Every time Michael Tomlin thinks about it, he’s moved to testify. “It’s almost like those healers on TV who get crippled people to throw their crutches away,” says the Nashville investor. Tomlin’s 6-year-old German Shepherd had a bad hip after being hit by a truck, but after a few sessions with masseuse Nancy Belser, Scarlet is jumping around like a 3-month-old puppy. “Nancy is the Earnest Angley of the animal world,” says Tomlin.
Belser laughs at the comparison with televangelist Angley, but not at the efficacy of massage. The 32-year-old masseuse has developed quite a following in Nashville by treating dogs, cats, horses and even pigs for a variety of ailments, including bruises, soreness, arthritis, lethargy and hyperactivity. “A good massage is equivalent to a three-mile walk,” says Belser, who charges $25 a session and makes house calls. “Everything loves to be touched.” She had been giving therapeutic rubdowns to athletes in her hometown, Chapel Hill, N.C., when her pig landed a role in a local production of L’il Abner. Noticing that the pig “was under a lot of stress from being onstage,” as she puts it, Belser discovered that her massage techniques worked just as well on hogs. She began offering her services—first to humans, then their animals—after she moved to Nashville in 1985. Single and living with three cats, she now counts such country music luminaries as Rosanne Cash, Hillary Kanter and their respective pets as clients.
While nearly everyone sings Belser’s praises, at least one of her patrons feels that a revitalized dog isn’t always a good thing. Paula Sloan’s Peppy, 15, is living up to his name after being treated for sluggishness and arthritis. “But at his age, his bladder control isn’t too good,” says Sloan. “Now I’ve got him running all over the house.”