Backstory: Massage is going to the dogs; it's more than just belly rubs

08/25/2014 8:00 PM

08/25/2014 11:58 PM

Nicole King knows some people snicker when they learn that her dog has her own masseuse.

“Even my relatives thought I was crazy,” said King, 45, an unemployed information technology worker.

They laughed, she said, until they saw how the massages helped Jewel, a 10-year-old, 100-pound Rottweiler and shepherd mix, who was left with a numb back leg after a seven-hour back surgery for hip dysplasia.

Twice a week, Melanie Hampton, owner of Raleigh-based mobile Serenity Pet Massage, visits Jewel.

Last week, Hampton set up a portable massage table (made for an up to 300-pound human) and covered it with a fleece pad and a white sheet.

Calming spa music played in the background, as Hampton and King lifted Jewel onto the table. Hampton rubbed Jewel’s head, and then up and down her legs and spine. Jewel looked around and shifted a bit before she eventually relaxed on her side and drifted into a heavy slumber.

“It is not just petting,” Hampton said. It is actually getting in there and kneading and manipulating the soft tissues to keep them healthy, she said.

Hampton, 53, a certified veterinarian technician who has worked in animal care for more than 30 years, began researching pet massages after she started rubbing her dog Kassie to relieve pain from bone growths underneath her spine.

“She loved, loved, loved, loved for me to just love her, rub her around her back and her hip area,” Hampton said.

She came across information on canine massage certification in July 2013 and enrolled in a 100-hour training with Abundant Life Massage in Sarasota, Fla., that September. Hampton spent two weeks in Sarasota, then did internship projects in the Triangle that included volunteering to give massages at a Second Chance Pet Adoptions event, giving a pet massage presentation at a local vet and massaging 10 dogs, including Jewel.

Hampton also had to choose two dogs with different problems and complete a case study. One was a Boston terrier who had a pinched nerve and wasn’t responding to medicine. The second was a dog with an amputated leg who was having trouble getting up and down as he got older.

Massage, Hampton said, helps pets relieve stress and relax. It softens irritated and aging muscles, increases circulation and helps identify problem or painful areas. If dogs are hyper or won’t stay still, Hampton said, she gets down on their level and works with them until they relax.

Before she opened her business, Hampton also met with Raleigh SCORE counselors and attended small-business workshops.

Hampton’s husband, a computer software engineer, built her a website. She started a Facebook page and contacted animal rescue organizations and locally owned pet stores, asking if she could offer free massages at their stores or set up at their events.

Hampton charges $60 for a 60-minute canine massage and $25 for a 30-minute cat massage.

Hampton has worked as a vet technician with Veterinary Surgical Referral Practice in Cary for six years. In April, she went part time as the massage business started to pick up.

Hampton officially started offering massages in December and has about 30 clients.

Her clients include a 130-pound retired service black Labrador retriever with arthritis, an 8-pound Yorkipoo (yorkie poodle mix) with anxiety and Jewel.

Hampton met Jewel in November and started working with her regularly in December. King said the massages have been key to Jewel regaining feeling in her legs.

“It was the most relaxed we had seen her since she had surgery,” King said. “You see her feel better. Her appetite is back to normal. She goes out for walks with her wheelchair.”

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