A Spa Is Born

The story of Cindy’s spa in Sequim, Washington – how it came to be, and the adventures along the way.

Cindy Horsfall

A Glimmer in The Eye

When you go to a pool maintenance and supply company and talk about dogs, you might see the pool people clap their hands to their ears and run the other way mumbling strange sounds. Look around and you’ll see swimming caps and various contraptions and devices to keep hair out of the pool.

Pools are NOT meant for hair – and dogs are full of hair.

I owned my last pool and property for over 15 years and my closest friends knew how I cursed pool maintenance. They would be out to dinner and a movie and I’d be stuck home trying to get my flow restriction lights to turn back on. I hung lucky symbols and crystals in my pool equipment room in hopes for some help from beyond but nothing seemed to ease the work.

Being committed to safe water that is as alive and healthy as possible, I refused to use the standard chemicals and instead had every other option in the book working for me…which of course meant even more work as it is a constant dance to achieve the perfect balance in my goal to provide the most nurturing and safe experience for my beloved clients.

In 2002, I began to witness the growth of water therapy in the country and with this growth came a carelessness of style and a lack of standards in some programs. In my ultimate mission to help dogs and their people, I was drawn to start a National Association for the work (1) and my International Training program (2)… but first I had to eliminate something from my world in order to create space for the new…

It was a struggle to decide how to create space but I finally decided to sell my home and pool and take my business on the road and into other people’s pools – and in doing this I eliminated pool maintenance and ownership from my life and freed up about 50% of my time. I walked away from pool maintenance and never looked back.

Well… until just recently….

In the last year, I had begun to miss the gentle skimming of my pool at night. The flicker of candlelight that danced across my pool’s surface as I closed each days work with a meditation of thankfulness. I began to miss the opportunity to find time spontaneously for a dog who needed me, to be able to do therapy at any time for any dog. Last year I missed the opportunity to teach a woman from Europe who couldn’t accommodate my teaching schedule and I found myself wishing I could do a custom class for her.

I started to wonder if I could do it again – but this time smarter.

And then came ..Morgan…and those big brown eyes of hers…

When Morgan’s Mom (who lived only 5 miles from me in Sequim) called me and told me that her sweet corgi had ruptured a disc in the lumbar spine and could I do anything for her, at that moment, with ALL Of my heart, I wanted a pool… and I needed one now.. in my home town.

When I went to see Morgan in her home for a land massage treatment, she rolled those big brown eyes up at me and I knew I was in trouble – and it was that day, with those thoughts in my head, that I drove by the most perfect commercial building for my new spa.

Over the last 15 years, I have become pretty good at knowing what is needed in a building and setting for this kind of work. This is the first in a series of articles going over why I jumped on this particular building and what things are important to support canine water therapy. I will also begin to share some of the nightmare stories attached to signing a long term lease and venturing into the world of county commercial zoning, codes, permits … and of course all those surprised looks from the authorities who say “YOU DO WHAT ???

Zoning – Permitting – Legal Mumbo Jumbo

All the stuff you have to get over and through before you can embrace the warm and fuzzy stuff.

First and foremost, I checked with my state to determine what was legal to do, confirmed that I had the legal education to call myself a therapist and that what I wanted to provide in my business plan was legal to do so. Made it past that hurdle.

Note: when doing this first step, find out what you are legal to do and don’t be stopped by what you can NOT do. Instead find out what you can do and create a business plan in line with what is legal. For example, a friend of mine who was not allowed to provide therapy in her state, built a fun pool and a program that offered safe swimming and aquatic exercise – and has a wonderful business that is in line with the laws.

Next, I confirmed with the county what zoning they required for my type of business plan. I had bought property with the intentions of building on my own land but upon further research, I learned that I needed to be on commercially zoned property to have a canine aquatic therapy pool. This is not the way it is in most counties but it was in mine. One challenge is that ‘canine water therapy’ doesn’t usually show up on a recognized list of businesses at the county and so they need to make a judgment call. Too often, they jump to the conclusion that this will be a business of barking dogs and don’t realize that it will be more about incense, candles and soft music. So this was my personal challenge and my county lumped me in with vet offices and boarding kennels, hence the requirement in my county for commercial zoning. Sigh….

In looking at commercially zoned places to rent I knew I needed a garage door and a ceiling height of 11′ or greater so that I could get a swim spa, put it on the ground and build a deck at least 36″ high and still have legal ceiling height when standing on the deck. As I searched for this type of building, what I usually found was industrial type places in noisy machine shop strips; warehouses and such. I struggled as I tried to create ambiance in my mind but most commercial buildings with garage doors fell short in the ambiance department.

Commercial yet cute, warehouse yet not industrial.

Note: there is also the option to buy a pool liner and pass it through a normal door way. I personally love the swim spa for canine hydrotherapy. Its easy to clean, its got great jets for water flow (as its all about water flow when you want a clean pool) and it’s portable.

Perhaps now you understand why when I saw this building for rent, I jumped at the change. It was perfect.

spa back  side

Why did I think this building was so perfect?

Zoning: this building was commercially zoned and yet sat by itself with grass all around it. Finally the right zoning!

A Garage Door: to my happy surprise, when I drove around in back of this building, it did have a garage door! I could pass my pool through this door and then replace it with window and a wall.

Ceiling Height: the ceiling height was 10’9″ in the warehouse section of this building. I would have preferred 11-12′ but I could live with 10’9″. My pool is 54 inches high, so I had to go up 36″ in order to leave a 18″ lip which is sort of a tall step to get in. I would have loved to go higher with my deck but county requirements said that 7’9″ was the max for ceiling height when one was up on the deck. So … this would work!

Building Size: the warehouse portion of this building was 26×46 which was ample – but in addition to this, there was a full reception area, nice big bathroom and an extra room up front. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with all of that extra space in front but I loved the possibilities!

Zen Potential: Now this was important to me. I have always felt that canine water therapy was a spiritual service and could create healing potential at deep levels. It’s important for me that the spa be able to be quiet and have a feeling of safety. This building scored high in what I call “zen potential”. With its natural stone accents and slate floors, quality craftsmanship with an attention to detail.

Grass: now we’re looking at commercial zoning and yet a dog has to be able to have access to some kind of grass, and I personally like to have some kind of privacy and grass. Somehow I just didn’t want to be showing a client how to express the bowels of their incontinent dog in front of a fast food outlet. This property had wonderful grassy areas on all sides and a more private area in the back that would work just fine.

Access to the SPA: This is largely over looked in many canine water therapy programs. The clients who come to see us in this business usually should not be walking! They are either just out of surgery or are in some sort of discomfort or disability. Our clients need to be able to park near a door and have as short of a distance as possible to get into the pool. This building, with its access front and back and parking front and back made that possible.

Access to the Building and Visibility: This wasn’t a requirement but a real bonus that this building was right off the major highway and yet had a private drive that created a safety barrier from the road. My sign would eventually light up toward the highway and be very visible. Easy access from all areas of town and easy directions … what a bonus!

Safety: Always a concern. How to get a dog in or out of a business via a parking lot where cars will be coming and going and be as safe as possible. How busy is the parking lot traffic? How close is the road? I’ve seen some really excellent ways that businesses have created safety here with gates and little fenced in yards. This property was completely off the road and surrounded by gardens so it passed in the safety department.

A Wonderful Landlord: Ok so now you have found a wonderful building for the business but if you are going to rent, then you will still need to get past the landlord! Its going to be a huge capital improvement (probably $100,000 or more) so you want a long lease; you don’t want to fail and have to move. You will be putting a large vat of water into rented space so you will need to make sure the building stays safe and dry, having an adequate ventilation system. And you will need a landlord who wants your business in his building with these potential risks. Luckily, the landlords attached to this building I found were wonderful. They met me with their yellow lab, Bailey, and I just fell in love with all of them immediately.

So now you can understand why I was so excited when I walked into the lovely front reception room of this space – noticed the roomy bathroom, extra room off the side and then walked through the door in the back into an unfinished warehouse which backed up into a school grassy open playground why I signed a 10 year lease.

It was perfect.

I thought the hard part was over at this point.

Little did I know that the fun was just about to begin.

Cindy Horsfall

(1) Learn more about the Association of Canine Water Therapy
(2) Learn more about my Training Program