In planning to open a dog therapy pool in her hometown in Florida, Karla Havlina determined her best bet to learn the ropes was with the prestigious Greyfriars Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre, based in the U.K.
So she booked a ticket for Errington.
Havlina is one of 23 international students, most of them from the U.S., who have joined Greyfriars instructors at Errington’s Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre for the past two weeks.
The students have flocked to the centre’s 16x32-foot pool to attend Greyfriars’ fast track certification course and a separate, diploma-level course in dog therapy.
“This is the best place to come for this kind of instruction,” said Kay Hetherly, a student from San Marcos, Texas.
The unique training pairs visiting students with dogs from across the mid-Island, which have already been clients of Coastal Canine owner Carolyn Kutchyera in her therapy and fitness business.
Kutchyera purchased the Errington property two and a half years ago after relocating from Winnipeg.
A longtime practitioner of animal therapy, both canine and equine, Kutchyera planned to move to Campbell River, where she and husband Dennis Smith already had a home.
But prior to their move, Kutchyera had been performing research and development on canine hydrotherapy for a Winnipeg-based business.
“I’m doing this research, and this place kept coming up, like a slap in the face,” she said of the Errington canine pool. “I sent my husband a link, and he bit.”
That research had already led her to U.K.-based Greyfriars, a renown veterinary and rehabilitation clinic that has specialized in canine hydrotherapy since opening in 2001.
“The U.K. is about 10 years ahead of us on dog hydrotherapy,” Kutchyera said.
She traveled from Winnipeg to Toronto in 2012 to take a Greyfriars training course there. Last year, after opening Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre, she brought Greyfriars owner Angela Griffiths and some of her staff to Errington for its first hydrotherapy.
“They do five of these sessions a year at their own facility in the U.K.,” said Kutchyera, who traveled to Greyfriars for a tour and training last October. “They’ve done a few in other places, like South Africa and Singapore.
“But they won’t be going back to Toronto. This is Greyfriars Canada now.”
And it has proven a popular draw. Last year’s inaugural training drew 14 students, which jumped to 23 this spring.
Most of the students are those who either work with dogs already and want to add the hydrotherapy component to their skill set, or those who, like Hetherly, wish to set up hydrotherapy centres of their own.
Mike Chiasson of Ottawa, the lone Canadian student enrolled, works with AquaDogs, a unique business that trains dogs in jumping and puts on shows and competitions.
“I’m all about dogs and pools, so this is perfect for me,” said Chiasson. “This training adds the rehabilitation part to it.”
Deborah Shelby of Bolton, Vermont, was the owner of an injured dog whose veterinarian recommended swimming therapy following the animal’s leg surgery.
But there was no pool in Vermont.
“I’m going to set up a facility,” said Shelby. “This has been an awesome experience and very enlightening. I think what I’ve mostly learned is there’s a lot to learn.”
Student Deborah Shelby of Bolton, Vermont, left, leads Surfer through the water with a toy during a two-week canine hydrotherapy training program at Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre in Errington. —Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB News
Asked where she planned to get a pool, Shelby turned and pointed to Chiasson.
“I’m going to sell her one,” he said with a laugh. “I sell pools, too.”
Kutchyera’s regular clients are owners whose dogs may have suffered injuries, including amputations, or are simply suffering from the ravages of age-related degeneration, like hip dysplasia.
Al and Val Sound of Duncan brought their 10-year-old German shepherd, Max, whose rear hips began to fail about a year ago. They actually came to this pool more than a decade ago with a previous dog, and knew the facility would help Max deal with his degenerative condition.
"He doesnt' really get any exercise at home because he can't walk," Al said. "So this is good for him."
Frank Rawcliffe of Errington brought his four-year-old black Labrador retriever, Louie, who has just one front leg. The dog was struck by a car at 18 months of age while returning home from a visit with his canine friend across the street. The neighbour dog, Rawcliffe noted ironically, was also a "tripod" who was missing a rear leg.
"He has no idea he has any limitations," Rawcliffe said of Louie, who happily paddled after a thrown ball in the pool. "He can't play with a ball on dry land because he's too agressive. It puts too much strain on his good shoulder."
And just as with Kutchyera and her husband, the existence of Coastal Canine Centre has played a role in the choice of hometown for at least one client, as well.
Melody Scott retired to Vancouver Island from Ontario with her husband one year ago. She had been taking her border collie, Surfer, to a pool in Ontario before the move.
“When we found this facility, I said, ‘We gotta go there,’” said Scott. “Within a week of moving, we were here, swimming.”
Kutchyera noted Coastal Canine Centre is not a veterinary clinic, but she works with clients through a veterinary remark form rather than referrals.
"We work with pre- and post-surgery animals and geriatric dogs; it'a about helping them with agility and exercise."
While her pool has been filled during the current training course with as many as three dogs at a time, along with multiple students and trainers, Kutchyera said she typically offers only private sessions. Multiple dogs are allowed in the pool together only if from the same family.
And her business has become so popular that it currently has a waiting list to get in, though she said cancellations can occur at any time.
To learn more about Coastal Canine Hydrotherapy and Fitness Centre, call 250-905-0047 or visit www.coastalcaninebc.ca.