12 June 2014

Pacific Innovation Showcase Spotlight—K9H2O: an aquatic therapy program for pets

Terri Perrin
InfoStream Staff Writer

Kendall De Menech, owner of Abbotsford's animal aquatic therapy pool, K9H2O, presented her work with pets of all kinds and cats in particular to delegates at the 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conference in Vancouver in April. Kendall's Innovation Showcase was nominated by her peers to present to a national audience at the 2014 Summit for Urban Animal Strategies in Lake Louise, October 22-25. InfoStream staff writer, Terri Perrin, managed to get Kendall out of her indoor swimming pool long enough to chat about this innovative facility and a program for cats that’s making a splash in the lower mainland.

Infostream (IS): K9H2O is the longest running and largest facility of its kind in western Canada. Tell us about your own Pet Experiences and how you came up with the idea to offer hydrotherapy for animals.

Kendall De Menech (KM): Back in the early 1980s, I taught Red Cross and Life Saving swimming lessons for children and adults in my indoor swimming pool. At the time, I also had a  yellow Lab named Sandy. When Sandy was about 18-months-old she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Her prognosis was not good and euthanasia was recommended, as was common at the time. I was horrified – she was part of my family – so I said, ‘No Way!’ By working hard to keep her weight down and manage her activity levels, we were able to love Sandy until she was 15. When walking became difficult for her, I knew intuitively that swimming would help her … but I couldn’t use my pool because the kids were swimming in it. Not only that, I couldn’t let Sandy attempt to exit and enter the pool on her own, becuase there were no stairs and she could not climb the ladder. It broke my heart. About a month after she passed away I woke up one morning with the idea of opening a pool for dogs. I launched the program in 2001 and have never look back. It is my way of ‘paying back’ for Sandy and the many dogs in my life. For me, this is a joy not a job.

IS: How did you get started?

KM: I built a business plan and, with the help of my primary vet, we proposed it to the BC Veterinary Medical Association. At first, I had a limited focus. I started with dogs with osteoarthritis, spondylosis [disc disease], cruciate injuries, amputations, obesity, geriatric concerns and other issues. I attended lots of seminars and – with the help of the veterinary community – I learned to speak ‘vet.’ I have now expanded to offer physical conditioning for show and working dogs, boat safety and recreational swimming. Anything to do with dogs in water … it keeps growing! A few years ago, I added other types on animals to the program, including cats.

IS: How do you find clients?

KM: Originally, all of my clients were through vet referrals. Now, people are going to their vet and asking for referrals. I get some walk-in clients but I am always careful to ensure they have open dialog with their vets. I now have over 160 vets on file from BC, Alberta and Washington.

IS: Cats and water aren’t a great mix! How did you learn to swim with cats without getting hurt?

KM: I started swimming my first cat about 12 years ago and have since worked with about a dozen. Cats are so different! They don’t think like dogs. They don’t care to please their owner. To swim with a cat without getting hurt requires great patience. I work with the owner to calm the environment down... and myself. I take a deep breath and do not rush any step of the swim. I often start by taking the cat in its crate onto a floating mat. I watch their body language -- ears, eyes, and tail. We never let their stress level rise so they don’t react with flight or fight. To protect ourselves when swimming with all animals we wear wet suits.  For cats, we also wear special wrist sleeves to protect ourselves. We have not had an attack or a bite in 13 years … the odd scratch has been accidental.

IS: Some people might say that making cats swim is stressful. How do you respond to that?

KM: They’re absolutely right! But remember, we’re not just taking cats and throwing them in the pool! I wouldn’t do this to a dog either. For all species, there is an element of stress for both animals and owners. By keeping the stress level low, the cat never gets to a point where it is screaming, hissing, fighting. How you do it matters. What’s more important, I think, is that cats should be given the same opportunity as dogs to have rehabilitation. They experience many of the same medical concerns as dogs do. But we treat dogs and euthanize cats. Cats need to have the same value as dogs.

IS: How is it that you came to be a present this topic at the Pacific Region Conference?

KM: Initially, Michelle Sturino, Pets Plus Us, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in speaking about my cat program. I said I would but later found out that I had been ‘bumped’ as the program was full. The day before the event, one of the presenters had to cancel. I received a call asking if I could fill in the spot… the next day! Again, I said yes. So, I did what any woman does and went out and bought a new dress, then worked with dogs all day and attended an evening meeting about off leash parks. At 9:00 that night I was finally able to sit down and shorten my usual 25-minute presentation into 10-minutes. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was voted to present at the Summit in October!

IS: How was your first Regional Conference experience?

KM: I was so impressed. I enjoyed my day and the intelligence of the people in the room. It showed me the huge networking that goes on in the pet industry – between groomers, trainers, shop owners, vets, vet techs, breeders, rescues, SPCAs, … everybody! I was totally energized by it.

IS: What do you hope to achieve by being an Innovation Showcase presenter at the national Summit in October?

KM:  I want to achieve two things. First, is to introduce the concept of swimming cats and professionalize it enough that it can come outside of my facility. Second, I would like to see cats benefit from rehabilitation across Canada. I am thankful for the opportunity to talk about it. I think we, as a society, are seeing a new value in cats and many people are now more willing to do surgeries on them when needed. I’m all about the animal and I hope this is a new innovate way to give animals – especially cats – a better quality of life.

The 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conferences presented the second annual Innovation Showcases. Across the continent, 20 local Innovators were given the opportunity to share their stories and successes with Urban Animal subscribers. From those, eight were selected to present at the upcoming 2014 Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, October 22–25 in beautiful Lake Louise, Alberta.

Infostream staff writer Terri Perrin spoke with the winning presenters to get their feedback on the Urban Animal Conference, their respective ‘Pet Experiences’ and what we can expect from them at the Annual Summit this fall. 

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