Just like people, dogs get aches and pains from aging, surgery and injury.
Unlike people, dogs don’t always have access to care that might help them to feel better.
Eleven years ago, Judy Gaetje and Beth Iler decided they wanted to do something to help ailing dogs, so they started the Healing Waters Canine Experience at 3400 Cleveland Avenue NW.
“When I explain it, we are a hydrotherapy pool and fun swim,” Iler said.
Gaetje said the idea for Healing Waters came about as a result of their training service dogs for Goodwill.
“We saw a variety of dogs come through with bad hips and knees, and there wasn’t anything in Canton to help them,” she said. “When they closed the program, we decided to open the business.”
Iler said their research found that there wasn’t any such facility in the eastern part of the country.
“The only ones we could find were on the West Coast,” she said.
Though some places offer water treadmills, Gaetje and Iler said they have the only rehab pool for dogs in Ohio.
Dogs are treated by appointment only and must be referred by a veterinarian.
A session at Healing Waters Canine Experience consists of a dog being placed into a salt-water pool heated at 92 degrees. Every dog is accompanied by a staff person, and virtually all are outfitted with a life vest.
Families can go into the pool area or watch a live video feed, Iler said.
Gaetje said the pool room also is heated at 90 degrees because the high temperature helps to pull the muscle away from the bone.
“We’ve had dogs come in paralyzed, but they get into the water and their legs move; that’s very exciting,” she said.
Though bigger dogs do tend to have hip issues, Gaetje and Iler said many problems come from poor breeding and injury.
On average, most dogs are brought in once a week for 15 to 30 minutes.
“It depends on the injury,” Gaetje said.
“If it’s just for a fun swim, it’s usually once a week,” Iler said.
Gaetje said the waters also benefit dogs with arthritis, adding that dogs also are brought in for post-surgery treatment “because the water is so healing.”
Prior to opening the business, Iler and Gaetje were Certified Canine Water Work Practitioners, taking classes at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, where they learned how to recognize various injuries.
Iler and Gaetje said they serve about 50 dogs a week. That number declined somewhat at the outbreak of the pandemic, but customers are returning, they said.
“We’re lucky,” Gaetje said. “A lot of our business is by word of mouth.”
“We’ve earned a lot of respect from veterinarians, which is huge,” Iler said.
Iler said people often don’t consider that hydrotherapy might help their dogs, and that it even took some time to convince veterinarians.
“They’ve done it for racehorses for years,” she said. “We had dogs brought in on sleds or a wagon, and eventually, they can get into the pool by themselves.”
Gaetje said one of their first success stories was a Rottweiler that had undergone back surgery.
“She couldn’t lift her head,” she recalled. “Nine months later, she was walking up the ramp.”
Healing Waters Canine Experience also offers a “cold,” infrared laser which is used to break down arthritic crystals that form in the joints, which cause pain. It’s a temporary form of relief.
Iler aid the laser also helps to speed up healing from incisions.
Contrary to popular belief, all dogs aren’t natural swimmers.
“It takes time to teach them how to use their bodies,” Iler said. “They tend to tense up on their back end, which is why you see panic splashing.”
“That’s why somebody’s always in the water with them,” Gaetje explained. “You should never just throw your dogs into the water.”
Iler agreed, saying, “We want it to be a good experience.”
Iler and Gaetje said seeing a beloved family pet enjoying a better quality of life is rewarding.
“Seeing the families’ faces light up is the best reward for me,” Iler said. “It’s the little steps.”
To learn more, call 330-491-3647, or visit HealingWatersCanineExperience.com or visit their Facebook page.