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Sustainable Development to Canine Massage - how did that happen?

I am often asked how I got into Canine Massage, especially when people hear that I used to influence large scale construction projects. I would just like to point out that my Canine Massage business is the only deliberate career decision I have ever made.

In the early 1990's I had just graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Physiology and knew that I really didn't want to work in a laboratory. So with limited job prospects and a clear idea of what I didn't want I moved back to the South East and started temporary work. This led eventually to a job at BRE running a Government funded environmental helpline.

Image of the National Library in Lima, Peru
Sustainable Development project, Lima, Peru

Over the next 15 years I moved from energy efficiency to corporate sustainability and finally into sustainable community scale projects. In that time I

  • developed assessment tools and technical guidance

  • worked with high street names, the Brazilian Ministry of Cities, and one of the largest housebuilders in China

  • travelled the world

  • had lots of letters after my name (MEI CEnv MSC BSC (Hons) to be precise)

  • managed an amazing team of specialists.

So what changed?

I was weary of trying to change construction. I was frustrated by the lack of urgency or action on sustainability issues such as Climate Change, Resource Depletion, Loss of Wildlife, Water Management. I was angry with the way developments failed to build in longevity, community and resilience into their spaces. They had blank canvasses, yet time after time the same development types were 'designed'!

Eva and I are enjoying the August sunshine in the garden
Eva's first day out of kennels

I really needed to get back to basics and to focus on what made me happy and find a space where I could make a real, tangible difference to people's lives.

Dogs make me feel happy! Being responsible for the care and wellbeing of a very anxious rescued lurcher called Eva helped me recover from the hopelessness I was feeling.

The more I learned about Eva the more I wanted to know about dogs. I had some very basic massage techniques and these really made a difference to my new girl. The more she changed the more certain I became that I could help other dogs too and I really wanted to help.

A bit of research and some soul searching later I left corporate life behind and two years later, having retrained as a Canine Massage Therapist, I set up Safe Hands Clinical Canine Massage.

I am so very happy to be doing something I am passionate about, to be making a difference and to spend my days with incredible people and their dogs. But all the skills developed over the decades in business and research were not going to go to waste.

Sustainable Development and Canine Massage - the surprising similarities

There are some key similarities between my previous roles and now, including:

The bigger picture

A development does not exist in a bubble, it will have a relationship with neighbouring communities and impacts on wider resources such as health and education services, flood risks, amenity access. It will also need to be well connected, with good communication and transport links. It should consider the materials used so that it settles into its environs and lasts as long as possible.

The dogs body does not live in a bubble either. The environment a dog lives in and how they negotiate around it will have a major impact on their health and wellbeing. The exercise they get, the flooring they move on, their bedding and the interaction they have with those they live with all have an impact on the body. They need to be able to effectively communicate with their owners and with me and we all want our dogs to live well for as long as possible.

Minimising impacts, maximising benefits.

To ensure a new development is sustainable all the potential impacts and benefits need to be understood. Improvements to existing communities and services in the area will help the new development be more acceptable and improve and strengthen the facilities available to the new community as they move into the area.

To ensure my intervention and treatment of a dog is maximised I need to understand their lifestyle and activities. I need to know how they live and what risks exist in their daily lives that could result in them not improving whilst under my care or reinjuring themselves at a later date.

A logical, problem solving approach is needed

Mapping out new community projects requires an understanding of the purpose of the development, the density requirements and how it will sit within, and interact with, its environment. Only once these are known can master-planning and sustainability teams challenge the assumptions and work up a plan for road and infrastructure layout, locations for buildings and amenities, flood management strategies....

I am massaging a yellow labrador
Canine Massage

The body, just like our built environment, is a complex, interconnected system. A dog coming to me with a hind limb lameness may not actually have a problem with that leg. So a structured approach to assessing and treating the whole body and an understanding of how the body adapts and adjusts to changes is also required.

For instance, that dog with hind limb lameness will also have tension and pain in other parts of the body, as anyone forced to use crutches will know. Knowing where this tension and pain is likely to accumulate and assessing the whole body for injuries like strains, sprains and fascia restrictions allows me to consider what might be causing the lameness and address all the soft tissue concerns and not just focus on favoured hind limb.

Working in partnership is a productive team

The best outcomes are only possible by working as a team. Design teams on construction projects will include, water management specialists, master-planners, architects, civil engineers, ecologists, road and other infrastructure specialists. Good teams will also have input from existing local communities, businesses and local authorities.

My work is no different. I work alongside the vet and the owner. I provide advice to the owner to help them make the lifestyle and home environment changes that allow the dog to get the very best from my massage therapy. I feedback to the vet on my findings and any improvements and will refer the owner back to the vet if I feel there is something that needs further investigation.

It is not unusual for me to work as part of a wider team of vet physiotherapists, hydrotherapists, acupuncturists, behaviourists and nutritionist to support a dog.

Using all my skills offers the best outcomes for my clients

My two science degrees and my problem solving, project management and research skills have not gone to waste. What I am doing now is not so very different from my last career.

Before, my input was so early in the process it might be a decade before the project was completed and there was no way to be sure that any of my input was included in the final development.

Now I have the privilege of seeing visible changes in my client dogs, in some cases as soon as they walk out the clinic.

I have found something I can be truly passionate about. Making a real difference to the lives of my clients is incredibly rewarding and I couldn't be happier. The sense of relief I feel from dog owners when they see how their dog responds to my therapy reassures me that they are happy too; and the dogs, well they are all incredible.

Could I make you and your dog happy too? I would love to hear from you. Be assured your dog is in very Safe Hands.

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