Episode 5 – Leora Weitzman

In this episode we talk with Leora Weitzman who provides and teaches therapeutic massage at the introductory and advanced levels. She also provides massage and Reiki for small animals, mostly dogs, and sometimes assists with interspecies communication issues. To learn more about Leora you can visit her website.

Welcome to the Animal Rescue Professionals podcast, where we focus on information that animal professionals want to know. In each episode we bring you information and insights into all aspects of animal rescue. From transport to fundraising, animal character, alternative medicine, we interview some of the most influential leaders in the profession. So grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair as we bring you another episode of fun and exciting content professionals like you want to know.

Today we’re talking with Leora Weitzman. Leora provides and teaches therapeutic massage at the introductory and advanced levels. She also provides massage and Reiki for small animals, mostly dogs, and sometimes assist with interspecies communication issues. She recently completed yoga teacher training to gain a more complete understanding of the muscles used in common activities. Her current course offerings include: muscle whispering, tension patterns, keep your body happy, and a series of precision deep tissue courses focused on different body areas. Leora has been working with small animals professionally since 2010 after taking a small animal massage class at Blue Sky Massage School. Leora’s website is backinharmony.org.

Hi, Leora.  Welcome to the show. Thanks, Chris. I’m glad to be here. So tell us a little bit about you and what you do.

Well, I am a full-time massage therapist and instructor. I teach introductory in the dance massage techniques and kinesiology. Along with massaging human clients, I also have animal clients, mostly dogs and cats.

Interesting. How did you get from humans into massaging animals as part of your profession?

Well, in some ways it’s the other way around. I learned humans because I wanted to do work that brought me to hands-on contact with animals. Because of a dog that I lived with years ago, who…  I’ve been an animal person that I’d only had bird. I was a little afraid of dogs. This dog really taught me how to communicate with her and give her what she wanted, which was just in the deal. But I was completely charmed and head over heels, a dog person after that. So when I was looking for a career change from my previous academic job, I looked up. I had heard of something called “Healing Touch for Animals”. I looked it up if that meets the human massage course as a precedent. That was when massage became how I made my living, but I looked for a class on animal massage to piggyback on that, and I found one at Blue Sky School of Massage in Grafton. The class was taught by Bruce Bregenzer called “Intro to Small Animal Massage”. It was a 20-hour weekend class, and following his advice, I did about a year’s worth for free just to get experience whenever I could get somebody willing to have me work on their animals, and then it slowly became a professional thing. I have a small but steady sideline of dogs alongside the humans.

That’s awesome. So how do your clients come to you? Are they coming because the animals are in pain or is it more of a pleasure thing like it is a lot of times for adults?

It’s generally pain, or it’s a variety of things but generally pain, pain relief, or mobility, a dog that is limping, having trouble with stairs, getting older and not moving around, as much as, well, tripping, or falling down. Occasionally, just a dog that might be near the end of life and the owner is seeking to comfort the dog. I’ve also occasionally been called in with behavior issues. What I did was basically, just really listened to the dog, and noticed what I could notice and talk to the human about anything I noticed in the interaction and that the human might not have been aware about. So it’s occasionally seems to help with anxiety-fuelled behavior issues too.

Wow, that’s really awesome. So how do you approach this? I mean that for a new client if they bring in a dog, walk us through. How do you do this? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

I want to say, first of all, I don’t know if I do it the same as other people. So this is just how I do it. I work with the animal where the animals are comfortable. That’s usually on the ground, maybe on a dog bed or sofa, sometimes outside. I’m not picky. I’ll take the first place the dog is willing to settle because often, the hardest part with many dogs is just getting them to settle in that for me to do the works. After all, especially at first, they don’t know me, and I’m not exactly petting them. This is something a little unfamiliar. Anyway, we settle down on the floor or wherever they’re willing to settle, just be by them.  Sorry, you’re hearing my cockatiels, they’re here with me. I observe. I try to look for where do I…  can I see anything visually that points me to where there might be a tense area, or do I just let my hands find it or the animal show me. It’s good anyway, before getting to detail, do some general strokes, some relaxing, whole body kind of gliding, introductory relaxation. Then I try to zero in on areas that seem troublesome. It’s helpful there that I have some experience with humans besides kinesiology. I know a bit about movement and where a muscle would be to create a movement and what muscle might be tight. This movement is impaired in a certain way, so I have some idea what I’m looking for. Once I find a tight area, there’s a variety of moves that could be helpful, and here I’m drawing on my human experience again. It can be just a little very gentle little circles, or gliding along the tight muscle the length of it. It can be grasping the muscle between my thumb and finger gently like the sides rather than the tips, if I can. If it’s kind of a long skinny muscle and rubbing the muscle between my fingers or with one finger or with my palm. If it’s a broader muscle, more in the body rather than a limb, so little circles rubbing, stroking could do a little bit of vibration over it. I put my fingers on the knot and just vibrate them a little bit. I might rock it a little bit. If I’m working a paw as I work on a limb, I might support the weight of it. This is definitely a… Don’t try this at home if you haven’t had some similar training for humans, but I might rock it or move it through a range of motion with the weight completely supported. So there’s no gravity in the mix, and that helps the animal relax and trust me, and everything is very slowly so there’s no yanking. There’s no surprises. I’m watching for reactions the whole time. When I get towards the end of the range of motion is when, you know just like you stretch yourself, is when you start to feel it more intensely. I don’t want to alarm the animal. The most common thing, if I do, is that it gets up and walks away. This is why patients come here. I may have something specific that I really want to do because I’m so sure it’ll help the animals. If the animal doesn’t feel okay with me doing that, I better not do it because I will get walked away from or if it’s a cat, I’ll get scratched or bitten. If I actually wanted to succeed in doing something, I’ve got to be very attentive to what the animal wants and is open to. Back-off of my agenda, come in a different way, try to get a sense, and look at the feedback -what was welcome, what seems unwelcome, and build on what was welcoming.

Yes, that’s really cool and definitely it sounds like a lot of patience. You talked a little bit before about some of the different benefits. What are some of the stories or one of the things that you’ve seen that if you know, the animals have benefited from?

Some of the most gratifying there was the dog who haven’t even been walking and began to climb stairs again. There was a Husky who’d have throat surgery and hadn’t eaten since the surgery.  She was really looking pretty wild because the surgery was very traumatic for her. I was able to get her to start eating and swallowing food again. A few cases of I want to say to people, of dogs who were limping who stopped limping, and walked more evenly. There was recently a very old Border Collie who only lived a week after our session. She had been stumbling and she didn’t stumble anymore after our sessions. There’s one dog I work with regularly, who was born with dwarfism, I think Achondroplasia. She’s a German Shepherd but she has this short, stubby little legs, and her joints still connect properly. I worked with her to help her legs to just be able to move more easily and not get too stiff.  She, in a sense, has to have her muscles be many times stronger than most people because they’re kind of holding her joints together on top of moving her around.

Where do people go to learn about this? Is this something that there’s courses online? Are there courses in your community? How do people get started with?

There are courses.  The course I found was taught in a massage school, although some of my classmates were not massage therapists. You don’t have to be. That’s one place you can look. I tried to track down my old teacher because I wanted to give his info on this talk but his website isn’t up anymore. I didn’t see him listed as currently teaching where I went and his email bounced back to me. I would love to recommend him but I don’t know if I can right now. I poked around and mined a bit to see if I could find one standout resource to send people to. There’s an enormous range of options right now. There are schools that will train you in animal massage, acupressure, and stuff at a higher level than what I do. Their certification programs which right now are voluntary. It’s not regulated by the state, so it’s legal to do it without certification. You can choose to be certified and that certainly would inspire a lot of trust and probably allow you to charge more. I did see an online class, and I want to say don’t study it online only. What I learned from the in-person class was really, really valuable. The guy was very serious about his teaching. He brought his own animals, dogs and cats that he calls his teaching assistants. He had us worked up and he had us learn to read their feedback. He also gave us feedback, as we were learning to be that…  when we were going too deep, moving too fast, and not paying good attention to them. I would not trust someone who had learned this only online to work on my animal because there’s a lot about the connection to the animal. It needs to be much gentler than with humans much more respectful in this sense. It’s actually transformed the way I work with humans because now I work with them more than I work with animals. I’m watching much more for nonverbal feedback and feedback at the level that’s not even conscious or voluntary, I think it’s the muscles of little animals. They tell me things by their reaction just as the animals do.

That’s really cool. Are there things that you would recommend to people that they can do with their own pets to calm them? Are there limitations for what they should be doing?

The first thing I would say is, is respect and listening. There’s a lot more inside them than we give them credit for. They’re not like little humans to themselves. They’re not so verbal. They don’t think the same way, but they feel much the same way so they can have most of the same emotions, I would say and just when you would have expect them to have them.  They can feel competitive, jealous, anxious, afraid to trust, they can be mad at you, cats, particularly, have a very strong sense of their dignity. It doesn’t work to treat them as things or the way you could get away with treating a toddler, maybe. With humans we tolerate more of each other. So respect and listening. Tell your animals that even if you’re not sure they understand, do your best to tell them. Try to visualize it. Intend for them to get it. So those are the first things.  Safety precautions. If your animal has the fever, just like with humans, that’s not a safe time for them to have their circulation increased. You want to be very aware of large gliding strokes or big movements with your hands that would increase their circulation if they’re sick. You don’t want to spread infection around their body by increasing their circulation. When humans also have high blood pressure you don’t want to increase their circulation in case their system can’t handle the higher blood pressure in this temporary kind of way.  I imagine that caution applies too. If your animal has an injury or a fracture, don’t look at the injury, obviously, and don’t work farther out. Like, say, the injury is in the knee, don’t work in the foot because it has to do with how the circulation is affected by the injury. You could get more toxins locked in that area that can’t get through the barrier of where the injury or fractures so only work closer to their center than the injury so it won’t work farther out. I’m talking about here if it’s like a fracture or a wound. If there’s an infection, don’t work at or our father out in that

Yes, and I also noticed Leora from your website that you also do Reiki. You mentioned that before. So talk a little bit about Reiki. Do you do that both on humans and animals?

Yes, I use Reiki, actually more often with animals maybe than the humans and especially with cats. I’ve encountered a number of cats who were skittish about having you massage them but love the Reiki. I’ve seen cats watch me give dogs Reiki and they look like they can see the energy, which is just fascinating to me. I don’t see anything. I don’t always feel anything, but the cats look at me like they’re looking at something. They look at the space between my hands and the dog or my hands and themselves. With the cats basically, the cats have all different personalities, but some of them that I want to do something that’s not their idea, forget it. So if the massage was not their idea, even if it was their human’s ideas… but Reiki they’ll take.  They don’t feel I’m trying to manipulate them. I’ve also used it as a way to relax a dog who didn’t want to settle. I would just give her Reiki until she would get sleepy, and then I would begin to move in and do more massage.

That’s really cool. And it definitely sounds like you’ve worked that into your approach.

Yes. Another interesting thing is that dogs are different by breed in terms of how ready they’re to settle in and let me massage. I found webs are very receptive and mellow. I can do just about anything I want with them.  I’m working with some collies now who are very interesting. One of them cut on very fast, started trying to teach me stuff. German shepherds seemed very wise, but they have minds of their own, for sure. If they’d rather play, it might be tricky. Depends on their age too. Younger dogs are harder to get to settle. Older dogs are more willing, more interested. I can’t say to them, “This is the massage. You’re supposed to lie”.

They don’t listen that well.

Right, so if they’re bored and they want to play then, they want to play. Now, it won’t help to indulge them in play because then they’re in play mode and they really won’t settle. I do let them walk away and come back. I don’t assume that one hour of continuous massage is the model that’s right for them. I let them call the shots that way.  It’s common for them to want a break. At some point after they return if they actually have had all that they want or should have for the day and it may be an hour, it may be 20 or 30 or 40 minutes.

That’s really cool. I never would have thought that different breeds would react differently to it.

Well, this is somewhat of a generalization from…  It’s not against on tons and tons on many different breeds but I have noticed some pattern.

That’s great. This is really interesting stuff, Leora. Is there anything else you wanted to share?

There’s absolutely to share and that people could do with their dogs without experience. This was just the solution with one dog, and could be a really simple solution for perhaps, other times. This was a dog who had constipation for days, and I can’t remember. There was maybe a diet changed involved, and the owner was getting really worried. I remembered that with humans there’s a kind of abdominal massage we use to get things started again, and it worked at the dog.  Just great. There were no further problems. The way it works, you have to visualize the large intestine which goes around your abdomen. Clockwise, let’s see, if you’re facing the person or dog, and now they’re facing you, they’re belly is would be clockwise, so the direction it moves is from the lower…  After looking at them, your lower left, up and then across under the rib cage and then down the lower right. The best way to do it, until you do these little short strokes, you don’t go that whole link at first.  Think of it as if you’re sweeping out the hallway that is full of, I don’t know, a dust of pine needles in the hall way. If you started at the back, you kind of get a log jam. So you start near the exit and you just sweep a little from just before the exit. You just sweep down to the exit like you’re sweeping it out the exit. Then you back up a little bit and you start a little farther back. You’re going towards the exit, and then you back up a little more and you work your way all the way back to the beginning of the hallway, or in this case, the beginning of the large intestine. That does make sense?

Absolutely. That’s really a cool way to visualize. Well, great. My cockatiel is expressing his opinion. He’s got a lot to say, doesn’t he? He does. He does have a lot to say.

Well, thank you, Leora. I appreciate you sharing all this with us and we appreciate you coming on the program.

You’re very welcome, Chris. Thanks for inviting me.

That’s it for another edition of the Animal Rescue Professionals podcast. If you’re not already a member join us today, and you’ll get instant access to a wealth of downloadable articles, templates, and even more interviews, all specific to the animal rescue profession. Show your dedication to animal rescue and join us today.

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