Animals' sore muscles respond well to massage

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When we pull a muscle, we go for an ice pack and some anti-inflammatories. When our pets do it, they fight through the pain without complaint. They may limp, but pets will continue to try to please us by doing whatever we want them to do.

The lucky ones have pet parents who call Maria Duthie, an animal massage practitioner who will use her special touch to work out the pain of sore, overused or injured muscles.

I recently had the opportunity to witness Duthie, owner of Annisage of Medina, Ohio, giving a massage to Flip, her 10 1/2-year-old Australian shepherd.

Flip, who easily jumped up onto a massage table, was as relaxed as a limp noodle while Duthie used her hands to touch his pulse points and her ears to hear his breath.

"It's all by feel. I pay attention to his breathing. If he takes a deep breath I know the muscle is relaxing," she said.

His pulse told her whether his blood was circulating properly through his body and whether he has proper muscle tone.

She uses both senses to view how each one of Flip's 600 muscles are working as she keeps his neck, leg and back muscles loose and pain free.

"He loves to be a model," Duthie said. "He's quite the superstar."

She sees by touch

Due to the dog's medical history, Duthie works on him a bit each day, paying special attention to his arthritic feet.

Flip, despite the fact he was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 2 and took a fall from a hayloft five years ago, still competes in agility. Oh, I should probably mention that one of Flip's elbows is kept together with a wire, a plate and eight screws.

But Flip isn't the only star in the family, nor is he the only one who has forged ahead despite a medical condition that would defeat most of us.

Duthie, whose ability to commune with animals through her fingertips has taken her around the world, is legally blind and has been since birth.

It wasn't until the end of the interview that Duthie admitted she sees only moving shapes. She doesn't trade on what some think is a disability because it simply isn't one for her.

Why it matters

At the World Agility Championship in Belgium, Duthie kept the contenders for the American Kennel Club in top shape before and during the competition.

"There are several reasons to try massage for your animal. The show of resistance or the lack of willingness to move in a particular manner could be a sign of muscular discomfort. Through the proper use of massage techniques, muscle tenderness and spasms can be released," Duthie explains.

The pain of muscle stiffness or strain can even cause the animal to react with unfavorable behaviors, she said.

Duthie has treated dogs, cats and horses in many places, including Ecuador, Tanzania, Austria and across much of the United States. In South Africa, she worked on rhinos and cheetahs and was once (gently) grabbed by a gorilla. At Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, she worked on horses for several years and taught a class on horse massage to local guides.

"I had to learn Swahili to teach them," she said.