Two years ago, La Paw Spa in Carlsborg became Swim Doggie Swim. Cindy Horsfall, the founder of what she has called the first canine hydrotherapy facility in the United States, was starting to look at retiring after running La Paw Spa for more than 20 years, and brought in Jennifer Paul to start taking the facility over.
Paul, who had until then been a sheriff in southern California for 13 years, had been interested in water therapy for dogs for several years after seeing how it helped one of her more senior dogs, and operated a small part-time practice for it from her home for several years before coming to Sequim.
“When I talked to Cindy and she offered to have me up here to (run my business), I had to jump on it,” Paul said. “She’s been amazing, I’ve learned so much from her.
“I don’t think anyone knows as much about (canine hydrotherapy) as she does.”
While interviewing Paul, there was an opportunity to observe part of a therapy session for a 9-year-old black lab named Molly, who had been rescued through the Welfare for Animals Guild by one of WAG’s founders and board members, Nancy McLaughlin.
“Jennifer has been amazing with Molly,” McLaughlin said, who has been bringing Molly to Swim Doggie Swim since adopting her a little over a year ago. “She’s helped her so much.”
Molly had a bad limp when McLaughlin adopted her, due in part to her previous owner overfeeding her. Molly is on a diet to help her lose weight — more than 30 pounds so far, down from 118 when she was adopted — but McLaughlin said that Paul’s hydrotherapy sessions has done a lot to help Molly’s other physical issues.
“Her limp is almost completely gone now,” McLaughlin said. “She’s so much more comfortable.”
Paul said that with dogs like Molly, much of what she does actually works around their injuries.
“When you get hurt, your body tries to compensate for it,” she said. “And that can create a lot of pain and soreness and tension elsewhere. A lot of what I do is trying to help the body recover from that compensation while the main injury is healing, and help things balance back out.”
Paul frequently works with Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) to help rehabilitate the dogs in their care, saying that she feels it’s important to make sure dogs who are in situations where they need to be put in WAG’s care get all the healing they can.
The important factor of the water in hydrotherapy is the way that water helps relieve weight and pressure.
“That relaxing and the way things open up when you go into the water can play a big role in healing,” Paul said. “For dogs, that relief of pressure can help prevent hip dysplasia, and opening up when weight isn’t pressing on your joints can allow more of what your body needs to heal to get in there.”
Paul said that in addition to her usual one-hour hydrotherapy sessions, she also offers 30-minute “fun swims” for dogs who aren’t necessarily hurt, but could still benefit from time in the pool.
“It’s especially important in the winter when the water starts getting so cold,” she said. “There’s a lot of benefits to that time in the water, and it’s important to let them have it.”
Paul’s hours at Swim Doggie Swim are a little limited: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.
“I want to work more, and will be open more once the demand is there,” she said.
Special out-of-hours appointments are available as well, however.
Paul noted that Swim Doggie Swim will add out-of-water massage treatments for dogs next summer, and that she’s in the process of getting certified for such care.
For now, Horsfall still operates La Paw Spa out of the same space as well, operating during some of the time that Swim Doggie Swim is closed, and Paul said she’s still learning from Horsfall all the time.
“I hope Cindy doesn’t retire soon,” she said. “I’m still learning so much from her.”