Kevin Riordan: A Moorestown canine rehab clinic gets dogs back on their feet

Antonio, a golden retriever, gets treatment from veterinarian massage therapist Lisa Madison (left), Rebecca Fulton, and owner Bea Fabrizio. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)
Antonio, a golden retriever, gets treatment from veterinarian massage therapist Lisa Madison (left), Rebecca Fulton, and owner Bea Fabrizio. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer) (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 28, 2013

Antonio goes for a run on the treadmill and gets a massage twice a week.

But he'd rather chase a ball anytime.

This peppy, personable golden retriever is having fun again, thanks to veterinarian Rebecca Fulton, massage therapist Lisa Madison, and canine rehabilitation practitioner Mary Alice Tolen.

Antonio is a patient at V-Crest, the canine rehabilitation facility Fulton founded in Sewell four years ago and moved last month to Moorestown.

The practice typically treats about 20 dogs, large and small, old and young, each week. Antonio, who is six years old, "is doing great," says Bea Fabrizio, 62, of Newfield.

Last March, after Antonio suffered a common spinal injury called a fibrocartilaginous embolism, Fabrizio feared her beloved pet would be permanently unable to use his hind legs. Therapy has increased his mobility and appears to have decreased his pain as well.

"We had to retrain him how to use stairs," says Fulton, 37, who trained at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and lives in Lumberton. "Bea would like to get him back to the point where he can scratch his face with his hind leg."

Canine rehabs have become more common in the last 20 years, reflecting a philosophical and technological evolution in veterinary care as well as a shift in the culture of dog ownership in America. A belief that "rest is best" for a dog recovering from surgery or injury has given way to more active, even holistic, approaches.

Some of the technology, such as the underwater treadmill, may be new. But many of the techniques involve the sort of compassionate contact with humans these highly sociable creatures crave.

"In the '90s, massage was done primarily for repairing muscle strains and conditioning for [performing] dogs," says Jonathan Rudinger, president and founder of the Pet PetMassage Training and Research Institute in Toledo, Ohio.

"Equine massage kind of gave credibility to canine massage. Then agility trainers started accepting it, and the vets started accepting it."

Tolen, a Cherry Hill resident and mother of two, was a physical therapist for two-legged patients before switching to canines. "Just like with a human, if a dog is stronger, he will last longer," she says.

Like Fulton, Tolen was certified in canine rehabilitation by a program offered at the University of Tennessee. Madison is awaiting certification from the program.

Despite wider acceptance of rehab within the profession, Madison, 44, is accustomed to questions about efficacy. Why "pamper" a dog with a massage when a simple belly rub, or a scratch behind the ears, ought to be enough?

"With dogs, it either works or it doesn't," says Madison, a mother of two who lives in Cherry Hill. "Dogs can't fake their reaction. But they can communicate a tremendous amount of information."

Antonio's face is a picture of bliss as he gets a massage. BJ, a 13-year-old pug with back problems, wears a similar expression as he relaxes on the mat.

"I never knew there was such a thing as rehab for dogs," says Bert Porter, 77, of Pitman, who bred pugs for 32 years and is pleased with BJ's progress.

"He used to drag his back legs until his paws were bloody," she says.

Madison prizes the healing aspects of her work.

"I love the fact that what I do deals with the whole dog," she says. "It's really satisfying. I love making dogs feel better."


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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