Arthritic pets get rubbed the right way

Lucy settles down to let Raylene Hoover give her a massage at owner Kerry S. Kennedy's home in Pittsburgh's Fineview neighborhood.

PITTSBURGH — Lucy at 11 years old is still lovely and frisky, but the miniature pinscher-beagle mix is showing signs of arthritis in her back legs.

Desi is only 3 years old, but before he was rescued, the Jack Russell terrier-beagle mix had a serious injury that almost cost him the use of a hind leg. His owner worries about Desi's long-term mobility and comfort.

So when Lucy and Desi's "dad" Kerry S. Kennedy had a recent birthday, his gift from friend Sue Kerr was massages for the little dogs.

I've never seen dogs get massages, so this was a treat for me. Luci and Desi were happy and excited when masseuse Raylene Hoover entered Kennedy's Fineview neighborhood home.

When Hoover got down to business, Lucy was initially skeptical, but Desi was quickly converted to the joys of massage.


There was no massage table or oils, no pummeling, pulling or hard rubbing.

"I work slowly with dogs and never force them," Hoover said as Lucy jumped up to her usual perch on the back of a sofa. "I start out by petting because that's what they're used to. Massage is different than petting."

The next step was using the back of her hand to brush against Lucy's side and back, then up toward the head to gently brush up against muscles that "go to the ears and eyes."

It's Integrative Touch Therapy that Hoover learned at a school in Ohio. She's been massaging dogs since 2008 and a professional pet sitter since 2004.

She touched and rubbed the "front end," although the probable arthritis in is Lucy's hind end. The dog draped a paw over Hoover's arm, an apparent show of appreciation and acceptance. Then she jumped off the couch and ran to Kennedy.

"She wants a break and that's OK," Hoover said.

Desi was happy to take Lucy's place on the couch.

"Lucy was tense, but Desi is not," Hoover said as she rubbed his neck and spine. When she got to his shoulders, Desi gave her kisses. "He is sensitive when I get to the hip area."


After a break, Desi returned to the couch and rolled over to present his "bad" hip to the masseur. "Desi figured it out!" a delighted Hoover said.

Lucy returned from her break and allowed Hoover to work on her knees and toes.

Most of her clients are older dogs, and many have arthritis or other health issues, but Hoover emphasizes that she does "wellness massages, although many owners swear they see improvements."

One day after their massages, Lucy and Desi were friskier than usual, Kennedy said. The dogs go to work every day at K.S. Kennedy Distinctive Floral, Gifts and Gourmet on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Kennedy has developed a unique specialty, providing pet friendly floral arrangements for the owners of dogs and cats. He has a 10-page list of plants and flowers that won't hurt pets.

Hoover gets health histories on her clients and works with the approval of their veterinarians. Many dogs are repeat customers, with regularly scheduled appointments.

"I seldom get calls for cats," she said, although Lucky Tigger, one of her three cats, loves massages.

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