Canine massage: Rubbed the right way

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Toby Gass is a certified canine massage therapist. You may ask, now what’s that about? At first blush, it may sound silly. But Gass makes it clear she is not engaged in glorified “petting.”

“People just don’t realize that this is not something frivolous,” Gass says. “Canine massage should be viewed as a profession to promote health and to alleviate such things as arthritis, post-surgery discomfort, senior aches and pains, hyperactivity — a host of conditions.” Gass, a resident of Denville, trained at the Northwest School of Animal Massage in Washington State.

Toby Gass of DoggyFeelGood massages Timber, a 5-year-old Siberian husky who is the writer’s pet.

I didn’t need to take her word for it. Admittedly, I was a tad skeptical until I saw the diminutive woman perform her wonders on my huge husky, Timber, who practically knocked her down with a gleeful greeting. (He’s an active 5-year-old who knows better, but he also knows a real dog lover when he sees one.) Wisely, Gass became acquainted with the big lug, sitting on a couch with Timber and petting him, reserving the actual massage until she had him in the palm of her trained hands.

Soothing touch
Of course, Timber had no idea what was in store and thought it was time to play. “I never force,” says Gass, starting on his head and neck as we chatted. Timber seemed to be getting into the experience. At that point, he was still standing. Sort of. Gradually, as Gass kneaded Timber’s back, he crumpled to the carpet like a big happy blob.

At one point I swear he swooned, gazing soulfully into Gass’ hazel eyes with his baby blues. Ahh, nirvana. About half an hour into the session, my 103-pound colossus rolled over onto his back, all fours in the air, totally mellowed out. Then he planted grateful kisses on Gass’ face.

Timber was an eager subject but, Gass says, “Every dog is distinctly different. Some dogs lose interest more quickly than others. Some are quick to get into it and others take time.” Her arms would probably fall off before Timber lost interest.

Rules and regulations
Every state is different regarding its regulations for massage therapy. A member of the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork, Gass describes New Jersey as a “gray area” where there are no strict guidelines on who can perform massage therapy. “For example, I can’t work in New York State because I’m not associated directly with a veterinarian,” she says. “And, in some states, only a vet can perform the practice.”

She offers some history. “While equine massage has been practiced for centuries, canine massage is relatively new, going back to the 1970s,” she says. “Canine massage therapy focuses on the normalization of soft tissues through the use of hands-on techniques, impacting every system of the dog’s body. Dogs experience an increased overall sense of wellness. Massage therapy can provide pain reduction or relief as well as increased flexibility and range of motion.”

Increasing adoptions
Gass loves to work with animals awaiting adoption at the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover. “I would do anything for them,” she says. “They’re really good people and take care of the animals better than any other shelter I’ve seen. They have heart.”

They like her, too. Michelle Chalmers-Morris, the shelter’s development director, is quick to praise Gass, who has volunteered at the shelter for three years. “She’s one of the reasons that Dena — a black and white whippet-mix — was finally adopted,” Chalmers-Morris says. “Dena was an extremely high-energy dog that was adopted and returned to us three times over four years. Because Toby is in a running group, she asked if she could take Dena for runs to help release some of Dena’s energy.”

Gass’ soft spot for Dena worked so well that the two became a regular running team. “This greatly decreased Dena’s chances of developing kennel burn-out and made her more adoptable,” Chalmers-Morris says. “Being touched and massaged builds a dog’s trust in humans. They become less stressed, less anxious and less likely to be passed over by potential adopters.”

Gass stays in touch with the Florham Park family who adopted Dena. “She’s now fat and happy,” says the therapist with the magic touch. “I still beam that she was adopted to such a wonderful family.”

Source: New Jersey On-Line

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