By Laura Oppenheimer
Jai Rodriguez may be best known for his role as the culture expert on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but he’s anything but a one-hit wonder. This jack of all trades has been busy recently, launching a singing career, playing dad to two adorable dogs, and hosting Groomer Has It, a reality competition on Animal Planet in which dog groomers compete against each other for $50,000 and the title of “top groomer.” The contestants—celebrity groomers, dog-show pros, and even a few novices—compete in “quick sniff” challenges (like identifying a breed while wearing a blindfold) in addition to their work grooming pooches large and small. Rodriguez chatted with Tails about his co-star dog, Nemo, giggling on the set, and some tricks of the trade he has learned along the way.
How did you get involved with Groomer Has It?
It’s a television show like any other, so they were casting for a host, and they approached me, which I thought was nice. It was just really wonderful timing.
What was a typical day on the set like?
I would drive to set in downtown L.A. Nemo would be with me, because he would be delivering the mail [on the show]. Sometimes, Nemo’s call time would be earlier than mine, so they’d have a car come pick him up. We’d get to set, go to hair and make-up. … We’d talk to the producers, figure out what the day was. Then we’d start the “Quick Sniff” challenge. Nemo would drop off the message, and then the groomers would meet me wherever they were going to meet me, usually off set. They’d be given the challenge there.
The next day would start pretty early. I’d meet them in the grooming salon, where they’d have to do the grooming challenge. For the grooming challenge, they never knew what they were going to be grooming or what the guidelines were for that groom. Sometimes it was for show; sometimes it was about grooming a pet. We threw all sorts of weird things at them.
Nemo is adorable. How did he get involved in the show?
I just volunteered because I was trying to get a free haircut for him! He’s always been on sets with me on different shows. [The producers] were like, “You know, we actually are in need of a mascot and someone to deliver the message into the contestants’ bedroom.” I’m glad that he ended up doing it, but those early mornings when he would have a 7 o’clock call and I didn’t have to show up until 11 a.m., that was not pleasant.
Did your other dog get jealous?
No, Dory’s more of a lap dog, and Nemo isn’t really a lap dog at all. It’s not that he’s not affectionate, but he’s more active. And though they are active together, he’s a bit more rambunctious, and I thought he’d do better on camera.
Some of the challenges are a little bit ridiculous. You seem to do a pretty good job of keeping a straight face.
This whole grooming industry is so far removed from our normal pop culture society. It’s not something that’s been explored before. Oftentimes, the things that are really important and vital in this industry I did find comical, because it’s so far removed from my reality. But this is a billion-dollar business. To find out all these things about these grooming competitions, all over the world, you’re like “Whoa!” There were other times when I thought things were really funny, and then I’d look up and be like, “They’re serious!” So I couldn’t laugh. It was really interesting.
Did you know anything about grooming before you started the show?
I thought I was really super knowledgeable about dogs, but I didn’t know a whole lot about the grooming aspect of it. Just learning things like if you bathe your dog, it’s wise to stick cotton balls in his ears—not all the way in the eardrum—to protect them from getting water from their eardrums. Things like that that I learned along the way.
Do you have any plans on pursuing any animal-related project or causes in the future?
I was a spokesperson for the North Shore Animal League in New York, and I did an ad campaign that was all over NYC with me holding a rescue puppy. It said, “To save 5 million, it just takes one,” which is the number of dogs [who] are euthanized each year.
Here in Los Angeles, I’ve linked up with Lange Foundation, which is a no-kill shelter that I met on the show, and SPCA as well, because that’s where [Groomer Has It judge] Doc Halligan works. It’s hard because there are so many causes for so many things. Your time is limited, but animal welfare is one of my top priorities.
Groomer Has It airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. E/P on Animal Planet.
For more information, visit AnimalPlanet.com.