There’s a light rumble from the pump as the machine starts. Glass and steel, slowly filling with lukewarm water, the familiar rubber surface under foot. Ruby is back for her fourth session in the hydrotherapy treadmill, but she still looks a little nervous.
It’s five years since Ruby suffered two broken legs in a freak car accident on a quiet street in Parkdale when she was three months old. Three major surgeries were needed in the first year alone. “One resulted in her having like a scaffolding on her legs, with screws that had to be tightened,” says Steph Hopton, Ruby’s owner. “I had to twist these pins three times a day to help set the leg.”
Ruby now receives treatment at The Dog Wellness Centre, in Gardenvale. Recently opened by physiotherapist Pearl Cazabon, the clinic is a holistic wellness and rehabilitation centre for canines, with a focus on post-operative rehabilitation, and assistance for injured or ageing dogs.
The fractures in Ruby’s left radius and ulna left her front leg slightly shorter. Concerned that Ruby would develop arthritis Steph knew it was time to seek advice. “I started looking around for options, and that’s when a lovely lady at the dog park told me about Pearl.”
Pearl grew up in Ireland and graduated with a masters degree in Canine and Equine Manipulation from the University of Wales in 2012. She then moved to Australia and became an accomplished physiotherapist in the horse racing industry. “Because I grew up riding horses, I thought that I just wanted to be an equine physio, so I put all my time into building up a career in the racing industry,” she says.
But things changed when Tonka came into her life. As a puppy, Tonka did not know his fate, much less his name. Nor could he have known the influence he would have on his soon to be owner, Pearl. She found the German Pinscher pup at a breeder’s in Pakenham and knew straight away that the unsure looking puppy at the back of the litter was for her.
“By going to all the dog parks, I was watching him move and I was thinking about all the training I’d done in the canine field,” says Pearl. “I hadn’t really practised it in a while and thought that I could really do some good here, in the canine side of things, so that’s when I stated treating dogs again.”
At first Pearl offered home visits and despite her equine success, working on some of Australia’s leading racehorses, she quickly started to enjoy the change in environment. “I found the human pet bond fascinating”, she says. “Pets nowadays are really like additional family members, and I think that bond will intrigue me for the rest of my career. It’s a great feeling and a great sense of achievement to be able to help that bond.”
It was a combination of getting a dog, needing a change at work, and thinking about her skills that gave Pearl the inspiration to open The Dog Wellness Centre. “I wanted to create somewhere that was fun, exciting and friendly”, she says.
The centre opened in September and provides a variety of canine treatments, in a colourful and aesthetically designed space. It boasts a large gym, a welcoming layout and a wide variety of equipment.
The design process was important for Pearl, and she knew what she wanted to achieve. “Somewhere that was nice for the dogs to come and feel comfortable, and where the owners would also like the feel to the place.”
Ellen Hodson, an interior designer from GOLDEN in Windsor, was engaged to help turn Pearl’s ideas into a physical space. “Pearl’s brief was for the centre to be friendly, fun, playful and inviting. Somewhere calming for the dogs and their owners alike, that was distinct from a vet,” said Ellen. “We achieved these elements through the use of colour and materials and creating open space. A strong street presence was important as it is a new concept, so the open design encourages people to see behind the scenes.”
Corking and pastel coloured vinyl are used on the floor and walls, offering a calm and playful mood, whilst being durable, cost effective and easy to clean. Details such as the tartan curtain and rope fixtures, resembling a dog’s lead, give the space context.
Perhaps the centre’s most interesting component is the hydrotherapy treadmill. Shipped in from the UK, it allows Pearl to adjust variables such and water height and treadmill speed, to suit all dogs and their conditions. “We can modify the environment, so we can assist, but still challenge.”
The buoyancy that the hydrotherapy pool provides allows dogs to remember their normal gait and pattern of movement. “It’s really good for that motor control as well which is how the brain controls the body and you can’t really influence that on the ground with a dog,” says Pearl.
After her session in the hydrotherapy pool, Ruby is wagging her tail. She is moving freely, she looks confident, and has enjoyed one or two treats. She usually favours her strong leg but is now standing on both. “She is building up the muscle, but also mentally she has trained herself to keep off her other leg”, says Steph. “This hydro seems to be really breaking down those mental barriers.”