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A massage that’s for the dogs

When El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Fleck let a strange man touch his prized police dog Tracker, he suspected he’d be in for a total surprise.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said about his 6-year-old German shepherd’s massage by certified therapist Jack Snyder at Fleck’s Tahoe Paradise home.

The deputy, 20 years on the force, watched in amazement as his fiercely trained dog’s guarded stance turned into mush.



“His whole demeanor relaxed. He ended up taking a nap,” Fleck said.

Snyder played new age music to set the mood and squeezed and stroked Tracker limb-by-limb to work through stiff, aching muscles.



“I wanted to do something to reduce stress in the dog. It did seem to relax him,” Fleck said. “I’m definitely going to do it again. From what I saw, if I had been on the receiving end, I would have felt good.”

As far as the number of sessions Tracker needs, the deputy will leave the decision to Snyder – whom he met at a health club where Snyder worked as a personal trainer.

“It’s the least I can do,” Fleck said of the working canine he’s raised from a 7-month-old pup. Tracker works both the police and search-and-rescue dog circuit.

“Working dogs need to get toxins out of their system,” Snyder said, while demonstrating on his dog, 6-year-old Snickers. He rescued him from a shelter about five years ago. “I don’t know if people realize the same (thing that) occurs in dog’s muscles occurs in people.”

He combats a range of muscle pain and atrophy with lengthening movements and motions to increase circulation.

Massage may be used in different ways. The trained therapist frequently uses it to stimulate older dogs and relax younger canines, Snyder explained.

The South Lake Tahoe man starts with what he calls “assessment” strokes, as a nose-to-tail patting introduction. Then, he asks the dog’s owner about any lumps or hot spots.

“You have to ease into the massage. Once you get into it, they’re pretty receptive,” he said. It’s wise to give a “purposeful” touch, but deep tissue massage isn’t recommended for dogs. Snyder proceeds with therapeutic strokes that start from the upper shoulders, down the spine to the tail.

The 46-year-old Maryland transplant received his training last summer in Ohio from a massage therapist and registered nurse. Snyder graduated in August. He wants to continue his education by doing coursework in skeletal abnormalities.

Even bad posture in man’s best friend may contribute to the need for massage therapy, Snyder said, working the base and tips of Snickers’ ears. He moved over to his muzzle and eye sockets, as Snickers’ eyes began to roll in the back of his head.

Snyder, who also strokes the canine patient’s gums, admitted to being intimidated by Tracker.

“(Tracker) was very poised. If he had to move (because of discomfort), he was ready to go,” he said. “But in 15 minutes, I could feel all the muscles give way. It was hard after 20 minutes to keep him on his feet.”

A 25- to 45-minute session can run $35, but the cost varies by dog.

Snyder, who once coached swimmers and triathletes, said he’s not motivated by money.

“It’s something for me that brings me a lot of joy. I just love doing it. If people want to bring me their dogs, that’s great,” he said.

Fleck considered the massage as a gift for Tracker – his friend, tactical tool, partner and family member.

If the surge in professional services that pamper your puppy is any indication, giving love has proven to be just as therapeutic as getting love from a pet.

Studies have shown a strong correlation between pet love and good mental health.

Barbara Kramen-Kahn, a licensed South Lake Tahoe clinical psychologist, provides grief counseling for those suffering from the loss of a pet.

“I have found that the death of a pet can be more devastating than the death of a (human) loved one,” Kramen-Kahn said. “They give you unconditional love.”

The therapist believes dog massage therapy is important because “any time we touch animals, we calm our nervous system down.”

But that’s not all that happens. It also lowers blood pressure, decreases the time it takes to heal and lessens complications after surgery, she said.

She suggests anyone living alone should own a pet, especially divorcees, widowers or seniors because “they get less touch from people.”

That’s why the Humane Society of Truckee takes dogs sanctioned to tour Tahoe Forest Hospital to the nursing home wing and out on home health and hospice calls.

Co-coordinator Nita Rothschild has also discovered the dogs ease depression in patients.

“It’s incredible. Pets go in, and they’re not judgmental. All they want to do is love you,” she said.

“I think pets are an important aspect of mental health because they help people let go of the daily stress. Pets don’t carry that stress with them. All they understand is the state they’re in,” local therapist John Finnick said.

Beyond professional services, retail businesses that cater to pets have become commonplace in a thriving economy.

Six months ago, Carla Broadway opened the region’s first day-care center as the third component in her Love on a Leash business at Round Hill.

Depending on the size of the animals, the facility can handle a handful of dogs in one room and cats in another. She also runs a pet-sitting and grooming business, in which she daily juggles about a dozen dogs from as far away as Incline Village. Each canine gets a 15-minute walk daily in a wooded area behind the shop.

Broadway, who owns two cats and two dogs herself, never gets tired of caring for animals, she said.

“In the sixth grade, I remember having to give up my dog. I was so mad I couldn’t get another, I told my parents I’m going to have as many dogs as I want when I’m older,” she said.

Broadway isn’t alone in catering to pets. The local telephone book is lined with pet groomers, sitters and trainers. There’s even a South Lake Tahoe chiropractor who adjusts dogs and a Minden businesswoman who bakes gourmet doggy biscuits.

“You’d be surprised how much of a demand there is,” Broadway said. “People feel like a better parent, if they get to do things for their pets.

Breakout

Here’s pet love at a glance:

-87 percent of Americans include their pets in holiday celebrations

-63 percent mark the pet’s birthday.

-53 percent take time off work for a sick pet.

-44 percent invite the pet to work and display the pet’s photograph.

-84 percent of pet owners call themselves the animal’s mother or father.

-Ancient Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows to mourn pet cats that died.

-Studies show people’s blood pressure drops when they talk to their pets.

-Eight to 12 million animals enter shelters each year; 99 percent are adopted.

-The first (and largest, at five acres) pet cemetery, built in 1896 in Hartsdale, N.Y. has buried 100,000 pets. Average cost: $750.

Sources: American Animal Hospital Association survey of 1,100 pet owners and USA Today


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