Canine hydrotherapy means Charlie could be catching frisbees again

Chris McKay works border collie Charlie through exercises in the hydrotherapy pool at My Balanced Dog.

KAMLOOPS - Charlie is a border collie who broke his pelvis in three places this past summer and is now getting canine rehab with a hydrotherapist.

His owner Ross Marchand says they were out hiking when the five-year-old dog crawled under a log and it gave way.

"It hit his back end and broke his pelvis,” Marchand says, calling it a freak accident.

Charlie rested for eight weeks after his injury but one side of his pelvis didn’t heal properly. The muscle on his hind right leg withered and along with the fracture, caused him to favour his back leg.

Marchand decided to put Charlie’s recovery in the hands of canine hydrotherapist Chris McKay at My Balanced Dog in Kamloops, a canine training and wellness centre. Through a series of low-impact swimming exercises in a warm water pool she hopes to rebuild Charlie.

While the possibility of nerve damage still exists, if Charlie’s pelvis can heal and he build back muscle strength he’s less likely to require surgery. 

McKay believes there is nothing a pet owner won’t do for their canine companions as more and more people are treating their dogs as a member of the family.

“There are a lot of people out there who have pets and don’t have children,” McKay says. 

McKay has over 30 years of experience in orthopedics. She started her career as a trainer for football and rugby clubs in her native England before making the switch over to canines. She also trains dogs for agility and fly ball competitions.

She says the benefits of swimming for dogs are very similar to the benifits humans derive from the exercise. It can be used for weight management or rehabilitation after an injury or after surgery. She also uses hydrotherapy in the last days of a dog's life as a final experience between dog and owner.

Charlie, who broke his pelvis in three places, is getting canine rehab with a hydrotherapist.
Charlie, who broke his pelvis in three places, is getting canine rehab with a hydrotherapist.

Charlie has only had three hydrotherapy session with McKay, but through a series of exercises disguised as play, she has seen a marked improvement.

“I manipulate him into working certain muscle groups to rehabilitate him,” McKay says. During Charlie’s half hour in the pool, McKay makes him swim laps, figure eights and tight circles all designed to heal his injury.

The hydrotherapy pool at My Balanced Dog has been open just shy of a year and McKay says after people pay $10,000 for a dog’s knee or back surgery, the cost of hydrotherapy seems a small price to pay to rehabilitate your dog.

A big change from when she was young.

"When I was a child if your dog lost the use of its legs you didn’t put them in a wheelchair, unfortunately, you just put them down," she says

McKay says over the last two decades she's noticed there is less hesitation to spend money, whether it be for expensive surgeries or rehabilitations, obedience training or grooming and dog clothes.

She says being a hydrotherapist is the best job in the world because of the personal and intimate relationships she develops with the dogs and their owners.

The time directly after injury or surgery, or when a dog is in palliative care, is very emotional for owners, she says.

“It humbles me to have these people put their trust in me with their most treasured family members.” 

Marchand says before the injury his dog was a dynamic athlete, who could run fast and leap several feet off the ground to catch a Frisbee.

“I’m not going to be really disappointed if Charlie never catches a Frisbee again," he says, but adds the most important thing is he is comfortable and happy.

“He’s a real gem.” 

Ross Marchand, left, with his dog Charlie who is undergoing rehab with canine hydrotherapist Chris McKay.
Ross Marchand, left, with his dog Charlie who is undergoing rehab with canine hydrotherapist Chris McKay.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dana Reynolds at or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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