Pool's clients put best paws forward

Pooches fetch, frolic their way to losing pounds, gaining mobility

October 08, 2006|By Rebecca Logan | Rebecca Logan,special to the sun

At 73 pounds, Dazy was simply too much basset hound.

Her veterinarian urged a trim-down, so Dazy's owners put her on a diet and signed her up to swim.

The 8-year-old dog hits the pool three times a week at the Interstate Canine Swim Center in Aberdeen, each time sporting a bright orange, extra-large life vest.

The basset hound from Forest Hill could wear something smaller, but she needs the support for her length, Sharon McCamish said before nudging Dazy down a ramp into deep water where she started paddling with her pudgy paws.

McCamish has been watching dogs of all sizes swim in Interstate's pool for years, first as a client with an ailing Rottweiler, then as an employee and, for the past 16 months, as owner of the business on Carsins Run Road near Interstate 95.

Customers from around the county and beyond find their way to the pool, often after a veterinarian suggests that they investigate hydrotherapy for their dogs' arthritis, dysphasia or other mobility problems.

"Hydrotherapy for dogs with orthopedic issues is becoming more and more in vogue," said Dr. William Miller, medical director of the companion animal program at Cornell University.

Supervised properly, he said, swimming can help dogs with a variety of conditions, including one caused by lack of activity.

"The number of overly conditioned dogs, which is the polite way of saying obese, is increasing day by day," Miller said. "They very often have stretched ligaments and end up with sore joints."

He advises dog owners considering hydrotherapy to discuss a plan with a veterinarian and to compare the credentials of swimming facilities.

The cost for having a dog swim at Interstate Canine Swim Center is $120 a month for two 20-minute swims a week or $160 a month for three. A single swim is $20.

The center's pool, built in 1975, originally was used for hydrotherapy for horses, which explains its 11-foot depth.

McCamish said the center is "nothing fancy." The plain building surrounds a 35-by-60-foot pool containing chlorinated water often mixed with dog hair.

Some patrons call the pool a fountain of youth of sorts.

"This has been like a miracle," said Ray Fender of Abingdon.

He and his wife, Becky, were devastated during the summer when arthritis became so bad for their 10-year-old Labrador retriever, Sonny, that they thought they would have to have him euthanized. But after a few visits to the pool, they saw what they said was remarkable progress.

"When it had gotten so bad ... I told my daughter I'd give anything just to have him chew up my socks again," Ray Fender said. "The other day, he found one and chewed it."

When dogs show improvement, it is often part physical and part psychological, McCamish said. Dogs often get depressed when they can't move the way they used to, she said, and the buoyancy of the water offers them a no-impact chance to stay active.

Over the past few years, McCamish has logged many miles walking around the pool while shouting instructions and encouraging words to her swimmers.

"I'm pretty much a dog cheerleader," said McCamish, whose resume includes mostly jobs as an office manager at businesses. "This was something I really enjoyed doing. Best job I ever had."

Among the dogs taking the plunge on a recent Wednesday was Zoe, a Springer spaniel who is about 15 pounds lighter than when she started doing laps and fetching toys in the pool three years ago. Next up was Rusty, a Portuguese water dog from Fallston who pushed off the side of the pool with the power of an Olympic swimmer.

Then came Chessie from Bel Air.

"Everybody put in your earplugs," said Laurie Sanza, owner of the Labrador-Weimaraner mix. "OK, wild child. Let's go."

Barking at the top of her lungs, Chessie launched herself into the water, exploding across the pool.

Next came Madison, an American bulldog who has had surgery and who quietly cuts a crisp wake through the water.

Up next was Tycho, an 8-month-old pit bull who was rescued from the Humane Society and appears to be oblivious to having three legs.

Kelly Austin of Edgewood takes him to swim to burn up energy and to ensure that his legs stay strong. Tycho prefers to swim while holding on by his teeth to a training toy typically used for hunting dogs.

Dazy the Forest Hill basset hound is developing her swimming style.

For her first few visits, she took breaks between laps. A few weeks later, she was doing two at a time, but by lap six her cheeks were billowing in rhythmic puffs and she was blowing water out the sides of her mouth.

"Come on Dazy Mae, no cheating," Betty Lou McCully said as the dog tried sneaking a shortcut down the middle of the pool.

After a few weeks at the swim center, Dazy was six pounds lighter.

McCully said her daughter is hoping that the dog can lose more than 20.

"I don't know if she'll get quite that svelte," McCully said. "But you never know."

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