“Things are going great. I absolutely love what I am doing,” said Kate Griffin, certified canine swim coach and owner of Water Bark Wellness aka WBW. I first chatted with Griffin two+ years back when she was just opening this dream biz of hers in Camden—it’s an indoor aquatic facility where dogs with varying needs enjoy a personalized, private and “Kate-assisted” (as needed) pool workout, year-round.
She was excited for the new venture–this native Mainer’s had careers as a K through 8 French teacher and a Certified Veterinary Assistant. This journey has unfolded as the right fit for this energetic gal–she’s having the time of her life spending her days with dogs, whether in WBW’s pool or at home (she happily shares two rescue dogs with her husband and family).
Her path to WBW emerged while caring for the family’s beloved Lab named Sophie a decade ago. The senior and arthritic girl was in great discomfort, so Griffin took her to a canine physical therapist in Portland. She was told that warm water swimming could increase the Lab’s range of motion and relieve pain and pressure on joints. Thanks in part to Sophie, Kate developed a passion for canine aquatic fitness. In fact, Sophie’s spirit is with all the furry swimmers at WBW–her picture proudly hangs at the facility.
Griffin will be the first to tell you that WBW isn’t a physical therapy rehab center and that she’s not a physical therapist. What she offers are by-appointment-only canine swim sessions in the 3’ deep saltwater pool that fit a variety of needs.
There are lessons for dogs of all ages, including puppies such as Goldies and littermates Bailey and Sadie (which helps wear them out). She schools dogs to build water confidence and swim smarts like Goldens Brex and his sister, River, who go boating with their owners, or those like Jessie whose family has their own pool. (She stresses to boat and pool owners that their dogs should wear vests and that they fit properly, and willingly educates them.)
She offers fitness swims so dogs can burn energy and “get their wiggles out.” For those that need slimming, the water exercise will burn calories. There are also mobility sessions for dogs who’ll benefit from exercise in the non-weight bearing environment.
She measures her client accomplishments in a variety of ways. When an owner tells her that his dog “goes bananas” when told he’s going swimming or gets so excited and is “carrying on” en route to WBW, or she hears a dog barking in glee outside her facility, “In my mind, that’s a success.” There are dogs that greet her like she’s her very best friend–now that thrills her. Just watching any clients romp and have fun is a triumph.
There are older and often arthritic dogs like Katie, a 16 ½ year old Lab mix and onetime dock diver, who comes every two weeks and benefits from the warm saltwater and non-jarring activity. It improves her mobility and muscle strength, and her mom told Griffin that for days after her swims, she’s perky. “For me, that’s a huge success.”
Some dogs like Moxie arrive so amped up, they don’t wait for their vests–they run down the pool ramp and jump in. And there’s one dog, Riley, who has especially touched her. He was cleared after knee surgery to use the pool to strengthen his muscles, but after turning his nose up at swimming, Riley learned to love the sport and started retrieving water toys. “That makes my heart swell,” said Griffin.
She also is in awe of the blind, deaf Catahoula named Galaxy, who has hind-end troubles. She said Galaxy’s mom is “awesome” and realized these swims would not only help him but are safe and healthy for her pet. Originally standoffish, Galaxy slowly checked out the place in his own way and eventually bloomed. “He walks around the place like he can see.” She added that he’s become a “total love bug.” His bro Milo has his turn at a session once Galaxy is done, and has taken to water “like a fish.” (Griffin indicated these two are “doing a little number” at Rockland’s 2018 World Championship Boatyard Dog® Trials in August.)
Recently, she added a neat thing—a swim session for a shelter dog. Ted, a handsome black guy from P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center in Camden was the inaugural lucky man. The roughly 10-year-old had a blast, and so did she. “I had fun watching him have fun.” Her goal is to give an adoptable rescue the chance to shine in another setting with the hopes of him finding a forever home. She’ll post pics and/or a video of the pet on her FB page. (Check Ted out at WBW’s FB page, link below.)
Her venture is growing. She has lots of local folks and lots of regulars. She added that word on WBW is getting out there, even people from Bangor and Augusta are bringing their dogs to her. And she couldn’t be more pleased, because for Griffin, a day in the water with dogs is a good day. “This is what I’m meant to do.” Still she has a vision for a larger pool at some point, but for now things are going just fine. “I’m so happy. I feel this is totally my purpose.”
Griffin has had extensive aquatic training, is certified in canine CPR & first aid, and she’s a member of the Association of Canine Water Therapy. WBW provides lifejackets, flotation aids, toys, treats, towels, blow dryers, and water temps can be adjusted per need. For more info on WBW, including hours, rates, policies, and frequently asked questions, visit waterbarkwellness.com. For pictures and videos of client swims, see facebook.com/waterbarkwellness.