No place like home: Dog rehab services settle in on East Street in Easthampton

Thursday, January 02, 2014
EASTHAMPTON — After two years as a mobile pet physical therapist, a local woman has hung out a shingle for her business in space on East Street.

Erika McElwey opened Change Your Range, offering rehabilitation therapy for all kinds of pets, including dogs, horses, cats, pigs, goats, rabbits and other small animals at 17 East St. She held a grand opening last month.

Previously she traveled to veterinary offices and private homes to work with animals. She says in the new space she can offer a broader range of services, including day care, a dog gym and programs designed specifically for different age ranges and therapeutic needs.

McElwey said it was personal experience that prompted her to seek out a niche in the animal care field. She witnessed a friend’s dog, Jack, left with a broken pelvis and in a deep depression after being hit by a car. When his owners hired a practitioner of trigger-point myotherapy, a technique based on applying pressure to trigger points in the body to relieve pain, McElwey saw the difference the therapy made.

“When she started working with him, he opened up and became a new dog,” McElwey said. She wanted to learn more about the technique.

After becoming certified in equine and canine trigger point myotherapy in 1999 from the Equi-Myo Training Program in North Granby, Conn., McElwey taught for the program for two years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and veterinary studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2002, working in a veterinary office while she pursued her degree. She has also managed a hydrotherapy center at River Meadow Farm in Windsor, Conn.

She describes her business as “more than just a dog day care.” The facility has more than an acre of outdoor play space, indoor play zones and rooms for resting instead of crates. The dogs have a regimen for each day, which includes a treadmill and strength exercises.

Her goal is to offer individual programs based on each dog’s needs.

“We can take dogs who need weight loss, we can take senior dogs that are arthritic and know that we’re not overdoing it by throwing them in with a bunch of puppies,” she said. “We are an entity that is giving your dog socialization, giving them what they need, but in a safe environment.” McElwey’s specialized programs include the Pup-Up program, designed specifically for puppies. The program uses sensory equipment to detect how much weight an animal puts on each leg and indicates any imbalances, a service often used by McElwey when she works with Westminster show dogs.

“We look at dogs through their growth stages and we make sure that they’re staying balanced,” says McElwey.

McElwey shares her new space with Jim Helems, a colleague who also offers pet services. Helems runs DogPals and AdventureDogs USA, programs which McElwey describes as a “Dog Scouts” of sorts.

“It’s getting people involved with their pets in a different way,” she said. “It’s non-competitive.”

Pets and their owners can go canoeing or camping through the program, and participate in different activities to earn badges in a similar way to the Cub Scouts programs.

“It’s all about getting the dogs fit, staying in shape, and being safe getting the job done,” McElwey said of her reasons for sharing her space with Helems.

McElwey believes there is a growing need for dog day care services.

“One thing that I have seen is that during the recession, more dogs have been alone for longer periods of time because their owners are having to work sometimes two jobs to make ends meet,” says McElwey. “I’d rather see the dogs be in an active environment and getting more healthy regimes throughout the week.”

Helping to make rehabilitation services more affordable for pet owners is important to McElwey. “The finances are really hard on people,” she says. “It adds up quick, especially if they’ve already gone through a $3,000 or $4,000 surgery. By the time therapy comes in, people, they’re broke. I don’t like that feeling of turning people away.”

To maximize the impact of her services and minimize the cost to her customers, McElwey offers reduced cost all-day therapy sessions, and focuses on home programs in which pet owners are instructed on how to perform exercises and stretches with their pets between sessions.

“They can come in to see me for things like a more monthly massage or laser sessions and be able to lower their cost, rather than having me do all of it while they’re here,” McElwey explained.

McElwey, 34, lives in Holyoke with her 4-year old twin daughters and two dogs, a yellow lab mix and a pit bull.

As the day care side of the business expands, McElwey said she may hire help.