Mikamar Interviews Vreli Middleton — Canine Massage Therapist
I met Vreli at an agility show in Arcadia, Florida over the summer. She was doing canine massage and I asked her to work on my dogs. We talked a lot about natural remedies. The work she did was impressive. I was so intrigued by her story, that I asked to interview her. If you see her at a show, your dogs will be thrilled to hop up on her table! — Marie
Where are you from, and what brought you here?
I’m from the South West of England, the county of Cornwall. It’s one of the larger tourist areas, kind of the Florida of the UK.
I first came to Florida on vacation many years ago and I fell in love with it then. The whole way of life here was just what I wanted and knew at some point this was where I would be.
What made you choose a career in massage? Was there a “life-changing” moment?
There wasn’t really a eureka moment as such. Over the years my dogs had several problems, arthritis, cruciate surgery, spondylosis and various other surgeries. A couple of times vets would say ‘massage could help’, they just meant to do it myself. I’m sure at that time most of them had no idea people specialized in canine massage!! I’d worked with dogs for a number of years, needed a new direction working with dogs and the comments the vets had made got me wondering if there was actually professional training in canine massage available. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s the old cliché, I just wanted to make a difference….and I just knew this was it. I’d found my calling I guess!!
Tell us a little about your life with your pets and your family?
My involvement with dogs spans many years. I showed my Rottweilers in confirmation, including Crufts. I worked my GSD’s in working trials, a sport based on police K9 disciplines. I bred 2 litters of working GSD’s, my girl Tasha is the firstborn of the first litter, she was 12 in October. Most of those pups went on to have very successful careers in working trials, one girl became a champion and holds the current record of 11 challenge certificates, the most ever held by a female GSD…very proud momma! I have the most wonderful husband who totally supports me with furthering my business and will come to some of the trials closer to home when he can.
How long have you been in canine massage? What is your particular expertise, or what do you specialize in?
I’m in my 6th year of practice, 5 years in the UK, where I was also an assistant tutor with the canine massage therapy center. I moved to Florida last year and have been practicing here since.
Although I work with dogs of all ages and from all walks of life, working & sports dogs are my specialty. I’m trained in 4 disciplines of massage; Swedish, Sports, Deep Tissue and Myofascial Release. It’s the myofascial work that really gets results and makes all the difference to the comfort and mobility of the dogs I work with.
What common issues do you see with the clients you have?
The most common injuries are strains (tears in the muscle fibers). Many as a result of the slippery flooring we have here in Florida. That is the number 1 cause of injury in dogs. I’ve helped rehab too many dogs that have lost the use of their hind legs as a result of this. Thankfully they have returned to mobility but will never move correctly again. I encourage owners to use non-slip rubber backed runners to help their dogs deal with these surfaces, and minimize the risk of injury.
What do you enjoy most about canine massage?
Where do I start…!!! I enjoy seeing the relief on the dogs face because it can relax and the pain has gone; knowing a dog can return to work or sports after an injury, and even getting on the bed or sofa unaided again. There are so many things. I get excited about a little old dog cocking his leg…but when he’s not done it in 2 years and now he can because I’ve worked with him…that is massive!
I know that my dogs love you! Do any breeds/dogs give you more kisses than others?
It’s not really a breed thing. Some dogs are just more kissy than others! What is wonderful is when I get a kiss and the owner says ‘that’s a first’, makes me feel very special and that I’ve made that difference.
What do you feel are the benefits of massage for canines?
So many! Easing sore tight muscles, helping dogs relax, rehabilitation after injury or surgery, improving circulation, building confidence with nervous or rescue dogs, drug-free pain relief to name just a few.
How do you determine which technique to use on a particular dog?
I assess each dog and adapt techniques according to the type of treatment the dog needs. Some techniques are not suitable for a dog that is going to be running in a competition that day or the next. Myofascial restrictions can be aggravated by incorrect techniques and I won’t do a relaxing massage for a dog that is about to run an event, they need to be ready to run not sleep! Like people, some dogs don’t like the lighter strokes, they find them aggravating and prefer a firm pressure so it is important to be able to read the dog and work with it.
How far apart do sessions need to be?
If I’m working with a dog that is starting rehab from an injury I recommend 3 sessions a week apart. Then move to a maintenance plan which varies according to the dog. We could be looking at every 8 – 10 weeks or weekly depending on age, activity level and the issues we are working with. For a fit young working dog, I suggest a good full body session 3 or 4 times a year with maintenance between depending on how much work the dog is doing. As the dog ages, it needs a little more to help cope with the aging body so a more frequent bodywork plan is more beneficial.
In your experience, have you found any breeds more prone to injury than others?
No one breed seems more prone to injury than another, but some breeds are more prone to a type of injury, i.e. long-backed dogs like Dachunds get more lumbar area issues, Whippet & greyhound types seem to suffer from myofascial restrictions.
What is the most important thing you would love all of your clients to know?
It is so important for owners to watch their dogs for any signs of discomfort, lameness, change in temperament, avoiding activities they once did like jumping in the car or on the bed. Dogs are experts at hiding problems. It is our responsibility as their guardians to be aware of subtle changes in mood, behavior or movement that can mean the difference in a dog suffering silently with pain or not.
For more information on Canine Massage, go to Vreli’s webpage
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