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Nine to Fido: Healing Paws Dog Massage

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In this month’s Nine To Fido interview we chat with Lizzie Harrison, owner of Healing Paws, a remedial dog massage therapy company, which has been tending to dogs across London, Surrey and Kent since 2010. She shares what it’s like to work as a Canine Remedial Massage Therapist.

Describe a typical working day
My days starts loading the car with all my therapy kit - towels, patient files and rehabilitation equipment - before traveling to my first appointment. Initial visits last 85 minutes and include physical assessment, movement evaluation, treatment and if required, rehab work. I also create a home management programme so that the owner is able to work with their dog in between sessions. Subsequent visits are 50-60 minutes and see me continue with the physical assessment and treatment, as well as updating the home management care plan. I also discuss the dog's progress with the owner noting any changes or struggles they may have experienced. At the end of each session the dog’s range of movement is scored so we have a benchmark for the next session. On average, I visit four to five dogs per day but on one occasion it rocketed to 11 – that was one busy day! When I’ve completed my visits, I head home to catch up on chores and admin such as washing the treatment towels and writing updates for my pet patient’s Vet.

What did you do before becoming a remedial dog massage therapist? Why the switch?
I previously worked in office-based jobs in Central London and initially went on the course to benefit my own dog Vinnie (shown with Lizzie above), who was suffering with lameness in his back left leg - we’d not had much luck with visits to the vet. As an ex-gymnast I was used to massage treatment for injuries so started looking at how this could be applied to dogs. I soon discovered how in depth it was and how much remedial massage can help dogs for a variety of reasons. This then got me to thinking that it might be nice to help friends and family's dogs in my spare time and weekends. However, word soon spread and Healing Paws was born! That was two years ago and I haven't looked back since.

What training did you have to get to become a remedial dog massage therapist?
I went to the Institute of Complementary Animal Therapies (ICAT) based in Devon and studied a diploma in Canine Remedial Massage Therapy. It’s a three to four day intensive course involving practical and written examinations. In between each course you have to complete five units, conduct between 20 and 25 dog massages and write up subsequent reports to complete. 

What are the pros and cons of your job?
The biggest plus of my job is that I get to work with dogs every day. I meet lots of lovely people and love making a difference to both the dog and the owner’s lives. The feeling you get when you see the difference in a dog – how they can walk and move better, and enjoy their daily lives more is priceless. I also love the freedom of working for myself. The downside is that there is a lot of driving and traffic to contend with and due to the nature of the job, 50%+ of my pet patients are elderly so it’s tough when you hear they’ve passed away after you’ve spent time forming a bond with them.

What has been your most memorable doggie moment? 
One of my first clients had a Rottweiler, who suffered badly with arthritis. This caused him to struggle walking far and made getting up and down steps extremely difficult. After the dog's third session, I received a call from his owner who told me she was annoyed!!! She then went on to explain how she had come home from work only to find her dog fast asleep upstairs on her bed. She said that her dog hadn't been able to get up stairs for a couple of years and hadn’t even been able to jump on the sofa. As a result of the therapy I’d be giving him, he’d improved so much that she had to purchase a baby gate to stop him from sneaking upstairs for a snooze on her bed while she was out at work. I was thrilled on hearing what a difference I’d made. 

What has given you your biggest sense of achievement? 
Two things about Healing Paws make me feel very proud; setting up my own business, which is something I thought I would never do – I love it and it’s all mine. Secondly is that I get to help one of the most important things to me... DOGS! I love these animals so much and to be able to help them gives me such a proud feeling and makes every day worth it. In past jobs I used to wake with the daily dread of going to work but that is a thing of the past! I love my job!

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing the same job as you?
There are only a couple of places where you can study and I would really recommend ICAT. It’s not cheap so really think about it before you commit. Once qualified there isn't really anyone that you can work for as such so setting up your own business is the only way to go. ICAT give you a lot of support but as with all new businesses, it’s a lot of work and can cost more than you make to start with so be prepared.

For more information about Lizzie’s services visit her website at Healingpaws.co.uk or find her on Facebook.

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