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Outreach services go the distance
Four ways to be more active
'Why don’t we have a place where both human and pup can work out together out of the nasty weather?'
Hey St. John’s people with money…. I have an idea for you.
As a private-sector journalist with no money, I offer it up to hopefully spark action or at least start a conversation.
The thing is I am convinced the metro area needs a gym that allows humans and dogs to work out together.
Why is that now?
The ice and snow of winter in this place is godawful for safe walking.
Those of you who enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing, I applaud your adventurous spirit.
I am too accident prone for the skiing.
There’s nothing like a winter’s walk in freshly fallen snow.
Until I broke an ankle on an icy parking lot in the winter wonderland of Pippy Park, spent many months getting back on comfortable footing with the pins and plates holding the ankle together.
And by the time I had regained mobility, as well as calmed some of the fear of falling again, my English setter Jill’s arthritis — in part attributed to her fall on the ice on a different occasion — became so severe, she was screeching in pain and could not move off her pet bed.
(She had been getting daily walks until I gained mobility thanks to the kindness of my neighbour).
I spent many nights in tears over her condition, that her sweet, sweet face was not looking back at me through front door’s window when I came home from work. On veterinarian advice, I moved to a downstairs bedroom so she would not have to climb the stairs. (Well, I didn’t have to move, but I wasn’t leaving her alone at night.)
The pricey meds have her back at the door, wagging her behind, at the end of the workday.
She’s raring to go but her endurance for long walks is gone — this dog whose wide smile always warmed my heart when she was running like a racehorse and dashing through the woods.
Jilly Bean’s 14. We’ve changed many routines, taking breaks on benches around pond trails, trading Pippy Park’s rugged trails for the flatter paths of Bannerman Park, where we can do circuits with rest spots for her to people watch in between laps, while remaining close to the car.
I’m no veterinarian, no animal behaviour expert but one thing I have noticed is that the more days we can swim in a nearby pond, the greater her endurance. I run in spot in the water, with her swimming in spot at the end of the leash. Easy on all our joints.
But it’s late August and winter’s coming and with each winter I dread the snow and ice more and more.
You also can’t walk a dog very far I’d say I get half a block — when the salt brine turns their fur rotten dirty.
We don’t have a big backyard and even if we did, we’d still have the ice and snow situation to deal with.
On a winter’s walk, it seems I’m watching her paws to make sure she’s not slipping and sliding and she’s watching my feet — having herself been traumatized by the ankle incident. (Yes. I have got a selection of those ice cleats).
I could figure out some kind of household exercise regime, but one of the biggest parts of a dog’s day is getting out for an adventure of some sort.
And thank God for places like Canadian Tire on Hebron way and all the stores that are dog-friendly.
I don’t think dog parks are a solution — we have plenty but either they or their parking lots get icy in the winter, too. Plus, some dogs don’t enjoy being around packs.
So back to my big idea, reinvigorated when I saw recently that New World Fitness was closing and seem to remember they have an indoor track and a pool.
Why don’t we have a place where both human and pup can work out together out of the nasty weather?
I’d love to be able to take her swimming during the winter because the healthier and happier her life is, hopefully that translates into more time she’s on this Earth.
Given our nasty climate, I think people like me would gladly pay a gym membership if we could bring our dog along— because lots of dog owners will understand this — we want to spend our exercising time with our pups.
Another point I will make is with all the big box chain gym competition, I’d think a niche service would be a better selling point for an independent operation — much like local stores have carved out niche businesses.
The potential is endless, I think, to add a dog café, or sell healthy treats, partner up other dog-related services.
But there’s no point in an elite gym solely for the one per centers and the Sunshine list inhabitants of St. John’s and their pooches.
A reasonable membership fee should draw a good crowd from all income levels from pensioners to the comfortably off.
Sure, there are logistics to figure out, and there’s always those five to 10 per cent of pet owners who are irresponsible, who would take an aggressive dog into such a situation. Much like the person I recently encountered letting their uncontrollable dog loose on Monday Pond trail.
But most of us are sensible.
For a little more insight into how this works exactly, I called Darian Mosley, owner/operator at Master Trainer K9 Fit Club of Central Florida.
Florida has the opposite problem of us.
This time of year, the heat is oppressive for dogs and people to be exercising outside.
When I spoke to Mosley, the temperature was 95 Fahrenheit with a heat index up over 106.
“And so, a lot of people are looking for alternative ways to exercise with their dogs,” she said.
Mosley, who has Jack Russell mix dog, launched her business in February. K9 Fit Club is a national brand, but the operator owns their own branch.
Part of the requirements are being certified in animal behaviour and dog training, as well as personal training.
Because she serves a retirement community, many of the pet owners are snowbirds who are used to cold climates and therefore their dogs may also suffer from arthritis. Some of her work involves building up muscle in dogs’ hind legs.
Mosley worked in veterinary medicine for 10 years as a technician.
“I will tell you at east 20 per cent of the patients we would see every day are obese,” she said.
She limits the size of her classes — there are eight in each, so that the activities aren’t overwhelming for the pets or their owners.
She also does one-on-one sessions and is exploring options with a local gym and an aqua therapy business for dogs to partner some programs.
She has an intern who helps out as a dog wrangler, but is hoping to grow the business to hire more trainers.
When asked if there’s potential for growth in the industry, Mosley said, “Absolutely.”
“It’s not incredibly common but it’s quickly growing in popularity,” she said.
“Fortunately for me with my background with animal medicine, I had a really good foundation.” She said a nearby city has contracted her to provide dog yoga classes in the fall.
A concern was how she would get dogs with different ability levels together in one class and to work together.
But it’s going well.
Like a traditional exercise class, Mosley plays pop music for her human and dog clients.
The dogs love 1980s music like Cyndi Lauper.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, whether their human or canine. And the boys must like taking those classes Time After Time.
I can relate when it comes to dogs’ musical tastes — back when Jill was a non-stop ball of energy, I would take her on 1.5 hour walks around downtown, with my iPod full of tunes from different genres.
Please don’t judge my musical taste, but someone visiting my house mentioned “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.”
I can’t recall the details of the long-ago conversation.
But I’ll never forget Jill’s excitement at hearing that phrase — when she’s happy, she doesn’t just wag her tail, but wiggles her whole back end as if she’s doing The Twist.
So, we kind of figured out after repeating the phrase a few times that although I wore headphones, she was hearing the music on our walks and Alan Jackson’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” was among her favourite tunes.
Anyway, if you like this idea, or you’re already on it or have a dog-friendly exercise program and I haven’t heard about it, or you’re a dog lover that is craving this kind of service, drop me a line.
And if this inspires you to open such a business, do me a favour and hang a photo of Jilly on the wall.
Cuz this one’s for her, long may she live.
POSTCRIPT: I have heard from Paradise Animal Hospital, which has a K9 Fit Club at its facility, and I hope to check out their classes next week with Jill for a followup. (When I searched dog gyms locally times, they didn't turn up.) But I still think an indoor facility is something we need in St. John's, all places really.