By Sarah Whitman
Visitors to Joyce McAlister’s Wesley Chapel home are greeted by two happy tail-wagging pups: Ralph, a husky mix, and Sophie Mae, a bloodhound.
The dogs’ lovable attitude may have something to do with the fact they get daily massages from McAlister, a certified animal massage technician and owner of Love N Hands Animal Massage, a new business serving Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
McAlister goes to people’s homes to perform massage and acupressure on animals suffering from muscular tension, injuries, depression and pains associated with aging.
“Massage enhances an animal’s overall wellness, comfort and quality of life,” McAlister said. “Some of the benefits of therapeutic massage are that it enhances the body’s immune system, increases blood circulation and reduces muscle tension.”
Growing up on an Indiana farm, McAlister began taking care of sick and injured animals at just 3 years old. She has always had animals around and has massaged her personal pets for years. After retiring from 21 years of service with Tampa Fire Rescue, she decided to go back to school to study small animal massage. She was trained and certified through Rocky Mountain School of Acupressure and Animal Massage to work on dogs, cats and other domestic animals.
She has provided therapy to several dogs, including a Shepard mix named Cody.
“Cody had hip problems and after Joyce worked with him you could tell a difference,” said Beverly Youngblood, Cody’s owner. “She helped him be able to go up and down the stairs again.”
When McAlister visits a client’s home, she does an assessment to find out what the owner wants from the service and to determine what the animal needs. If a medical issue is present, she meets with the veterinarian to find out what the treatment plan is and how she can help.
She said she meets clients in home because it is where pets are most relaxed.
“Even dogs that like car rides get excited and hyper on the ride,” she said. “It’s important that they be relaxed.”
McAlister requests that clients not feed their pet 30 minutes prior to the massage and that they prepare a quiet area. In addition, the animal must be walked afterward for exercise and a bathroom break. Owners are welcome to be present during the massage but are asked not to communicate with their pet.
Massages usually last 10 minutes, but clients can pay for up to an hour. The costs start at $30 for assessment and 10-minute massage. The cost goes up $10 for each additional 10 minutes.
McAlister uses different techniques depending on the pet’s problem areas.
“Animals, like people, are all different and have different needs,” she said.
McAlister has cared for countless animals in her life and believes all creatures require nurturing. When it wasn’t her job, she would take abandoned and injured animals into her home.
Jim, her husband of 33 years, wasn’t surprised at her decision to make helping animals a career. He’s seen everything from a parade of ducks to a three-legged cat named Yard Stick at his house.
“I think it’s great what she’s doing,” Jim said.
McAlister’s long-term goal is to work with police and fire dogs. The former firefighter and 911 dispatcher said combining her past work with current work seems only natural.
“Police dogs go through stress like officers do and they have special needs,” she said. “Massage can help them with muscle strain and soreness, and help ease depression.”
For now, McAlister hopes to build her business locally helping house pets.
For information, call (813) 312-2717 or visit www.lovenhands.com.
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