Originally published in the July 10, 2009 edition of Sequim This Week – reprinted with permission.
Ace is a 12-year-old golden retriever.
He’s the epitome of a water dog.
He leads a fairly active life, especially when he was a younger dog.
Now that he’s my dog – and he operates more on my level – I want the best for him.
He’s getting a little older. You can see the wisdom of age wrapped around his face, white hair framing his eyebrows and around his nose.
He knows how to take care of himself. He knows not to overexert himself. He takes his time on the trails but he also isn’t one to let you leave him too far behind.
He gets a little sore in his front, and every now and then he has a hard time getting up in the morning, climbing certain stairs or hopping in the car.
But he’s always willing to go.
He’s put in his time, and because he’s in such great shape, he has plenty of years left.
This is what makes him a wonderful candidate for Cindy Horsfall, owner of La Paw Spa, who specializes in warm water therapy for canines.
I had stopped by Horsfall’s clinic recently and observed a session with Maggie, a yellow labrador, and her owner Linda Kemp.
Kemp became Maggie’s primary caregiver about 2-1/2 years ago after her neighbors could no longer care for her.
When Maggie was just 3 years old, she had been struck with a condition called Fibro Cartilaginous Embolism (FCE), which basically meant that Maggie had a stroke in her spine.
Maggie lost use of her hind legs, bladder and bowels, which for a 55-pound dog requires so much extra care.
Her owners found her prognosis was not good and after finding out they were going to have a baby on top of the mounting vet bills, keeping Maggie was something they could no longer bear financially.
So with heavy hearts they felt that euthanasia was their only option.
It wasn’t until they made a plea with their caring neighbor, the very compassionate Kemp, that they realized they had another option.
Kemp didn’t know how she was going to be able to take on the responsibility for this young and very beautiful yellow lab girl but something told her she had to.
“People say you save dogs, well, if she hadn’t come along when she did . . . She saved me,” Kemp said.
Maggie came with her needs and complications.
She had sores that had developed from dragging herself across the yard and over the gravel. Sores are still visible but healing.
There was one sore on the back of her heel that was so bad and very infected that the vet-erinarian recommended amputation or perhaps “euthanasia would probably be best in this case.”
Kemp started looking at alternative treatments online and happened to stumble across “La Paw Spa” and read all the testimonials put there by many grateful clients. In the next few days she contacted La Paw Spa to make an appointment.
She wasn’t expecting any miracles since the beloved Maggie was 2-1/2 years into her paralysis. She had thought that maybe this could give her a better quality to her life.
On the day of her appointment, they arrived and everyone was very taken with Maggie and her happy smiling face. She entered the spa and soon became comfortable and at home in the water.
She swims weekly and this delightful dog has become strong enough to sit up on her own, stand from a sitting position, can stand on all fours and can even walk and sometimes run – without her wheels.
I sat there and watched the glee on Maggie’s face as she swam, and Horsfall suggested I bring old Ace for a session.
La Paw Spa is a spa for canines but it’s also a spa for their human partners. When you walk into the spa, you’re met with calm, soothing music, books and magazines about canine health, lounge chairs, coffee, tea and wine.
Horsfall recommends you come early, relax with your pet and a beverage of your choice before the sessions begin.
It gave us a chance to get acquainted with the area, new smells for Ace and preparing for what I thought was ahead for us.
Ace is pretty mellow, and this personality trait never faltered through the entire hour-long session.
He knew he was in good hands.
Horsfall has always been fascinated with water as a modality for health care.
In her early years, her work included rehabilitating race horses and turning them into perfor-mance horses with the use of a water treadmill.
Later, she experienced the profound healing powers of water in her own life when she needed therapy after an injury and became so fascinated that she sought training and became certified as a water therapist for people.
“I dreamed about working in water with dogs as no one in the entire country was doing it,” Horsfall said. “But my life was pretty full and so I wasn’t sure how to progress in that dream.
“Then, my dog Ava gave me the boost I needed to drop everything and move ahead.
About 15 years ago, she was paralyzed due to what we think was a stroke in the spine.
“She must have known that I would have done anything to help her.
“As I pulled out every credit card I had and built her a beautiful pool on our property.
“We began working in water and after four months of complete paralysis, Ava began to walk again.”
Just through word of mouth the spa quickly became busy and soon Horsfall had to quit all her other jobs, she moved to Sequim so she could have more time to work in the pool.
Within just a few years, La Paw Spa became her full time job and she has dedicated her life to canine water therapy, she said.
Horsfall starts her sessions slowly.
She picked up Ace and gently walked into her 94-degree hot pool with him, resting her hind end on her lap and holding his front end over her arms.
It depends on the canine, and for some, the entire first session remains on those first three steps into the pool in order to keep the client comfortable, emotionally secure and safe.
I could tell Ace was evaluating his surroundings. He didn’t quite look concerned but he certainly was finding his bearings.
Horsfall started some massage work, and soon Ace’s body relaxed.
“In the weightlessness of the warm water therapy pool, circulation, range of motion and increased body awareness is usually enhanced, Horsfall said.
“Movement in water offers a resistance of up to 20 times that of moving in air, and can build strength in the safety of a non weightbearing environment.”
After a while, I saw the concern on Ace’s face drain away, and Horsfall carried him deeper into the pool.
Ace will chase after anything if you throw it. Usually, he likes chunky sticks, but a good tennis ball will suffice.
At first calculating his next move, Ace quickly learned it was OK to get the ball, that the clean, clear, warm water was soothing against his old bones, and he was eager to catch the ball and bring it home.
Horsfall warned that Ace would be tired when we returned home and not to be alarmed. True, he was tired but it was different somehow, more content, more peaceful, more comfortable, relaxed.