Bonchester Bridge working dog trialist Heather Halton is spreading the word about animal physiotherapy.
Qualified last year, the former nurse has helped animals throughout the Borders and north Northum berland, and holds clinics in Kelso, Cumbria and Penrith.
She told us: “You can make such a big difference to the quality of life of an animal. It’s absolutely brilliant and it’s working with people who all care about their animals.”
Ponies, horses and dogs played a large part in Heather’s younger years before a nursing career meant she had to give up horses in her mid-20s. But she then started training and competing dogs – Border Collies, Labradors and a Wirehaired Vizsla – which became a hobby for 25 years.
She said: “Winning the reserve ticket at our local favourite working trial, the Lauder Championship, and then gaining a third there again the following year with Shadow (a Lab) was such a wonderful experience and a very happy memory.
“We were also lucky enough to win the Scottish Kennel Club working trials dog of the year for several years with litter brother and sister (Shadow and DD) – this was an invitation-only competition for the top working trials dogs in Scotland.”
She also competed in obedience and dog agility.
“There were many occasions when our dogs had injuries and sometimes given time and medication they recovered, but sometimes not. We also had dogs that had major orthopaedic surgery and there did not seem to be much guidance regarding rehabilitation at the time.”
Heather first trained in animal massage – myotherapy – and has been practising for the last four years.
“It was when I was working on one of my vet’s dogs and he suggested I train as a physio. The thought hadn’t occurred to me and I thought, actually, this is what I need to be doing.
“I think I’ve probably found out what I have wanted to do all my life, if that makes sense.”
Animal physio is different to that for a human.
She said: “My training was targeted at the very different needs that animals have.
“As an animal physiotherapist it is essential that you have a natural affinity with animals and you need to be tuned into how they communicate when they have pain or other issues.
“Animals do tell us where it hurts, but you need to know how they are communicating that information.”
She works with her hands, for example giving targeted massage, as well as using some therapeutic machines, for example, ultrasound, and she prescribes exercises.
“The best results are often achieved using different treatments at different times during the recovery period,” she said.
Her best result was when a dog got up and walked over to sit next to her owner – she previously had been unable to walk unaided.
She said: “The best result for me is when I say I do not need to see a client any more: this is my aim, it hopefully means they’ve made a good recovery.”
Heather also runs courses for owners, often travelling to other areas.
“Animal physiotherapy can be quite challenging at times,” she said. “It requires an individualised approach to each animal and is fascinating because you need to be so adaptable. I feel I can make a difference and enhance the quality of life of my clients, and seeing owners happy when they get the happy dog back or are able to ride their horse again because it no longer has back pain from muscle spasm, is incredibly rewarding.”