Jacquie Welkener, MSPT, PT, has seen her business go to the dogs, and she could not be happier.

PT_news-01Welkener has practiced physical therapy for 25 years on human clients for SSM Health Care in the St. Louis area. Now, she is full-time physical therapist with animal clients near St. Louis.

“I had been doing for many years two types of things, either home care and outpatient or outpatient and a dog business,” said Welkener, who owns and operates Healing Paws Rehabilitation, located inside Veterinary Specialty Services, an animal hospital in Manchester, Mo.

“The documentation demands and all that kind of stuff with the outpatient work were getting to be a lot, and my business partner was planning on retiring,” said Welkener, who saw her last human patient in October 2014. “So I planned to buy her out, and it would just be my business. There were a lot of things and I decided to move on.”

On a typical day, Welkener treats 15 to 45 dogs whose needs vary. Some dogs are fresh from orthopedic or back surgery while others are having age-related trouble with getting up or walking a distance.

Jacquie Welkener, PT, works with Jac.

Jacquie Welkener, PT, works with Jac. (Photo courtesy Jacquie Welkener)

One therapeutic tool she uses to treat her canine patients is an underwater treadmill. Welkener said when dogs exercise, the buoyancy of the water helps to take the pressure off painful joints.

“Moving their extremities against the resistance of the water helps to strengthen the [dogs] quicker than by walking on land,” Welkener said.

The animals are not just plopped into the wet treadmill.

“When they get in, it is dry, and we gradually fill it up,” she said. “We can put in a couple of inches like they are walking through a puddle, and then we raise it up to shoulder height.”

Getting the dogs to cooperate is similar to getting humans to do as told, according to Welkener.

“Everybody does better the second time than the first time in most instances,” she said. “We really don’t run into problems.”

Welkener took animal therapy training courses through the University of Tennessee. At the time she was taking courses, her dog tore an ACL.

“Frequently when that happens there is about a 60% chance the dog will tear the other one, and of course he did,” she said.

After her dog had surgery, she told the surgeon she was a PT and she was taking the animal rehabilitation courses.

“He said, ‘That’s an up-and-coming thing, dog rehab, maybe we should do some of that here at the hospital,’ and that’s how all of that got started in 1999,” Welkener said.

“Our business has more than doubled,” she said. “We continue to have more business every year since we started. People treat their pets really well and in most cases people will do anything for their animals.”

The reason is simple, said Welkener, who owns two Dalmatians, Tucker and Trinket, and a Jack Russell terrier named Hunter.

“Most of my clients refer to their dogs as their children,” she said.

Robin Farmer is a freelance writer.