AUGIE SHIVERS IN ANTICIPATION as he eases into the pool for his morning swim. Nearby, Eron dozes contentedly, oblivious to the acupuncture needles sticking from his shoulder. Buff growls, just a little, as a chiropractor manipulates his sore joints.
This is life at Total Dog Inc., a fitness and training center in Westwood, Calif., where man’s best friend can go for a workout and take advantage of a range of rehabilitative and alternative medicines that include physical therapy, massage and Jacuzzi baths. The treadmills are designed specifically for canines, as are the whirlpools and swimming pool. There’s an obstacle course of ladders, jumps, barrels and planks. And, if owners ask nicely, they can work out with their dogs.
Although there may be shih-tzus having Shiatsu at Total Dog, there are no spaniels in spandex. Most of the animals that pad through its doors are in need of rehabilitation or physical therapy because of injury or aging or a degenerative problem like hip dysplasia, which cripples many bigger dogs. On this afternoon the patients include Augie, a dachshund who was partly paralyzed after surgery; Buff, a 12-year-old boxer, whose dysplasia left his back legs unable to support him; and Josh, a Dalmatian unable to walk because of abuse by a previous owner. Then there’s Eron, a German shepherd, whose vigor declined rapidly after his owners, Theodore and Esther Solomon, moved last August from Baltimore, where they had a house with a yard he could run around in, to a highrise condo in Westwood. “It seemed like Eron aged really quickly,” says Esther Solomon, 35, an administrative assistant. “He was dragging; his appetite was off.”
“Eron had a lot of muscle atrophy in the hind quarters,” explains Dr. Kathleen Carson, a veterinarian who consults at Total Dog. (The staff also includes three chiropractors, two physical therapists and two exercise-and-fitness trainers.) Now, after 2½ months of swim therapy in the spa’s 7-foot-by-15-foot pool, Carson says, “his muscle mass has built up in the rear, and his mobility is just incredible.” Esther agrees. “He was 10 years old in February,” she says, “but he acts like a 5-year-old now.”
The brains behind this Fido fountain of youth is Annie Wald, 38, a former real estate developer and recreational weight lifter, who opened the 3,000-square-foot facility in September. “I’m a big believer in fitness,” she says. “I thought it was time for somebody to do something for dogs.”
Wald had turned to a regimen of physical therapy, chiropractic and acupuncture herself in 1992 to overcome back pain caused by improper weight-lifting techniques and decided that injured and aging dogs would benefit from something similar. “Nobody’s ever done this,” she says, “so I didn’t have a recipe for it.” At least initially, Wald encountered skepticism from veterinarians, who are crucial to her business: Since Total Dog doesn’t have the facilities for veterinary testing, she requires a referral before enrolling a dog in a rehabilitation course. “Until they visited the facility,” she says, “no one sent clients. Vets are busy—and they’re apprehensive, like doctors were 15 years ago with physical therapy.”
One vet who began referring at the very beginning was Dr. Alan Schulman, who does orthopedic and reconstructive surgery and neurosurgery at the Animal Medical Center in West Los Angeles: “We see a tremendous amount of animals that can be benefit by a physical therapy program. I think it works well.”
Wald currently has 90 clients who pay $75 a month per dog, which allows them unlimited use of the spa. The various canine therapies cost $25 to $30 a session each. Are the alternate therapies effective? The owners think so. As Esther spies her Eron snoozing contentedly after his acupuncture session for a sore shoulder, she seeks out Dr. Carson. “Now,” she says, laughing, “could you give him some acupuncture to make him quit smoking?”
JEANNE GORDON in Westwood