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‘Pet resort’ offers aquatic therapy for dogs

Sunday, Feb. 10 | By James Pinsky
Casey Eckard helps a dog sim laps around the pool at Liberty Hill Pet Resort. Photo by Randy Litzinger
We love our dogs.

If you want to love them a little more – throw on your bathing suit and take your dog swimming.

Liberty Hill Pet Resort in Bealeton has a heated, covered pool. only can your dogs swim there, they can bring you too.

"Swimming is the best form of exercise you can provide for your dog," said Mary Ann Robertson, owner, Liberty Hill Pet Resort.

Robertson said owners need to remember that not only are dogs great companions, confidants, guardians and sleeping buddies, but they're also world-class athletes with the physical needs to match.

"Pretty much all of the reasons we should swim are the reasons your dog should swim," said Robertson.

The biggest difference, according to Robertson, is that the dogs depend on you to take them swimming.

"They can't grab a towel, your car keys and drive themselves down to the local pool," she said.

Robertson cautions eager dog owners not to assume their barking fur balls know how to swim.

"Not all dogs know how to swim. It's not instinctive for them," said Robertson.

"I've seen Labrador Retrievers who were terrified of the water," she said. "Dogs are just like people and should never be judged by what they look like."

Robertson and her staff start off all dogs with life preservers and other floatation devices to help ease dogs into the pool.

Pet swim therapist Casey Jo Eckart said a lot of dog owners are like over-protective parents with their dogs the first time they see them get into the pool.

"Owners panic when they see their dogs struggle, if they struggle, in the pool and want to get them out of there," said Eckart.

"But dogs are tough animals and they figure it out. I won't let them hurt themselves or drown and once they see that they can do it, then everything changes both in the dog and the owners. It's a good moment," she said.

Taking your dog for a swim isn't just fun and games – according to veterinarians, dog aficionado and many a beloved pet parent - its the single best thing any doggy momma or daddy can do to prolong their furry friends lives.

According to Veterinary Medical Association, swimming benefits the treatment and recovery of a variety of dog medical problems, including hip and elbow dysplasia, surgery involving joints, tendon tears, and ligament damage.

"Molly," a Labrador Retriever owned by retired Fairfax County teacher, Naomi Dixon, a retired Fairfax County teacher, used swimming to help her dog Molly, a Labrador retriever, recover from two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

"Once Molly got into the water, she loved it," said Dixon. "I got in with her but she was a lot stronger than me in the water, but she wouldn't get into the water until I did."

Dixon's voice swelled with pride as she bragged about Molly's aquatic prowess.

"Molly didn't play in the pool, she was a serious swimmer," Dixon said. "She swam like an otter – she was so smooth. It was the coolest thing to see."

Dixon said Molly grew accustomed to swimming and even knew when they got close to the pool.

"She knew when we were going swimming," said Dixon. "She would start barking once we got to the pet resort's drive way and everyone knew Molly was coming."

Dixon remembered Molly enjoying her freedom while swimming the most.

"She was always begging to be there [in the pool] – it was invigorating for her," said Dixon. "She could do what she wanted in the pool, it was so easy for her."

Dixon swam Molly for years stopping only when she passed away in November 2012.

"I'm convinced it was the best thing I ever did for her," said Dixon.

Swimming can also be used to treat arthritis and other geriatric conditions, and has helped dogs that have suffered a stroke or become paralyzed.

Such was the case for "Hunter," a collie-English shepard mix owned by Vanessa Harris.

"I started taking Hunter swimming because he was overweight," said Harris.

But like Molly, the bond with swimming was instant and enduring.

Harris took Hunter swimming three nights a week and she said he lost a big chunk of weight within two weeks and worked the rest off within about four months. In all, he lost about 26 pounds thanks to swimming, she said.

"The water was warm on his muscles at 85 degrees and walking and running was a lot harder on his joints than swimming. It just didn't hurt him at all to get his 30 minutes of exercise in," Hunter said.

"I was overjoyed to see him lose the weight and I was able to cut back on his pain medication as well," she said.

Despite his weight loss Hunter suffered a setback in 2008 when he suffered a stroke. credits swimming with Hunter's quick recovery.

"After the stroke, swimming really helped Hunter get his mobility back," said Harris.

Sadly, Hunter suffered another stroke in 2010 when he was 12 years-old which eventually led to his death.

Harris used the lessons Hunter taught her about swimming to get her two news dogs in the pool from day one.

"I saw such a change in Hunter from swimming that I wanted to get my new dogs in the pool right away," she said.

For more information about swim therapy or just pure pool-time fun for your dog visit Liberty Hills Pet Resort at www.lhpaws.com.
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