Bay Area dogs are part of the family. We include them in family outings, take them on vacation (or make sure they have posh vacation spots of their own if we can’t), and spoon with them at night. Like human children, we make sure our dogs have the best possible educations.
It’s not at all uncommon for parents of new dogs to spend hours comparing schools and instructors, and to pay trainers for private “tutoring.” And nannies, in the form of dog walkers and doggie daycares, are probably used more widely here for dogs than for kids.
The Bay Area is also a hotbed of holistic health therapies for humans, from acupuncture to yoga and every alphabetical treatment in between.
Add all these things up and it’s not surprising that Bay Area dog guardians are seeking alternative wellness services for their furry children. Regimens such as massage, hydrotherapy, Chinese herbs, acupressure, acupuncture, and even Reiki are now available to local dogs through the efforts of very well trained and educated practitioners who are opening their doors to a flood of clients — yes, even in this economy.
Take The Rex Center in Pacifica, for example. The facility offers low-impact exercise and recovery options for dogs suffering injury or in the post-surgical phase, dogs who are older or overweight, and dogs with boundless energy who just want to have fun. Owner Cathy Chen-Rennie provides traditional massage as well as warm water massage and assisted swimming. “Water exercise and massage are perfect for dogs who are otherwise unable to exercise safely due to injury, arthritis, age, or obesity. The water provides support and, when done properly, the dogs love it.”
In addition, many owners and trainers involved in dog sports are bringing their dogs in for swimming exercise sessions as part of the Rex Center’s Swim Club — think doggie Soccer Moms, except you get to stand inside where it’s warm and nobody whines for ice cream on the way home.
Warm water massage for dogs,? Assisted swimming? Isn’t it all a bit too much? As it turns out, there are mounds of articles on the beneficial effects of these therapies, and carrying them out requires extensive training and certification. Chen-Rennie is certified in Canine Therapeutic and Sports Massage by Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage and is a graduate of the La Paw Spa Canine Hydrotherapy Program. She brings similarly qualified practitioners onboard at The Rex Center to offer acupressure, Reiki, and nutritional counseling.
Heather Sanders, recently named one of the Bay Area’s best alternative medicine providers in Bay Woof’s 2009 Beast of the Bay Awards, makes client house calls when not at The Rex Center. A small animal acupressure practitioner, Sanders has over 500 hours of training, and she assisted in the development of the national certification exam. She is also well studied in canine nutrition and the use of western herbs for dogs.
Sanders talks eloquently of both the scientific and more esoteric aspects of these regimens. Her background is in oncology drug development, but when she found that her own sick dog did not respond to Western treatments, she sought out Eastern alternatives. “Care for animals,” she says, “follows much the same direction as for humans. In the Bay Area we are very receptive to alternative services for ourselves. Many of us have dogs in lieu of children, so it’s natural that we’d also lead this evolution in pet care.”
Kathleen Prasad trains certified Reiki practitioners to work with animals and offers classes and workshops for owners wanting something they can do for their dogs at home. A Japanese healing treatment that involves energy work through a gentle laying on of hands and focusing of intent, Reiki has become very popular among people looking for alternative healing and stress reduction techniques. It’s now also finding its way into the dog world through applications in shelter, rescue, sanctuary, and even zoo environments, as well as its availability for family pets.
Are such treatments right for your Fido? The practitioners quoted here are quick to point out that their services are not intended to replace standard veterinary care. Rather, as Prasad says, they are “a piece of the puzzle” of maintaining good health.
So if your dog is arthritic or overweight, suffers from an injury, has had or will soon be having surgery, struggles with allergies, overdoes it during play or sports, or you simply want to enhance his quality of life, talk to your vet first and then consider the wide variety of holistic therapies available to Bay Area pooches.