Posted 3 months ago
By Jane Mcfarlane
The pleasure on Ellie's face was obvious as she relaxed into the warm water and felt the jets of air pulsate around her body.
This was just what she needed to ease her arthritic bones.
But this isn't an ordinary spa – oh no, this is hydrotherapy for dogs and Ellie is a golden retriever who has regular sessions to ease stiffness in her legs after injuries when she was younger.
Hanley Canine Hydrotherapy Centre, in Stoke-on-Trent, opened just six months ago and already sees scores of pups through its doors every week from those who come for rehabilitation, post operative, to ease stiffness, to get a good cardiovascular workout and even just for fun.
Danielle Bailey runs the centre, having come across the unit just out of the city centre, by chance.
"My friend owns the site and he told me there was this pool here that he would really like to see used again," she said. "It had been used for greyhounds but hadn't been used for ages. All it took was to install the ramps and get the pool up and running again and we opened in late November."
Danielle, 30, has been a hydrotherapist for 12 years. Having always wanted to work with animals, she only discovered the treatment when her own dog, a springer spaniel, had cruciate ligament damage.
"We took him to hydrotherapy and it did him so much good, it was amazing," she said. "He lived to 13, which I know he wouldn't have been able to do without the hydrotherapy."
She went to the hydrotherapy centre from school for work experience and has never looked back.
Nowadays she can spend up to eight hours a day in the pool. "I'm like a prune when I get out!" she laughed.
The water in the pool is heated to a balmy 32 degrees and there are life jackets for dogs who need rehabilitation or to ease pain and stiffness in the joints.
"The warm water really helps the healing process when dogs are post operative," said Danielle. "It can take three or four visits for a dog to feel comfortable in the water but most end up loving it."
For those who are there to shed the pounds, there is no luxury of a lifejacket but Danielle is there to support them.
"For some overweight dogs, it's not good for them to go on long walks because it puts pressure on their joints," she said. "But a 25 minute session in the pool is the equivalent of a five-mile run."
Amy Osborne was at the centre with her nine-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Daisy, who suffers from hip dysplasia.
She has been a regular visitor for the last few months and Amy has already seen a difference in her.
"Daisy has always been quite stiff," said Amy. "Then when she started to have arthritis we looked into hydrotherapy.
"Normally Daisy is petrified of water but Danielle has been brilliant with her and she is so much more active now. She's never been a dog who digs but we got home the other week and she dug up the garden! She goes home and runs around the house – it really has been life-changing for her."
Some dogs love to play with toys in the water while others are content just to swim around and enjoy the sensation.
"It is a really rewarding job," said Danielle. "I always wanted to work with animals and to watch them recover from an operation or ease the stiffness in their joints from hydrotherapy, or lose weight and build muscle mass, is great."
Danielle's own dog, a Swiss Mountain dog, loves to swim for fun but she said not all dogs are able to swim instinctively.
"Lots of people think dogs just know how to swim but they don't all," she said. "Here I can help teach them to swim too, and perhaps correct their gait as they are swimming, so that if they fall into water or jump into water while they are with their owners, they don't panic and swim correctly."
After each session, Danielle showers off the dogs and they are wrapped in snuggly warm towels to go home.
"I love my job. I can't see myself ever doing anything else," she said.