Monday, August 24, 2009

Frannie the former service dog swims

It isn’t uncommon for older dogs to end up in animal shelters, and Frannie, an 11-year-old lab mix, unfortunately didn’t escape such a fate. Frannie used to be a service dog, but her owner could no longer care for her and so she was surrendered to a shelter. But about two weeks ago Frannie’s luck changed.

After spending an unknown amount of time in the shelter, Muttville, a non-profit organization that finds foster homes for senior dogs deemed “unadoptable” by animal shelters, gave this sweet-faced girl a second chance. To add to Frannie’s good fortune, The Rex Center donated two swimming sessions to the older dog rescue. Sherri Franklin, the founder of Muttville, called around to the foster parents to see who would be interested and available for such an opportunity. When the call got around to Jadie, Frannie’s foster mom, she jumped on the chance to see how swimming could benefit Frannie.

Canine aquatic fitness is a wonderful and therapeutic way to provide exercise for senior dogs because the water presents a safe environment in which the dog weighs about 10 percent of what they do on land, creating less stress on joints. Additionally, “water can decrease inflammation, increase circulation and in its safe and supportive ways, increase range of motion as the non-gravity environment can enhance stretches and movement,” according to an article by Cindy Horsfall.

Swimming can also help build muscle, and in the case of Frannie, she really needed to rebuild her hind leg muscles that had deteriorated from being neglected. A vet told Jadie that Frannie had probably spent quite some time sleeping on a concrete floor, causing the calluses on her elbows and knees. She was also under weight, which was a cause for her evident muscle loss.

For her first swim session, Ann (Frannie's swim coach) focused on getting Frannie acquainted with being in a new place—after all, she had just gone from living wither her owner, to living in a shelter, to living in a foster home. “It was more of an evaluation-type of swim, especially since no one knew too much about her,” Ann said. Frannie, as most dogs in new situations, was hesitant to get in the water, but she allowed Ann to hold her. “We didn’t want to rush her. We wanted to develop that bond with her,” Ann explained.

After a gentle entry and introduction to the water, Ann gave Frannie a light massage and gradually moved further into the pool. Ann held Frannie in her arms to create a safe island, and also encouraged her to stand in the water—by supporting Frannie’s feet on her legs. By using slow, gentle massage strokes and creating an environment where it isn’t always about the swimming, Frannie could benefit by stretching her warmed muscles and balancing with the support of the water.

When Frannie got out of the pool, Jadie noticed that she appeared energized, and in between visits “her back legs seemed to be better.”

During Frannie’s second swim session, “she hesitated at to get in at first,” Ann commented, “but then she really enjoyed it. She let out a couple of really deep sighs.” Because Ann had taken the time to establish a bond and a level of comfort in the pool during the first session, Ann was able to get Frannie to swim a few lengths of the pool very gracefully and confidently.

Although Frannie only had two swims at The Rex Center, Ann still had short-term goals for her. “We met, and maybe even exceeded them,” she said. The main goal was to get Frannie to make sure she was comfortable and then could swim, and that was accomplished in two 25-minute sessions.

Before coming to The Rex Center with Frannie, Jadie wasn’t familiar with canine aquatic fitness, but was able to see how beneficial it could be for older dogs through the improvements she saw in Frannie. “This was extremely generous of Cathy and Ann to donate their time. It really is making a difference for Frannie.”

Frannie is still up for adoption. Please consider an older dog the next time you adopt!

Written by Britany Lueras, Edited by Cathy Chen-Rennie

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Prince from the SF SPCA

Its August... so its been a little bit slow at The Rex Center. We decided to take advantage of the break and donate a swim to a SF SPCA dog.

They sent a cute little Rottweiler Pug(?) mix named Prince. The SPCA sent me a picture (via twitter! @sfspca) that he was looking forward to a "splish splash!"

He came for a short swim and got the privilege of swimming with both Susan and Ann! Susan said, "Prince is a sweet older man, strong swimmer! Prince did very well being handed in the pool and swam really well."

The volunteer who brought Prince, Deborah, sent us this lovely email.

Hello Cathy,

Thank you very much for inviting one of our shelter dogs to enjoy a Rex Center swim session.

When I picked Prince up at the shelter he was anxious to get outside and I took him for a walk to do his business. During the car ride down to Pacifica his energy was nervous and fidgety.

After the swim session, when I got Prince back into my car, he rolled around on his back in a very delighted manner then lay down on the back seat, put his head on his front paws and turned his head slightly to one side. His energy was so relaxed, contented and happy that it was contagious. He was a different dog.

When we walked back into the shelter he had a wonderful energy, not at all frantic like his usual energy. His walk was brisk and happy. I could feel his happy, peaceful energy. He seemed so content.

I believe the Rex Center experience is more than exercise. It is a nurturing healing experience as well. The positive encouragement, the soothing reassurances and affection he received from the two women who held him so lovingly, stroking him, kissing him was transformative.

The two women, I believe their names were Susan and Annie gave so much of themselves to Prince during the session and he loved all of it. Swimming between them in the warm water was meditative and soothing to his soul as well as good exercise for his body. They showered him with love, affection and reassurance.

The ambiance in the pool area was incredible. The music, the lighting, the mood, ever last detail was taken care of.

I will admit that on the way down, I thought, why spend 80 dollars to take your dog swimming why not just take him to the beach or a lake in the park but after experiencing the session at your center I would say that it would be money well spent and a great gift to any dog whether they needed the exercise or not. Although the exercise was outstanding, it was just so much more than that.

Thank you so much for giving this gift to Prince.
I am not surprised that he got adopted after his visit to your center.


Deborah Heller
SPCA Dog Behavior Volunteer

(Pictures from Deborah can be found here.)