriend were transporting the trailer and the boyfriend was able to take a look and secure the wheel so they could finish their journey.

“Our plan, when we got back from school, was to do grooming at Pet Valu but the contract they had was not worth it,” she said. “At the time I had been looking at houses in Kitimat to see what I wanted to do.”

Her father, Mike Steponavicius, also agreed she should not take the contract but instead start her own business, saying that if she got a house they could build something.

The house she bought had a larger laundry room which she says may have been a garage in the past. She bought a stackable washer and dryer to free up some space and installed a bathtub to create her own dog grooming area.

Steponavicius continued to work at the pet store and began running her business, Step by Step Grooming, part-time just over a year ago.

When she was deciding whether or not she would do grooming full time, she spoke to Jenn Jonkman who owns Hale Holistics in Kitimat. Jonkman helped break down some of the numbers for her and explained what it was like owning a business.

Last month Steponavicius expanded from three days a week to full-time.

“It depends on the dog, a shepherd is something you don’t cut its fur, I like grooming big dogs because there’s so much more room,” Steponavicius said. “But with a small dog you have to pick it up and work your way around it.”

She has also realized that many of the dogs she has dealt with are very well-behaved once their owners leave, despite their owners cautioning Steponavicius that they may not behave.

The business has taken off for the young dog groomer as she has now begun booking her appointments into May.