Abandoned pup led Donington woman to start new canine treadmill hydrotherapy business

Julie and patient Bonnie inside the treadmill.
Julie and patient Bonnie inside the treadmill.
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Dylan the Labrador/Springer Spaniel cross was only eight-months-old when he was “thrown out” because his hip joints were malformed.

“People just assume hip dysplasia is the end for dogs,” said Julie Smith. “But you can help the condition and give them a fantastic life.”

Julie Smith at work in her canine hydrotherapy treadmill. ANL-161026-102840001

Julie Smith at work in her canine hydrotherapy treadmill. ANL-161026-102840001

And Dylan, the dog who inspired Julie to set up her own specialist canine treadmill hydrotherapy centre, is having a fantastic life.

It’s almost four years since Dylan was abandoned but these days he lives with Julie and husband Tom and their five other Labs and a Jack Russell.

His hip dysplasia was so bad it was thought he wouldn’t live very long but thanks to treatment at Pawz Hydrotherapy in Gosberton – and in the newly installed treadmill centre at his home in Donington– Dylan is loving life.

Julie said: “He’s very bouncy and bubbly and loving. He’s very cuddly. He insists on jumping up on your lap and wants to play all the time. He loves life, he’s fit and healthy but there will always be joint issues.”

Julie Smith with Dylan, the black Labrador/Springer Spaniel cross who was the inspiration behind her new business. ANL-161026-103119001

Julie Smith with Dylan, the black Labrador/Springer Spaniel cross who was the inspiration behind her new business. ANL-161026-103119001

Until 16 years ago, Julie had a fear of dogs but then, one day, husband Tom said they should have a dog of their own. Julie set out three conditions: it must be a Labrador, it must be a rescue and it must be a puppy.

It was Julie’s way of making sure they would never have a dog.

But three days after the couple were assessed by Labrador Rescue, a Yellow Lab puppy called Giles came into their lives ... and turned Julie’s fear of dogs into a profound love for them.

Julie says her parents didn’t like dogs, she was never really introduced to dogs and the only dogs she saw in the street were either German Shepherd Dogs that seemed aggressive or “snappy” Jack Russells.

She said: “Giles was so gentle, loving and happy go lucky. He loved all humans, he loved all animals and having him was a great way to get to meet other people and other dogs.”

While Giles changed Julie’s mind about dogs, leading her to foster and adopt many more, it was Dylan who led Julie to a new business venture.

She set up her canine treadmill hydrotherapy centre in a garden building, formerly used as gym, in May and currently uses it to treat Dylan, friends’ dogs and dogs from Labrador Rescue.

Julie, a practitioner recognised by the Canine Hydrotherapy Association, has now applied for formal planning consent so she can widen the net to offer specialist treadmill hydrotherapy to dogs referred by vets.

While training for her ABC Level 3 Canine Hydrotherapy Qualification, Julie learned that treadmill therapy offers additional benefits to pool-based methods – including strengthening of the hindquarters – so she took an additional qualification to specialise in treadmill work.

Julie says in traditional hydrotherapy dogs swim with their front legs and can become “front loaded”, while treadmill therapy achieves a more balanced result.

In cold weather Julie dons waders before she climbs into the hydrotherapy tank to work alongside her canine patient on the treadmill. Water levels are adjusted to suit each dog’s needs.

Treatable conditions include osteoarthritis, pre and post cranial ligament rupture, pre and post patella luxation, as well as neurological problems, such as spondylosis and wobblers syndrome, and obesity. If her planning application succeeds, Julie doesn’t expect to be inundated with customers because business isn’t the main driver for the venture.

Julie explains: “It’s all for the love of dogs.”