It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and Edgar, an 8-year-old Irish Wolfhound mix, enters the water therapy pool at Firdale Village’s SplashDog. Guided by his owner, Edmonds resident Ken Forsberg, Edgar — who suffers from arthritis and has difficulty walking — begins paddling through the water under the watchful eye of SplashDog therapist JLinn Henline.
Edgar has a bad disk in his back, so he wears a swim belt to hold up his hindquarters. In the water — kept at a therapeutic 92 degrees — he splashes playfully and chases a tennis ball thrown by Forsberg, who said he noticed immediate results after Edgar’s first visit. “He had all kinds of energy,” Forsberg said. “He’d been slowing down and not wanting to go on his walk. After he came here he was completed psyched to play fetch again.”
After Edgar’s half-hour session, Henline greets Katie, a 10-year-old border collie mix also experiencing back problems. The dog is a bundle of energy in the pool, and Edmonds owner Lynn Gallagher said the therapy complements care the dog is receiving from a local veterinarian also trained as a chiropractor. “The swimming helps her get some muscle strength in her back,” Gallagher said. “She is so much looser and calmer because she’s exercised.”
Standing in the pool next to Katie (see video), Henline — who co-owns SplashDog along with Leigh Anne Hardy — explains what she looks for when they work with dogs. “We monitor their pattern of swimming,” said Henline, who like Hardy is a licensed massage therapist (for humans) and is also certified in animal massage. “Some dogs will only turn one direction so we get them to turn in the other direction,” she said. The therapists also make sure the dogs are using all of their limbs when they swim, and check for weak abdominal muscles. And while the canine clients catch their breath in the water, Heline and Hardy do massage and range- of-motion exercises.
In Firdale Village since 2004, SplashDog provides a range of services for dogs and their owners, from introducing puppies to the water to teaching dogs to swim to therapy for dogs who are injured or ill, including those suffering from cancer or strokes. They will also provide a hospice service in which they turn down the lights for a dog’s last swim.
“We highly recommend bringing in a puppy to get them used to the water,” Heline said. “Too many dogs drown in pools.” In fact, the two women recommend that all dogs wear swim vests, especially in rivers, lakes and Puget Sound. “Dogs can cramp, they can get hypothermia,” Hardy said. “I see people throwing the ball further and further at the (Edmonds) dog park and I think, ‘Are you going to go in and rescue your dog?'”
One family sought SplashDog’s help for a labradoodle who had lost a leg in an accident; they wanted the dog to relearn to swim with three legs, Hardy said. The therapists have seen consistent success helping dogs who have been paralyzed by strokes, working with them to regain use of their legs.
SplashDog is open every day except Friday, when Hardy and Henline conduct maintenance on the 8-by-20-foot, 3,000-gallon therapy pool. To keep ahead of the dog hair, they skim the pool after each client and use a heavy-duty filtration system. In addition to the therapy sessions, which typically run a half hour, they also provide canine massage, accupressure and Reiki sessions. They also offer in-home dog evaluations and training to address common issues such as jumping, barking or grooming difficulties.
Owners are required to be present during water therapy sessions, although it’s their choice whether they actually want to get into the pool with their dog. Cost is $50 for a half-hour session or $40 for a “self swim,” in which the owner is in the water but the therapist is not. Note that owners are required to complete an initial training session before doing a self-swim session. “It’s not as easy as it looks,” Hardy said.