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A New Kind of Healing Touch

Alexandria business offers and teaches how to give rehabilitative massages to dogs.Alexandria business offers and teaches how to give rehabilitative massages to dogs.

A massage can serve many purposes. It can relieve the stress of a hard day; diminish the pain of a persisting injury, or simply provide a short escape from a highly active life.

Thousands of people get massages every day. Why, wondered Joyce Tischer, owner and founder of Tails of Olde Towne in Alexandria, should dogs be excluded from this practice? Especially when they may actually need it more than some humans.

"At first some people said, ‘Oh I pet my dog at home, that’s all they need’," said Tischer, "but then I explained that dog massage is very much a rehabilitative process and just a general wellness type of thing. I haven’t had to convince anyone [that this is a valid practice] in a while."

Tischer, who owns three dogs of her own, founded Tails of Olde Towne in 2000 after she became a trained instructor in Canine Massage. At first, Tischer focussed her business on the massages that she, alone, gave to her canine patients, but in 2005, she began offering group classes where she demonstrates how to give these massages. Owners are then able to practice on their own dog as Tischer watches them and provides tips.

For Tischer, who has worked as a psychologist for Alexandria City Schools for nearly 30 years, the practice came naturally.

"My career as a psychologist has helped me working with the dogs because I’m patient and I read behavior well," she said, explaining that she first became interested in the concept of canine massage after reading an article on this practice.

"About seven years ago I decided to explore my second passion — my first is kids — which is dogs. I became certified from The Pet Massage Training and Research Clinic in Ohio. I learned it and like it," said Tischer.

Tischer started this business as what she describes as "a very part time practice," making predominately home visits. Tischer did this for about four years and was able to establish a wide clientele working with everything from racing and rescue dogs to dogs who are recovering from limb amputation.

She feels that the larger breeds, like Golden Retrievers, are often the easiest patients to work with because they are relatively calm. "The little ones like to play," she said of the smaller canine breeds.

Working with so many different dog situations and injuries made Tischer even more certain that the practice of canine massage is necessary and life altering.

"If a dog has a problem with one of its forearms, his legs will suffer too. If a human breaks his arm, he will still be able to walk just fine," said Tischer in regard to how the act of massaging a dog’s broken arm can actually change its life.

One of Tischer’s patients, Cathy Hanratty, has witnessed such a life improvement with one of her own dogs. Hanratty’s 12 1/2 –year-old Greyhound, Tasha, who was once a racing dog, had a debilitating case of arthritis. However, after regular appointments with Tischer, Hanratty saw a significant change in her pet.

"She now takes no pain pills and is able to move like a young dog again," said Hanratty of Tasha.

Tischer feels that it is not just the dogs who benefit from this practice, but the owners as well.

"It [the massage] definitely relaxes the dog, but it also relaxes the person giving the massage. That’s an added component," said Tischer.

Her customers — who regularly send her memorabilia such as curtains, a stapler, and a welcome mat, all decorated with dogs — seem to agree that this practice benefits themselves just as much as their pets.

"It’s like a bonding experience I’ve never had before," said Carla Gregor, a frequent participant of Tischer’s classes. "After the first class I went to, my dog walked up to me at home and put his head on my shoulder. It’s been like that ever since," said Gregor.

Despite their intense rehabilitation aspect, Tischer does feel that canine and human massage have the same general principle.

"Both types of massages are an intentional touch for well being," said Tischer. "We don’t use tables, though. Or oils — dogs don’t have any pores!"