New facility in Pacifica pampers dogs
May 4, 2009 8:19 AM
The sound of splashing pool water on a rare hot day in the otherwise fog-blanketed Pacifica is a welcoming sound for those who have been anticipating the opening of the city's new aquatic fitness facility for dogs.
Located on the auto-repair shop-lined Palmetto Avenue, The Rex Center opened its doors in early April. It is a canine sanctuary for massages, acupressure, aromatherapy, dog training, warm water swimming, nutrition consultation, and Reiki, a Japanese energy healing technique--some drool-worthy services, even for humans.
"People think it's kind of weird," admits Cathy Chen-Rennie, a San Francisco resident and the woman behind the pooch-pampering center. "And then a lot of owners are kind of like, 'Oh, wow, I've heard of that. I really want to try it. I don't know where to go,' or 'I've been looking for a place [like this].'"
Chen-Rennie, a senior product manager at a Redwood City software company and former Google employee, saw the need for such a facility in the San Francisco area after her sheltie, Vaastu, underwent surgery for hip dysplasia when he was 11 months old. "When I was looking into having him do some kind of recovery, I saw lots of different things online, but mainly swimming..." Chen-Rennie explains. Swimming is beneficial for dogs that have had orthopedic knee or hip surgeries, injuries, or that suffer from arthritis. Additionally, The Rex Center provides a safe environment for younger, more energetic dogs to come and swim for exercise.
"All of us who pursue this sort of work have a common story," Louisa Craviotto, a swim coach at The Rex Center, explains. "That is, we each have had a dog in our lives that needed help because of orthopedic issues, and swimming seemed to help." For Craviotto, it was her Chihuahua, Twinkie, who can't walk who lead her to this field of work. "
Although warm water swimming is used in physical rehabilitation for dogs, Chen-Rennie likes to steer clear of the term "therapy" since she isn't a vet.
The large aboveground swim spa toward the back of the converted auto mechanic's garage is surrounded by a wooden ramp and deck. Dressed in a blue floral swimsuit and black shorts, Chen-Rennie slowly carries Vaastu into the water, gently placing him on the first step and massaging his back. She gradually lowers him his body into the water. After the calm introduction to the water, she turns on the pool's jets to create a current for Vaastu to swim against, encouraging him to swim and exercise his back legs.
Warm water swimming provides dogs with a form of exercise that is easy on their joints and provides a great workout in a shorter amount of time. "A minute is...probably about a mile worth of walking," Chen-Rennie says. "But it's low impact. They don't have to pound on the pavement in order to get that one minute or one mile worth of exercise."
Later, Craviotto helps Stella, Chen-Rennie's two-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback into the water, rump first. "We normally bring the dog in butt first because it's easier to get them in that way," Chen-Rennie explains. "Then they get their hind end wet and then a lot of time, I think dogs kind of are like, 'What? I don't know what this is. It's a bath! Oh no!'"
Assisted swim sessions are offered in 25- and 50-minute sessions, and cost $45 and $90, respectively. If a pet parent has a dog that absolutely loves to swim, a half-hour free swim can be scheduled for $30.
In addition to assisted swimming, The Rex Center offers acupressure and massage, conducted by Heather Sanders of Wags 'N Wellness. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles to access pathways of energy in the body, acupressure uses touch and is like a massage. "It's a holistic approach to their [dog's] health that compliments the veterinary care they're receiving," she says.
And like both Chen-Rennie and Craviotto, Sanders came to work in the field of dog care because of her own pet. "I worked in biotech for 10 years, and at the time I was working, doing oncology drug development," she begins. "And my dog came down with cancer, and I knew all to well the limitations of Western medicine." After talking with her vet, Sanders soon found out that her dog didn't have many treatment options.
Natalie Bayless, a dog trainer with Sirius Puppy Training, drives from Half Moon Bay to offer puppy training at The Rex Center on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 o'clock. Her small, white bichon frise, Rufus, who is one of the top agility dogs in the nation, helps Natalie demonstrate how treats are used in the training process by following her cues of "Bang! Down," by lying down and playing dead. "The first thing to understand is that you are training your dog 24 hours out of 24 whenever you are with your dog, whether you know it or not," she says about the commitment of training a dog.
These services, which can be combined with Reiki and aromatherapy for total relaxation day for pups, are available on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays by appointment only. Chen-Rennie also creates a relaxing experience for the pet parents as well, so come in, enjoy a cup of tea and some soothing music while benefiting your dog.
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