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Overcoming adversity to become Top Dog

The Tucker family’s dog grooming business endeavors brought them closer together at a time when they needed just that.

MacKenzie Tucker was perfectly healthy until she turned 21. Then she had a stroke, and her health problems began.

“Then it was a two-year search to find out what was wrong,” her mother, Carol, said. “We were adamant — we didn’t care if we had to have the test redone a thousand times.”

Eventually, MacKenzie was diagnosed with moyamoya disease, a rare cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. That’s when they decided she needed brain surgery to get more blood flow into her head.

“Then, three years ago, she had an aneurysm … her eye was hanging out — she was brought in basically dead,” Carol said.

MacKenzie’s father, Rich, was firefighter with the city of L.A. Fire Department, and he was in the hospital when they brought her in.

“They came to give her her last rights, and Rich kicked the guy out,” Carol said.

Thankfully, a young doctor was able to relieve the pressure, which saved MacKenzie’s life.

Mackenzie Tucker stands in front of her Top Dog Grooming van. Courtesy of Carol Tucker

“I’m telling Rich, ‘We have to let her go … She won’t want to live this way,” Carol said. “Rich was adamant that it was too early. She was in ICU for a month, then she was in their rehab for a long time. She had to learn how to walk, she had to learn to talk — everything from scratch. Rich wouldn’t let us leave her side.”

Once MacKenzie was out of the hospital, they took her to Stanford to receive two more brain surgeries.

That’s when they knew she had to choose something new for MacKenzie to do, and she had always been a huge animal lover.

“I do love (dogs) a lot,” MacKenzie explained. “When I like a dog, I like a dog — they’re just amazing.”

So MacKenzie went to grooming school, where she learned that to succeed, she would have to do it independently with her own business because she wasn’t as fast as other groomers would want her to be.

Carol and Rich decided then to help her purchase a grooming van and create Top Dog Mobile Grooming.

The inrerior of the Top Dog Grooming Van. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“We got the truck custom made,” Carol said. “Everything we have is brand new and ahead of anything out there because we thought, ‘If you’re going to do it, go big and do it right.”

In January, just when they were starting the process of acquiring the van, Rich had a stroke, and not even two months later he died.

“Rich got her through all this,” Carol said. “That’s why it’s so hard for her — he was her best friend.”

MacKenzie and Carol had no choice but to push through and move forward with the van.

“Once he passed, we jumped in with both feet,” Carol said. “And it came at the perfect time to keep us busy, keep us distracted, laughing at the escapades of these dogs — it really was a God-send. And this is helping keep her focused.”

It’s been two months now, and the Tuckers have begun to make a name for themselves.

Carol Tucker stands in front of her Top Dog Grooming Van. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“We’re doing great, we’ve got great reviews on everything,” Carol said. “And it’s the funnest thing we’ve ever done. We enjoy it, we enjoy the people — we are all in.”

MacKenzie is a natural, according to Carol, and considers herself a “doggy whisperer” of sorts.

“It’s an easy job when you love it so much,” MacKenzie said. “There’s nothing better than grooming a dog you like. They’re so cool to be around.”

Carol has been helping MacKenzie, and said it’s especially incredible to see her work her magic with the dogs that scare her.

“I go up to the door to get a dog and it lunges at me, but she walks up and it licks her face,” Carol said, chuckling. “She laughs at me because I get scared — and they’re best friends.”

MacKenzie agrees and laughed when asked about her mother’s reaction.

“It’s so funny because she gets the dogs from their parents and they’re mean to her, so I step out and talk to them and they immediately are so sweet,” she said. “These dogs that aren’t supposed to be good dogs — I haven’t had one that is remotely mean at all. They’re the best dogs ever.”

But MacKenzie is doing great, and they’ve learned a lot already in the first few months, according to Carol.

“This was our family putting her back on her feet,” she said, “but I love it so much I’ve been going with her full-time.”

And Carol is going to continue helping MacKenzie simply because, “I love it so much.”

“I end up being happy, and right now, that’s important to do something that’s uplifting for us,” Carol said. “These animals certainly see something in her and people can see how much she loves their dogs.”

They’re now working toward building their client base, and are looking for people that are going to come back.

To find out more about Top Dog Mobile Grooming, visit topdogvalencia.com.

The Tuckers said they went “all in,” sparing no expense in outfitting their business van, as they wanted to do the best possible job for customers. Cory Rubin/The Signal

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