Jill Rheaume knows what you’re thinking when you hear about the type of business she operates.
“Yes, it’s a thing,” Rheaume said about Healing Companion, her canine massage therapy business.
Rheaume, 40, of St. George has operated Healing Companion for more than a year after opening her office inside MuttSchool, a dog training school just east of Manhattan Regional Airport.
Many people don’t realize the everyday stressors that can affect a dog, Rheaume said. Stress can manifest itself in dogs as panting, pacing, vomiting, lethargy and other behaviors. Some regular stressors she has seen include beeping from smoke alarms when batteries need to be replaced, being continually aggravated by neighboring dogs when they go outside, and traveling, which disrupts daily routines.
“A lot of day-to-day things can stress your dog out, even you,” Rheaume said. “If you come home stressed out from a bad day, that can totally ruin your dog’s day.”
The benefits of massage therapy for dogs are similar to those for humans, Rheaume said, such as reduced pain and inflammation from arthritis and injuries, increased circulation, and stress and anxiety relief.
Rheaume credited her 12-year-old pit bull, Gunner, for inspiring her to open her business and help animals. She and her husband rescued Gunner when he was about 2 years old in 2009. She said his previous owners planned to start breeding pit bulls, and they were going to euthanize Gunner because they did not have a place for him and he did not have the coat color they wanted.
“We were like, ‘We can’t let you put this dog down,’” Rheaume said. “He’s great, and he’s been perfect from day one. He sleeps in, he doesn’t touch anything in the house that’s not his, he doesn’t go to the bathroom in the house, he doesn’t play too rough, he likes everybody.”
The couple also rescued their other 2-year-old pit bull, Tugboat. For years, Rheaume said, she volunteered with Wildcat Pet Resort and animal rescue transportation, in which volunteers help take animals in neglected situations to places that can care for them. The longest transport chain Rheaume had been a part of was transferring a dog from Florida to Alaska.
“Gunner changed my life so dramatically that I wanted to do more and I wanted to give back more,” she said. “I found out that a lot of dogs, the only way that they make it out of shelters and into rescue groups, or make it out of bad situations, are from unpaid volunteer transporters.
“It’s just an hour-, two-hour ride with dogs in your car that you’ve never met,” Rheaume said. “They don’t know you, they don’t know what is going on. Sometimes they’ve been heavily abused. I had one that couldn’t even stand, and yet it’s almost like they know that something good is happening.”
Rheaume picked up canine massage therapy in recent years because she noticed that as Gunner aged, he was developing anxiety, moving stiffly and it took him longer to get to places.
Rheaume said she wanted to take him somewhere to have the service done, but there was no one in the area who did canine massage therapy at the time.
So, Rheaume took it upon herself and received her certification in the field from the Equissage Animal Massage Therapy School.
In 2018, Rheaume dropped her job in accounting to focus full time on building Healing Companion and creating her own line of animal-safe aromatherapy products.
When she first started, Rheaume said she thought she would be doing more work related to pain, sore muscles, arthritis and sporting dogs. While she does handle those cases, she said she often sees dogs with anxiety and stress problems.
“Especially with the (Fourth of July) fireworks and everything, I was so busy,” Rheaume said. “If you think about it, if you’re a person and you’re really stressed out, you think, ‘I need to get a massage.’
It helps in the same ways. It’s hard for people to think of their dogs in that way and to think about the stress, anxiety and emotions of your dogs.”