In 1986 I met with a bodyworker trained in New York City by the renowned shiatsu master Ohashi. She was showing me how she worked with, what was to me at the time, an unusual client. Duke was a great mastiff puppy from New Jersey horse country who was receiving deep muscle massage around his leg and hip joints to increase circulation to lessen the chance of sprains and strains as he grew.

Duke enjoyed every minute of the flexion and extension, friction massage, acupressure along his spine, and energy work he received. I was impressed by this and even more so when the therapist, a small woman, introduced me to her next client, a very large brown horse. She used the same shiatsu pooints and meridans that she showed me on Duke. As with working on Duke, she began by quietly sitting and waiting for a sign to begin. Then she visualized the horse’s spine, scanning vertabrae at a time, for areas that were deficient in healing energy. Based on that and how the horse would press into her hands, she would begin work. This was clearly a dance of mutual respect, trust and appreciation.

Soon after that I learned of Linda Tellington Jones, founder of Tellington Touch (TTOUCH) healing for animals, one of the better known systems used especially for horses but not at all limited to them. One of Linda’s clients was a python at the San Diego Zoo named Joyce who suffered from a recurrent respiratory ailment. After spending hours using TTOUCH on Joyce along with some assistants, Linda pointed out that this was a result of her inability to stretch to her full eight feet. Joyce made it apparent that she was grateful, in front of a room of two-hundred previously skeptical zoo personnel by rising up cobra sytle in front of Linda and flicking her “third eye” with her tongue. She also rested with her head over Linda’s heart.

Michael Fox, VMD, author, former director of the Humane Society of the United States, who writes a syndicated column for the Washington Post, and is co-founder of a wildlife sanctuary in Southern India, has also done work with wild animals in addition to extensive work with domestic animals. He told me that when they brought in injured animals at the wildlife sanctuary in India, he would call in one of his therapy assistance dogs, or a previously rescued wild animal to comfort the newcomer. This, and from the his staff being trained to give gentle strokes, the laying on of hands and prayerful presense stimulated the animal’s will to live.

Most pet owners I speak to say they instinctually massage their pets. Learning specific points and techniqes can be helpful for degenerative and chronic conditions such as arthritis and stiffnesss. Massage therapy can be used as an adjunct to other treatment including as a stimulant to enhance post-operative recovery; as a catalyst for convalescence from sickness and as an adjunct to intensive care in cases of shock and severe debility.

Massage increases endorphins, the body’s painkiller hormones, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which brings the body into homeostasis or balance. The benefits are the same in animals as they are in people.

Other benefits include improving circulatory disorders, especially impaired heart functions in old age; reducing obesity and hypothyroidism; improving liver and kidney function; and reducing stress and anxiety. This last benefit works both ways. The pet massage giver also has a decrease in stress and anxiety.

I have a client from Hemet, CA whose chihuahua lies on her for the second half of the massage when she is face up. I am not allowed to leave the room until I have spent a minute on Angel’s spine. Another client in Fallbrook has a large Shepherd-Rotweiller who is beginning to experience pain and stiffness in his joints. Bo always presents the hip that is giving him the most discomfort.

Animals know our intentions and rarely will refuse help from us, unless the memory of the problem is so painful they can’t bear it, or if they have been mistreated. Pamela Hannay says, “Each horse I have worked with lives in my heart and continues to be my teacher.” We must show them the respect they deserve, give them the opportunity to let them do the work they are best at and let them by our teachers.

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