Category Archives: Animal Massage

Pigs, Puppies & Paradise


Adria the pig whisperer, amazing awesome woman who runs the pig area.

Adria the pig whisperer, amazing awesome woman who runs the pig area.

What do all good road trips have in common?  Great scenery, wonderful new adventures, good weather, visiting friends, making new friends and precious time away to just relax and enjoy.  My recent trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah included all of this. It had the added bonus of allowing me to serve a group of awesome pigs and puppies. I left on my sojourn early Sunday morning heading west to my first destination of Grand Junction which is about 4 hours away.  5 hours later after several stops for pictures, a couple of hikes and a few bathroom breaks I arrived at my friends house where I was to spend the night.  We had a wonderful visit while enjoying a great meal in a fun outdoor restaurant. The weather was cool, the company was awesome and the craft beers were excellent. Back on the road the next day I made my way through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. 

The rock formations, the raging river and the contrast of verdant green next to the red cliffs helped to keep me alert and focused for the final six hours of my drive.

Even though this was my fifth trip to Best Friends I never fail to feel excitement and gratitude as I arrive at the entrance to AngelCanyon. I know I will be with my people who love and respect animals the way I do as well as the incredible group of animals that they serve. The beauty of this canyon surpasses all of the other scenery that I see on the way there.  It is truly a paradise.

The welcome center is truly that.  With it’s beautiful koi filled pond, spacious porch and canine greeter inside the door, weary travelers feel a definite sense of welcome.  I get my key, meet with the volunteer coordinator to get my work assignments, take one quick tour through the gift shop and head to my home sweet home for the next three days.

My cozy digs.

My cozy digs.

Settling into my cozy studio cabin I was tired but looking forward to tomorrow when I would actually begin working with the animals. It’s interesting how I used to think that a vacation meant doing a lot of nothing, but here the vacation begins when I can start the work that I came here to do. The silence began to settle in around me as the workers and day visitors left for the day. I was beginning to experience the peace that I always feel when I stay here; a peace that is not found often in my busy city life. Although there is a TV I choose the sites and sounds of the natural world. There is no internet so I gladly surrendered my e-mails to another time when I’m reconnected and trust and know that they will still be there waiting for me then. It makes me feel as if within these canyon walls time stops for a brief time and I can just breath and enjoy. My phone worked sporadically so other than making a quick call to announce my safe arrival I was able to be truly present in the moment in this most incredible place.  The view off of my small deck is of the white fenced horse pastures.  Each enclosure in the lower sanctuary holds groups of two or three horses which now graze peacefully; stopping occasionally to take a lovely roll in the soft, powdery earth beneath their feet. Occasionally one will nuzzle the other and they will both take a slow stroll around the perimeter of the corral, checking out the area as I have been taking brief strolls to do the same. It’s hard to give up one moment here to sleep but I know I have a busy day of work ahead so I finally drift off around 10:00.

Massaging Panda the pig.

Massaging Panda the pig.

After a great nights sleep, which I almost never get when I’m traveling, I ‘m up and ready to get this day started.  I head to Nathan’s Piggy Paradise which is just a short walk from where I am staying.  I love being able to walk to work.  I greet horses, goats and a few early workers as I arrive at my destination. Adria, the head of the pig area is there to greet me.  We have worked together in the past and it is great to see a familiar face so soon after I arrive.  Adria is an amazing person.  She is a true pig whisperer.  They all know her and love her. Last year, just before losing one of their most beloved pigs, Squeaky, to cancer Adria bought him his own pizza and chocolate cake which they sat and ate together the evening before his euthanasia. She knows each and every pigs wishes, demands and quirks.  The pig area is filled with toys, wading pools, and covered houses.  Everything a homeless pig could ever need or want.

The pigs are let out and we put fresh greens and frozen veggies in a series of troughs  on the hillside.  By splitting up the food the pigs are encouraged to do more walking, something they all need to do to keep their weight down.  Normally after breakfast we would take them all out on walks around the property but today there is a donkey getting a dental out in the common area so we just  hang out together and give lots of belly rubs.

Working with Arby, another one of my friends.

Working with Arby, another one of my friends.

The new pig in the area is Arby. Adria says that he seems depressed and doesn’t want to come out with the others.  She’s worried about him and asks me to give him a massage.  She doesn’t have to ask twice.  Arby’s not thrilled but I am able to get some work done on him.

After a full morning with the pigs I have lunch and head to the dog area.  The building I will be working in this afternoon is call the Club House.  This houses a variety of dogs from some of Michael Vicks dogs that are still left to some of the only small dogs that I have seen on the property.  Each dog run has a shade tree with a swimming pool.  My job this afternoon is to scrub out all of the red sand that has collected in the pools and fill them again with fresh water.  This allows me a chance to visit with many of the dogs as well as having a very physical afternoon of outdoor work.  It feels really good to work hard on my feet after spending two days in the car. Each dog here wears a different colored collar.  The red collars signify that they may have aggression, the purple are for some issue, possibly health related and the green means friendly and safe.  I am not allowed to go into runs with red collar dogs by myself but following my afternoon of hard work I am allowed to do some training with a couple of the red collar dogs.  These dogs are super shy and I am trying to get them to make eye contact. I meet an especially sweet dog named Suzanne and decide that she is the one I will take with me for a sleepover.  They pack her bag and we are off for the evening.

Suzanne and I go for a long hike up into the hills behind the cabin.  She has a great time chasing lizards and I thoroughly enjoy her company.  She is the perfect house guest, very quiet and happy to snuggle up next to me and watch a movie.  In the morning we have breakfast together out on the deck and then I take her back before reporting back in to work in a different dog area.  Today I work at an area called The Fairways.  I think all of these dogs are green collars.  I take many out for walks and then sweep out their kennels.  At lunch I go to AngelVillage at the top of the canyon where they serve an amazing all you can eat, vegetarian lunch for $5.00.  The view alone of EscalanteNational Park  is worth twice that.  Many of the original founders of Best Friends come here each day to have lunch and meet the volunteers.  There are visitors from all over the world along with interns who will be here for an extended period to learn about animal care.

Pearl the wonder dog!

Pearl the wonder dog!

After lunch I return to the Fairways to take pairs of dogs to the dog park.  This is a huge fenced in area a short walk away where the dogs can run, play and chase more lizards.  They all love this area and it’s fun to watch them having such a good time.  Today I chose a white pit bull named Pearl for my overnight guest.  She was rescued from a fighting ring and her face shows the scars of her difficult start in life. She has since somehow put all of that behind her and is one of the most silly, loving dogs that I have ever met.  We again go for a long hike and then have dinner together on the deck of the cabin.  She slept on the foot of the bed and the minute I opened my eyes in the morning I heard her tail thumping.  She crawled up to me to say hello and have her ears scratched.  This one was very difficult to return.  She so deserves a forever home and would make the perfect companion for the right person.

After taking Pearl back to her caregivers I pack up my things and begin the long drive home.  I took a different way than how I came and went through an extraordinary area called Duck Creek. DuckCreekVillage is spectacular. It sits at 8,400 feet just off Utah Scenic Highway 14 on what is commonly known as CedarMountain. This area is also known as the Markagunt Plateau and is part of the DixieNational Forest. As I was driving through this area there were miles of lava fields, something I had never seen in our mountains.  This picture was just one of many scenic areas that I passed through on this Highway.

Although the drive home at times seemed long and tedious, it  gave me a chance to absorb all that had taken place in the last three days.  It also gave me some time to switch gears from so much peace and quiet to my busy life back home.  Each time I go to Best Friends I am changed.  My heart is a little more open and my connection to the animal kingdom is deepened.  The brief time and energy that I gave in service was returned to me many times over and I am so grateful!

AAHA Trends Magazine: In My Experience – Helping Hands

This article was featured in the American Animal Hospital Association Trends Magazine, January 2013.

Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.

IME_Jan13imgHelping Hands

In the past few years, I’ve migrated my work from human massage therapy into that of an animal massage therapist.

After receiving my bachelor’s degree in education, I practiced human massage therapy for 20 years. During that time, I also taught massage therapy for the Community College of Denver and wrote a massage therapy program for Arapahoe Community College and Denver Career College.

My massage experience has taken me from working with a spinal cord and traumatic brain injury patients at Craig Hospital in Denver to owning a day spa in Littleton, Colo.

I grew up around horses and dogs, and…

Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.


AAHA Trends Magazine: The Shifting Landscape of Veterinary Care

This article was featured in the American Animal Hospital Association Trends Magazine, February 2013.

Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.

CompMed_Feb13ImgThe Shifting Landscape of Veterinary Care

We are living in changing times. As the public interest and demands for he availability of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) increase, veterinarians are beginning to collaborate with a variety of therapists to round out their practice.

As a massage therapist for more than 20 years, I have learned firsthand how there can be a successful union of therapies in any type of medical practice. In this article we will look at some of the key elements necessary to make this happen.

As the trend to coordinate services continues, we may begin to see a shift from…

Click here to download the entire article as a PDF.

Squeeky the Pig’s miraculous massage at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Squeaky was a 14 year old pot bellied pig that I got to know and love while volunteering at Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary in August of 2012.  He was the office pig and beloved friend of all of the workers in the sanctuary’s Pig Haven. When he quit eating and showed signs of illness everyone became worried.

Best Friends Lesley 021Before beginning my massage on Squeaky I  spoke to him and let him know what we were going to do. Rather than forcing anything on him I sat quietly in his space until he decided to come to me.  At that point I gently place one hand on his back to allow him to connect with my touch.  At this point we were two beings connecting and finding each other’s comfort level.

Very soon I felt a shift in Squeaky’s energy;  he quieted and began to relax, signaling me that he was ready to allow me to go to work. I started with effleurage strokes down each side of his body and then did some exploratory palpation.  As you can see in the picture the hackles on Squeaky’s back went up at this point signaling me that he liked what was going on and letting me know that he wanted me to continue.

I had been working with Squeaky for about 30 minutes when he stood up, walked a few yards from me and pooped.  Until then I didn’t know that pigs could smile but after relieving himself Squeaky clearly had a grin on his face.  An hour later he ate his lunch for the first time in several days and was moving around much more freely than he had previously been doing.  The next day he greeted me at the door of the pig office with his tail wagging and went to his bed to get ready for his massage.  Here’s what I know after massaging Squeaky:

The benefits of loving touch are not restricted to humans.

Pigs are intelligent, gentle beings housed in unusual looking bodies

When you connect in a loving way to any animal healing takes place for everyone.

Squeaky’s example let to other pigs now enjoying the joy of massage therapy.