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Peninsula pooches prepare to be pampered

Certain people, places and events influence a person's life and the paths he or she chooses.

For Cindy Horsfall, it was her German shepherd Ava who left paw prints on her heart and paved the road to success as a water therapist for dogs. Because of Ava, Horsfall is celebrating the grand opening of La Paw Spa in Sequim April 18.

Horsfall imported Ava's pregnant mother from Germany. The puppy, one of seven, was born into her hands. "Ava would shove all the puppies aside to come to me. She was my angel," she said. "Ava put me on my higher path, for which I will always be grateful."

In 1996, Ava became paralyzed for no apparent reason. It was assumed she had a stroke in the spine, resulting in no sensation from the shoulders back. Every veterinarian who examined Ava agreed that the dog would never walk again and should be euthanized.

With a background in equine hydrotherapy, working with injured racehorses, and Watsu water massage therapy for humans, Horsfall decided to test her talents on dogs.

"More than anything I always wanted to work with dogs in water but nobody was doing it," she said. "When Ava got hurt, I pulled out every credit card I had and built her a beautiful pool. Little did I know it would become my full-time profession."

After four months and against all odds, Ava regained sensation in her hind legs. She learned to walk again and continued to do so for 10 years before dying at the age of 14 in 2006.

Horsfall built the pool for Ava, but after awhile she started working with other dogs and built a steady clientele. She quit her other jobs - owning a canine health and food store, offering custom dog boarding and bookkeeping - and opened a canine water therapy business in Redmond.

Canine hydrotherapy is more than swimming.

"Being in the water relaxes muscles and increases circulation," Horsfall explained. "You become 10 percent of your body weight in water, so a 200-pound dog becomes practically weightless."

"The emotional effects are profound too," she continued. "Think about how you feel when you have a hard day and then you go home and take a warm bath. It relaxes you. People are born in fluid, so it makes sense that water takes you back to a time when you had no worries."

Dogs that most commonly benefit from canine hydrotherapy are recovering from or preparing for surgery. Next is the geriatric crowd that thrives in the weightlessness of the 94-degree pool. Dogs with joint and spinal injuries, hip and elbow dysplasia, mobility and circulatory problems, arthritis, obesity and chronic pain are also prime candidates for water therapy. Long-term benefits include loosening up tight muscles, increasing circulation, endurance, flexibility, range of motion, body awareness, muscle strength, balance and coordination and decreasing swelling.

"The dog feels weightless and pain-free swimming in the water," Horsfall said. "They become hopeful and that affects them physically. Sometimes the emotional aspect is the turn that needs to happen to see a physical improvement."

La Paw Spa, located on U.S. Highway 101 West in Carlsborg, is one of more than 200 canine water therapy pool programs in the United States. Once skeptical veterinarians now are prescribing water therapy as rehabilitation treatment, Horsfall said, but she was the first to offer the unique remedy and founded the Association of Canine Water Therapy.

Horsfall estimates that she's spent more than 16,000 hours in the pool with dogs over the years, averaging 30-35 hours per week.

She fell in love with Sequim several years ago and developed a habit of driving from the city to the peninsula once a week for tranquility. She did that for nearly 10 years before buying a cabin

in the area.

Horsfall was spending so much time in Sequim that she decided to move permanently. After four years of commuting to Redmond for work, she decided to take the leap. "I was driving back from an appointment, saw the 'for lease' sign and just decided to go for it."

Regulations slowed the building process a bit, but Horsfall is on track and ready to start seeing clients. The business is wheelchair-friendly and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After Ava died, Horsfall wasn't interested in owning another dog. It would be impossible to replace Ava, she said. But fate stepped in when Horsfall was dog sitting for a friend and the German shepherd had puppies on her watch, on Mother's Day. And a puppy was born into her hands, again.

Horsfall bought the puppy and named her Divine Intervention, better known as "Luna."

"These things don't happen in real life. If this was a movie, I'd be throwing lettuce heads at the screen," she joked.

In addition to building a peninsula-based clientele, Horsfall plans to work closely with area veterinarians. She will continue commuting to Redmond

For more information or to read client testimonials, go online to www.lapawspa.com.

Making a splash in Sequim

La Paw Spa, 261043 Highway 101 West - between Carlsborg and Kitchen-Dick roads ---- is celebrating its grand opening April 18. Owner Cindy Horsfall works with injured, disabled, elderly and obese dogs to build strength and increase circulation and range of motion in the weightlessness of a heated pool. She also assists clients who want their dogs to learn how to swim or just have a good time.

For more information or to schedule an appointment,

call 582-WOOF (9663).



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