Dog paddle

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:42am

The hair of the dog literally was the antidote for Melissa Barran’s quandary over what to do with her new-found freedom.

After 26 years in the communications department of Verizon in Everett, the 50-year-old Edmonds resident took the company up on its early-retirement offer and plunged the money into a specialized spa for dogs.

SplashDog Canine Warm Water Therapy in Firdale Village has been open only two months and already has a faithful following, according to the owner.

One of only a handful of warm-water pools for dogs in the Pacific Northwest, it draws clients from Stanwood to Seattle who have dogs needing non-weight-bearing rehabilitation, conditioning and weight loss help, Barran said.

The idea for her doggy spa sprouted last summer when the veterinarian treating Barran’s springer spaniel, Tory, hooked her up with therapist Cindy Horsfall of La Paw Spa in Fall City. Tory’s warm-water rehab after hip surgery was so impressive the pair began making the nearly two-hour drive to the Eastside twice weekly.

It didn’t take Tory’s human long to succumb to the notion of starting a therapy pool in her home town.

Armed with optimism and her retirement payout, Barran found an affordable site that could hold an exercise pool. She sweet talked friends into helping transform the dark and smelly former smoke shop into a bright and airy space adorned with friend Nina Purcell’s graphics featuring Tory.

Centerpiece of the spa is what the owner calls her “hot tub on steroids”: a therapy pool measuring 4 1/2 feet deep by 8 feet wide by 20 week long boasting twin, dual-resistance jets and steps to encourage gradual acclimation by wary westies.

Barran added souped-up filtering and ventilation systems so neither dog hair nor odor is discernible. Sloped floors with multiple drains eliminate standing water.

Denny Bird, retired facilities manager at Verizon, designed the interior of SplashDog. He also assured 12 incredulous helpers the behemoth tub arriving on an 18-wheeler really would fit through a plate-glass-window opening at the front of the shop. It did.

Licensed massage therapists with small-animal massage certification work with ailing animals in 94-degree, lightly brominated water. They ease the animals through range-of-motion, flexibility and endurance exercises. Life jackets are used when necessary.

Clients include paralyzed dogs — including one on wheels — and those suffering ailments such as hip dysplasia.

Barran said dogs tend to lose aggression in the water and she’s yet to see one bolt or become threatening. One current patient, she conceded, has “issues” with therapy but is hanging in there.

Cindy Remick, wife of veterinarian Dr. Larry Remick, said she’s been bringing her 11-year-old golden retriever to SplashDog for a month and is delighted with the results. Chelsea is arthritic and had surgery for a torn ACL a year ago. In four weeks, her owner said, she’s progressed from two-block to mile-long walks.

So excited is Chelsea about water exercise, Remick said, she has to spell “swim” in front of her to keep the peace.#

SplashDog prefers seeing dogs whose injuries have been diagnosed by a veterinarian, acupuncturist, chiropractor or other animal-health specialist. Barran is networking with what she calls “a very supportive pet community” to introduce SplashDog services. Response, she noted, has been very positive.

Also available are assisted swims with a trained coach and self-swims for owners and their pooches. Prices vary with the level of therapy and quantity of sessions purchased.

Gratis therapy for deserving dogs whose owners can’t afford it is in the works.

More information on SplashDog is available by e-mailing or by calling 206-546-5309.

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