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Taking your dog to visit swim therapist Mary Beth Glatz is like going to the day spa. Her indoor in-ground pool was custom-built for SandDancer, the canine swim and therapy business she named after her black Labrador retriever. The business is located on Powers Road in Orchard Park.

The pool – four feet deep with water heated to 92 degrees – becomes a healing ground for canine clients that wear life vests while their owners sit pool side to watch the sessions. At age 59, Glatz said she learns something new from the dogs each day she works in the water with them.

A former casino dealer and most recently a secretary for the Frontier Central School District, Glatz held various jobs throughout her life. She calls SandDancer her retirement plan, and said she is working more hours now than ever. The mother of three grown children, Glatz lives with her second husband in a home adjacent to their business.

People Talk: How did your business evolve?

Mary Beth Glatz: From my own dog Woody (Woodrow T. Sand Dancer), who passed away in 2009. Awesome dog. His favorite thing to do in the world was eat and swim. He was crazy about water, and when he got older he couldn’t walk very well so the vet suggested water therapy. We knew it was at the end of his life, but he would drag me into the building for swim therapy. At the time I wanted to open a dog day care and do swim therapy in the same building. I decided to focus on swim therapy.

PT: Can dogs get into spa music?

MBG: They can. They like Native American flute music, some of them. It’s very relaxing and calming for dogs.

PT: This must be your dream job.

MBG: Yes. It took four years to pull this off. I thought about it every day. I researched and I had some help with the business plan. You can achieve anything you want in this world if you work hard enough, and I am not a quitter. I don’t want to sound selfish but this is good for my arthritis, too. I want to feel younger even though I’m getting older.

PT: What’s it like spending so much time in the water?

MBG: I love it. There is no chlorine, no harsh chemicals to shrivel you. I have three filtration systems to keep this naturally pure. You have to balance the water perfectly. This is a natural healing for the dogs. It’s good for them mentally.

PT: Do they sleep better after?

MBG: When the younger dogs come out of the water, they want to run in circles. This is stimulating for them. They spin around for 20 minutes, and then they crash. They’re down for three days sometimes.

PT: What about the older dogs?

MBG: I don’t want to sound weird – I have to be a little off my rocker to do this at my age – but when I have an older dog I do a little energy work. I actually say a prayer. I call the angels and the dogs that have passed before to help heal this dog. It’s like I’m a conduit for the good energies the universe has. I get the dogs to float, and when they start floating that means they trust me 100 percent.

PT: What happens when you get attached to older dogs that may not be here for too long?

MBG: We learned about that in school. I think I’ve learned a lot about the grieving process from going through it with my own dog. People can get through loss of a pet. I think this helps the dogs’ owners through the process of saying goodbye.

PT: Where did you train?

MBG: La Paw Spa in Sequim, Wash., northwest of Seattle. It was about 70 hours of intense training. Warm water rehab, energy work and massage therapy is becoming bigger for dogs, horses and other animals.

PT: Is there a breed that’s tougher to connect with than others?

MBG: I’ve heard German Shepherds are. I worked with shepherds in training school, one of my challenges. Shepherds are very sensitive dogs to their owners. It takes longer for a shepherd to trust someone. They are extremely intelligent dogs who want a job to do. I worked with one who had never been in water before. It’s a scary situation for a dog.

PT: Do you recommend dogs not eat before they go swimming?

MBG: Yes. I have a list of rules and regulations. Owners should not feed their dogs three hours prior to a swim because it stimulates the intestines. If a dog ever had an accident in the pool, I would have to shut down business, drain my pool, sanitize it, sterilize it and refill it. I’d lose business for three or four days.

PT: What tool of your trade is indispensable?

MBG: Treats, with the owner’s permission only. I use cheese, mozzarella or mild provolone. Dogs will follow me around the pool if I have one piece of cheese in my hand.

PT: How do you calm a dog down?

MBG: Energy work and massage. Some dogs I have to carry into the water. My pool temperature is 90 to 92 degrees. The warm water increases the circulation of the dog, feeding oxygen through the whole body especially the muscles. Once their muscles are warmed up, I can do specific stretches with them. They’re buoyant so there is no stress on their arthritic joints. The increased oxygen to the brain is like serotonin, and with the warm water it reduces inflammation. I’m always praising them. Once you build their confidence, they’re a new dog.

PT: How can you tell a dog is confident?

MBG: Body language. Watch their tails. It’s the demeanor, the connection, the way the dog reacts to people. If a dog is not confident they bark at people. They cower.

PT: Tell me about a star pupil.

MBG: Ilio, a show dog, is a bull mastiff. He is the most incredible dog. He gets it. He is so friendly and he doesn’t bark. His mom and dad bought him three years ago, and they brought him here specifically to build his stamina, endurance, to expand his lung capacity and his reach in the show ring. It’s a big ring they have to run around. Ilio was huffing and puffing, panting. He’s 150 pounds. After six visits they were preparing him for a regional show.

PT: What makes dogs so special?

MBG: They live in the moment. They don’t carry baggage, and if they do there are ways to get them to heal and get them through that. They’re the quickest to forgive a situation. They get life quicker than humans do. That’s why dogs are here for such a short time.


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