From dogs to donkeys and horses, animals are experiencing the powerful health benefits of therapeutic massage

By Linda Marx
Updated December 15, 2009 03:00 PM

When Darlene Davison woke up Christmas morning 2001, her 15-year-old, 18-lb. mini Schnauzer Dusty couldn’t move: Her back legs were paralyzed.

“I took Dusty to different vets, she had MRIs, they found no stroke, nothing wrong,” Davison, now director of spa services at the Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, tells “I didn’t know what to do.”

After some research, Davison found Eve Lucia Boucouvalas, a national pet massage instructor, who was living nearby in St. Petersburg. “Eve knows how to stimulate the range of motion on a pet, and she offered to drive to my house and massage Dusty,” says Davison. “She found that Dusty had Canine Cognitive Disorder, which is our form of Alzheimer’s Disease. The massage strokes stimulated Dusty’s whole system and got her moving. It was amazing.”

Boucouvalas, who taught Davison her technique, tells that “the massage I did on Dusty helped encourage her natural self-healing abilities, increased her circulation, stimulated her immune system, moved the lymph fluids and increased her joint flexibility.”

So Davison continued massaging her beloved dog once a day. After two weeks, Dusty began to walk, and four weeks later, she was able to run and be herself again.

“These hands-on therapies are gentle, yet yield powerful results,” says Boucouvalas, who works on all kinds of pets, from dogs and donkeys to cows and horses. “Animals respond intuitively to the power of massage to heal on many levels: physical, mental, emotional and energetic.”

Massage also stimulates the pet’s circulation and promotes the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It helps promote healing and recovery from injury and improves overall physical condition as well as lowering anxiety. The procedure costs around $130 a session, and can be arranged at home or at a pet massage office.

“Animals receive the same benefits from massage as humans,” says Lillian Wallace, a licensed New York and Florida massage therapist, who has worked on humans and animals. “Massaging your pet reduces stress, muscle spasms, arthritis and other conditions. It makes them relax and fall asleep, which is good.”

If there is one that that brings pets and their owners together, it is touch.

“Nothing is more reassuring to your pet than to be touched gently and lovingly,” says Davison, now a certified pet masseuse offering 60-minute animal treatments at the hotel’s spa. “This is one of your pet’s greatest pleasures.”