AXL ROSE is swaddled in blankets and shivering damply. It's a big week for this poodle.
He is one of 120 dogs competing in today's Purina groomQuest 2012, Australia's biggest and richest dog grooming championships.The groomers will fight for glory, $40,000 in prizes and a spot on Groom Team Australia for the 2013 world championships in Barcelona. Judges are from Japan, Serbia and America.
''It's just like the Olympic Games,'' says Jenny Kent, the owner of Pet Design, a salon with six groomers in this weekend's championship.
For the past two months, Mrs Kent's Lane Cove grooming salon has been busy after hours with preparations for groomQuest 2012 - the room is lined with bins brimming with poodle curls.
''We have over 40 entries in the poodle category,'' says Les Speerin, the contest organiser. ''It's the outstanding look and polish you can put on a poodle.''
Mrs Kent praises the championships for giving professional groomers an ambition to aspire to.
Kazoo Hirae studied for three years at Sunshine Dog Grooming in Fukuoka before taking a job at Mrs Kent's salon. This year he is entering Remi, a gargantuan three-year-old white poodle.
Remi is being groomed in the famous continental style, in which the back half of the dog is shaved in strips. Remi submits to this with dignity.
The groomer's job, Mr Hirae says, while plucking at Remi's considerable mane, is to shape over nature's irregularities and present a dog that lives up to an ideal shape.
Groomers have been known to compete like terriers. ''Very nasty,'' Mrs Kent says of the competitive atmosphere at its worst. ''I personally haven't seen any sabotage … ''
But they are driven by a deep affection for their animals.
''That's my foundation bitch,'' Mrs Kent says, tapping a portrait of the 13-year-old black poodle she bought around the time she quit her job as a primary school teacher to turn pro.
Joelene Turnbull, 30, is one of Mrs Kent's most promising young groomers and is entering Axl and three other dogs.
She will rise at four this morning in a bid to improve upon last year's second placing: ''I'm having lots of dreams about poodles.''
Purina groomQuest 2012 is at Castle Hill Showground.