EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 15, 2012

Injured pooches take to the pool for therapy

LEE, Mass. (AP) — Fitter Critters & Aqua Paws might be the prime example of why dog and man are best friends.

Kalia, a 9-year-old greyhound, walked on a treadmill submerged in a tank of water that filled up just under her neckline. She pushed against the water’s resistance to keep up with the moving floor below her. The dog biscuits handed to her at the edge were incentive to keep her paws moving.

For two years, the underwater treadmill has been a staple of Fitter Critters for aging, recovering or injured pooches.

Kalia’s owner, Cindy Rancourt of Ware, noticed Kalia limping after one of her races. The therapy session at the end of last month was the retired racing greyhound’s third time on the underwater treadmill.

“Now the limp is gone,” Rancourt said. “I could tell an immediate difference when we went out for walks and she was able to stay by my side.”

The $54,000 equipment is one of four in Massachusetts, the next closest one being in Springfield. With most of the dog’s body submerged in the tank, the apparatus utilizes the water’s resistance, buoyancy and viscosity to strengthen a dog’s injured, arthritic or aging muscles.

Water levels can be adjusted to accommodate dogs ranging from a majestic Newfoundland, to a petite Chihuahua. Water flows into the tank from an underground system.

“When they’re standing up to their necks in water, they’re 80 percent weightless, and you don’t get that kind of weightlessness anywhere, except the moon,” said Jody Chiquoine, who opened Fitter Critters, and the facility’s pool portion, Aqua Paws, in 1999 at her home, 95 Summer St., in Lee.

“A dog swimming for 60 seconds is equivalent to a person walking 15 minutes,” Chiquoine said.

Chiquoine opened Fitter Critters after becoming dissatisfied with the health care field when she was a nurse practitioner. She combined her trade, her love for dogs and her love for swimming to establish the first pet rehabilitation center in Massachusetts.

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