CAPE ELIZABETH – An in-ground 15-by-30-foot-long saltwater pool at the home of Cape Elizabeth canine rehabilitation therapist Gayle Hickok is making a splash in therapy for dogs.

But not only do the canines seem to enjoy it – the owners love it, too.

“It’s amazing,” says Cape Elizabeth resident Theresa Fox, of the pool. Fox, the owner of pet-sitting company the Furry God Mother, brings her dog, Niko, to the pool once a week to swim for exercise.

A 25-pound white companion dog, called a Coton de Tulear, Niko tore a major ligament in his knee three months ago after a fence fell on him, said Fox. Thanks to the pool at Hickok’s private practice, Pawsitive Results K-9 Rehabilitation at her home on Fowler Road, Niko’s injury has almost entirely healed.

“It’s really remarkable,” Fox said of Niko’s recovery. “He has no symptoms right now.”

Pawsitive Results specializes in canine therapy. At the facility, dogs of all breeds and ages are able to recover from injuries and lose weight over time through aquatic exercise. No harsh chemicals are used in Hickok’s pool, and an ozone injector and the salt keep the water clean and clear. The pool is open from April to October every year.

Hickok installed the saltwater pool three years ago, which is specifically designed for dogs to exercise their joints and manage their weight, she said. Hickok also has a new state-of-the-art hydrotherapy treadmill, which helps the furry patients improve their muscle and cardiovascular strength, joint range-of-motion, balance, as well as reduce swelling from injury.

While the treadmill is used mainly during the winter, the gunite pool, which has no liner and is enclosed by a fence, is popular with the canines and their owners in the summertime. It is usually heated to about 85 degrees and has ramp access for the senior dogs that have trouble walking.

“Everyone wants to be in the pool,” Hickok said.

Hickok has 28 years of experience in neuromuscular treatment on humans. In 1988, she began her practice in soft tissue therapies under the supervision of Dr. James Kirsh, who specializes in osteopathic medicine in Falmouth. In 1996, as a certified Vodder Manual Lymph Drainage therapist, Hickok began directing the Lymphedema Center of Maine at Mercy Hospital.

She worked there for 10 years before realizing she wanted to focus on healing animals, she said. To fulfill that dream, she completed a two-week fast-track program in Canine Rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in 2007, Hickok said.

“I was working part time at Tender Touch Veterinary Hospital and I think it was that August I decided to just really put all my efforts into creating this private practice,” Hickok said. Her pool, from her knowledge, is the only pool of its kind in the state.

She started her business Pawsitive Results seven years ago, but it wasn’t until the past few years that she began offering aquatics therapy. Aside from the pool and the treadmill, Hickok uses low-level laser treatment on the dogs and does therapeutic exercises with them specific to their individual needs. Over the course of seven years, she’s had “hundreds” of clients, she said.

Low-level laser treatment, said Hickok, speeds up healing time, decreases inflammation and aids pain relief.

Physical therapy, according to Hickok, is a new and rapidly growing field of health care for animals. Veterinary research has shown that animals reap the same benefits from physical therapy as humans, she said, though her services are not meant to replace professional veterinarian care for any of her patients.

“I have many area vets that refer their patients to me to do what is called conservative management of the problem, versus rushing into surgery,” Hickok said. “It always starts with the vet making that call. I really just support them, and I think they (clients) are happy because I get a lot of repeat business.”

Before advancing to the pool, Fox said, Niko started off his therapy sessions by walking on the hydro treadmill. According to Hickok, the components of movement in water, including buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, viscosity and surface tension, gives comfort to dogs while they exercise on the treadmill.

Fox’s veterinarian recommended she try bringing Niko to Hickok’s facility for treatment, she said.

“We chose not to have surgery and try this first, and it worked. It’s a great service,” Fox said, of Hickok’s practice. She said that Niko could have had to go through “intensive surgery, but he didn’t have to because of her help.”

According to Hickok, outpatient referrals to her facility require all pertinent medical background records and a referral form from a veterinarian; however, dogs that don’t need medical attention can rent the pool without a referral as long as they are supervised by their owners, she said.

Conditions that Hickok can help treat include arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases, hip and elbow dysplasia, rear-limb weakness, traumatic injury recovery, obesity and more, she said.

“It meets a variety of needs,” she said of her facility.

Jessica Dolce, another one of Hickok’s clients, from Cape Elizabeth, has been bringing her 12-year-old Beagle mix, Birdie, to Pawsitive Results for about two years to treat back pain and a torn ACL.

Though surgery was the recommended course of action to treat Birdie’s injury, Dolce, a dog walker in Portland, said she couldn’t afford surgery and instead turned to Hickok, whose services are “a good investment,” she said. The first week after a surgical consult, she started Birdie’s treatment with five visits in a row. During each visit, Birdie had laser treatments, manual treatments, such as stretching or massage therapy, and therapeutic exercises with Hickok.

Last summer was the first time Birdie used the pool, Dolce said. Though Birdie has been treated for her injuries, she still visits Hickok about once a month on an as-needed basis for aquatic exercise and to get a massage.

“It was super, super helpful,” Dolce said. Because of regular visits to the saltwater pool, Birdie “is fully mobile and able to run around. She really is better,” she said. “She’s a lucky dog.”

Dolce also has a six-year-old Pitbull mix, named Boogie, who had his first therapy session with Hickok earlier this month for lower back pain.

“Swimming is a good way for him to exercise and doesn’t cause him as much discomfort as running and jumping,” Dolce said. According to Dolce, the work Hickok does with her canine patients not only reduces their pain, but also improves their behavior.

Marble, a 3-year-old border collie, and Zoey, an 11-year-old part yellow lab and golden retriever with arthritis jumped in the pool earlier this month without much hesitation. Marble, a rescue from Arkansas, ripped a ligament in her left knee, and has visited Pawsitive Results once a week since October, said her owner, Terri Kenney, from Portland.

For Marble, who was inactive for 16-20 weeks during her recovery in the winter, swimming in the saltwater pool also “gets rid of some of the extra energy she has,” Kenney said, as Marble jumped in the pool to chase a tennis ball.

“Gayle is like a treasure for us to have here locally,” Dolce said. “Without having gone to Gayle, we would be spending more money on pain medications and vet visits to manage her pain.”

“I recommend her to all my clients,” said Dolce.

Gayle Hickok, owner of Pawsitive Results K-9 Rehabilitation in Cape Elizabeth, assists Marble, a border collie from Portland, in her saltwater pool for physical therapy.  

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