After Karen’s redundancy from a stressful, globe trotting job, she was, in her words, “completely wiped out. I was rock bottom, I was pretty much clinically depressed”. Then Eva came along. “She got me out of a deep black hole and I think I got her out of one too”.
Eva is Karen’s bull lurcher. For those, like me, who aren’t in the know, a bull lurcher is a cross between a greyhound and a Staffordshire bull terrier. Karen came across Eva when she started volunteering at the National Animal Welfare Trust. Eva had been there in the kennels for about a year. “She was the one that sat at the back of the kennel and didn’t want to look at anyone. Didn’t interact. Just looked miserable. She didn’t really sell herself”. Karen knew she needed to get Eva out of kennels and she knew she was the one who could rehabilitate her at home. Eva had been found walking the lanes in Wales, and although her history is unknown, her behaviour reveals a lot about her upbringing. Karen says she may have been abused, “as she was very frightened of men and children and balls; footballs in particular she was terrified of”. So it seems Karen is Eva’s saviour as much as Eva is Karen’s saviour.
Admitting she wished she had switched careers ten years ago, Karen has now retrained as a Canine Massage Therapist. It is a job she describes as, “the best job in the world”. During her training Eva was her guinea pig, so to speak. I can see that Eva got use to it because for the entire time of Karen’s interview, Eva looks like she is in doggy heaven. She lies on HER sofa whilst Karen massages her. Halfway through the interview, Eva rolls on to her back and offers her belly to Karen.
Karen’s role as a Canine Massage Therapist is varied. The week after we met she sends me an email with a photo of her at Crufts. She had a client, one of her dogs, in a Flyball Team. For those of you that aren’t au fait with the race, I checked it out on YouTube. It’s basically a relay race for dogs, where each dog jumps over a few jumps, retrieves a ball, then runs back over the jumps so the next dog can go. Karen’s job is to warm up her client before the race to ensure the dog is racing to the best of its ability. “It makes their muscles a bit looser and a little bit more flushed with blood. It makes a difference.” Maybe I should try this technique before Park Run, seeing as I haven’t beaten my PB for over a year. What amazes me though, is that Karen says it’s not just the Flyball clients that benefit from a massage before their race, it’s also the show dogs. Again for the novices out there like me, show dogs are judged against the perfect characteristics for that particular breed. Part of the judging of show dogs is to watch them walk and trot. If the dogs are more comfortable due to a massage, then they are more likely to perform better. Karen tells me, “you might get a dog that wins without it, but if you’ve got a dog that has had a massage, it gives them a bit of an edge.” It also helps the dog get in the zone for performing. “It triggers them in to show off mode”, explains Karen. I realise then that cats and dogs are fundamentally different. The only zone my cat could ever get in to is the sleep zone.
Attending dog shows and massaging elite dogs isn’t the only thing Karen does. The reason she became a Canine Massage Therapist in the first place was that she wanted to make a difference. The difference she makes is treating dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages, to help them maintain their mobility. She says seeing dogs that had previously been walking along with their tails between their legs because they were in such pain, to now seeing them running around the streets, happily wagging their tails after she has treated them, is the difference she loves to see.
Karen clearly lives and breathes dogs. She would have more than one dog if she could, but she jokes that her husband would divorce her if she did. “He wouldn’t be without Eva, but he’s an only child so I think that reflects in his one dog policy”. I also think Eva would have something to say about another dog as well. I’m not sure she’s up for sharing her massage sessions, or her sofa.
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