Sue Bruenderman places her fingers on Bailey’s face and scrunches it up like putty. Not only does 12-year-old Bailey not mind, she’s completely relaxed and seems to enjoy the massage.
“This is a massage I invented,” Sue says. “All dogs seem to love to have their whole face squished. If you’ve had someone do it to you, you know it feels great. Your face holds a lot of tension.”
Sue just started Pet-A-Sseuse and provides holistic massage for dogs, cats and soon horses. Until August she was a malacologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation but she quit to pursue pet massage full time.
“My interest in pet massage began two years ago as I was becoming burnt out in my job and reorganizations kept occurring. The last reorganization was the reason I left. I had seen it coming and started to explore other options,” Sue says. “I kept asking, what is it I’m supposed to do with my life?”
Sue wanted to work with animals and especially loved dogs. She’d noticed all the pictures in which she was happy, she was with dogs. At Midway, she’d met an equine massage therapist, which piqued her interested. But she recommitted herself to aquatic biology and her research involving endangered native mussels and non-native invasive mussels.
“With the final reorganization at work I was doing more company management than management of aquatic resources. I was often depressed and didn’t want to get up for work,” Sue says.
Sue talked with the owner of another pet massage business. He was very supportive of Sue getting into the business.
“The owner of Katz and Dogs encouraged me to make the change in my life I was scared to make. He recommended classes at Integrated Touch Therapy Inc., so I took a course and I loved it. The teacher said I have a knack for massage and a great touch, therefore if I want to do this, I can. I believe everything happens for a reason. I wanted to be happy the day was starting. I’ve gone back to what I wanted to do when I was 10. I had done pre-vet school because I love animals but switched after a good aquatic biology class. But here I am, 41, going back to what first interested me. I think God gives us skills for a reason and I believe things happen in my life for a reason. Now I enjoy life again. I’m so excited about my work now I have to keep myself from arriving at appointments early.”
Sue learned holistic pet massage at Synergy Farm in Circleville, Ohio and practiced on dogs at Columbia Second Chance animal shelter and her own pets. Her dogs were so relaxed after their first massage they fell asleep on her bed rather than going to their usual sleeping places in the next room
Sue starts out the massage session by getting to know the animal. The pet’s owner, Amy Salveter, has already filled out a questionnaire about past injuries and illnesses so Sue will be aware of any sensitive spots. As she works, she explains what she’s doing.
“This is effleurage — it gets the blood moving and warms up the body,” Sue says. “Then I’ll do skin-rolling, which helps the skin and coat, and some cross-fiber deep tissue massage.”
Besides doing massage to ease pain or relax animals, Sue does sports massage to help dogs in competition and agility training.
“Massage techniques like pincing, cupping and brushing gets them excited, plus it’s good for their circulation and their coat,” Sue says.
Sue says benefits of massage are many: increased range of movement and flexibility, increased circulation and removal of toxins, reduced muscle tension, cramping and soreness, reduced recovery time from injury and increased human/animal awareness. Sue says massage is not a substitute for veterinary medicine but ideally would work in conjunction to maintain the overall physical, mental and emotional balance of an animal.
Sue watches the dog’s eyes as she massages to gauge the reaction. Bailey, a Chow/ Golden Retriever mix, has her eyes blissfully closed and appears to be content ... or asleep.
“I like doing this,” Sue says. “It’s calming for me also, so it’s really an equal exchange.”
Sue travels to her clients’ homes, because pets are more relaxed in familiar surroundings. Although she loves doing pet massage, she doesn’t like leaving her dogs, Francis and Walker, at home.
“I tell them that I have to go to work to keep them in Milkbones,” Sue says, laughing.
Amy decided to get massages for Bailey to help Bailey’s fur grow back, ease her knee surgery pain and improve her overall health.
“Bailey has Cushing’s disease and a brain tumor,” Amy says. “She just finished radiation therapy for the tumor and drug therapy for Cushing’s. Drug therapy is hard on the system — it’s designed to destroy the adrenal glands.. Now I do everything I can for her,” Amy says.
Amy is also getting massages for her other dog, Tess, who has knee problems and stiffness.
“Now I’m going to do compressions and gently squeeze areas. I’ll finish by stroking her with long movements,” Sue says.
Sue emphasizes a holistic, therapeutic approach. Keri Duren, a volunteer at Second Chance, noticed the dogs were very relaxed after Sue massaged them.
“There was a noticeable difference. She worked on kennel dogs, which are the most stressed. Afterward they sacked out. If we had someone do that every day we would see a huge change in behavior. It’s much better for them to release stress that way than on each other.”