UNDER A railway arch in Attercliffe among the lock-ups and storage units of the old east end an unlikely new industry is blossoming.
Between clattering trains and echoing workshops you can just about hear the occasional splash and whimper.
Welcome to Muppets Canine Therapy centre.
Dylan is recovering from a stroke, Amy has a dodgy hip and Lulu is building her strength back up after her shattered leg almost had to be amputated.
Here everything is about dogs, water and hope for owners of animals trying to defy age and injuries.
Hydrotherapy has been used by the elite of the horse and dog racing world for years.
The therapeutic power of exercise in water has helped champions avoid retirement and also-rans escape the knacker’s yard.
But the treatment once reserved for the animal aristocracy is now increasingly being used to improve quality of life for our much-loved mutts. And so it is at Sheffield’s only Canine Hydrotherapy Assocation approved centre.
Owner Kate Clapperton has worked with animals all her adult life – apart from a short spell as a driving instructor – on farms, pig breeding and at Nottingham University’s pig research unit at Sutton Bonnington.
“I went into farming straight from school,” said 42-year-old Kate, originally from Firth Park and now living in Rotherham.
“I’ve done canine and human massage therapy, psychology and behaviour and obedience classes and am just finishing a three-year course in animal physiotherapy.
“Racehorses and greyhounds have been benefiting from hydrotherapy for years and now it’s becoming more accepted by owners and vets as a treatment for pets.”
So how does it work?
“The water helps to support the dogs and they can exercise without bearing any weight on any injuries or problems,” adds Kate owner of five collies who has the name Gabriel and several paw prints tattooed on her arm in memory of her beloved sheepdog Gabriel who died a few weeks ago.
“That allows them to use a fuller range of movement which helps build muscle, lubricate their joints and improve flexibility. The dogs are able to get their strength and confidence back and although we can’t cure everything most are able to live happy, mobile lives. Some people imagine that we just throw the dogs into a pool of cold water and let them splash about but it’s nothing like that.
“The water is heated to 29 degrees centigrade so that it’s comfortable for the dogs. Most of them enjoy it when they get used to it and they all benefit from the effects of being able to move freely in the water.”
Kevin Blake’s springer spaniel Amy loves it.
“When we get to Meadowhall in the car Amy knows where we’re going and starts going bonkers with excitement,” said Kevin who travels from Bolsover in Derbyshire twice weekly to help Amy overcome the hip problem so many springers are prone to.
“Her hip problem won’t go away but we have built her muscle up so she doesn’t really have a problem with it now, the extra muscle compensates for her hip dysplacia. The water has been brilliant for her and she loves it. My wife doesn’t get treated nearly as well as this, no chance,” laughs Kevin.
Mathew and Kimberley Cannon’s retired racing greyhound Lulu almost bled to death when she snapped her leg while exercising in the Peak District.
“She caught her foot in some mesh as she was running and her leg snapped,” said Matthew. “It was terrible, I thought she was going to bleed to death there on Mam Tor. We got her to an emergency vet in Stockport who thought she would lose her leg but eventually we got her to the specialist bone surgeon James Pratt of Goldthorpe near Barnsley. He did a fantastic job. It cost us around £7,000 and nine months of surgery altogether but she’s recovered well.
“She comes to build up the muscle in her shoulder and back that wasted away while Lulu was unable to use the leg. It’s coming back now though and she’s really coming on.”
Kate watches Lulu walk up and down the area alongside the pool and analyses the improved muscle bulk on her recovering leg and her back and tail alignment.
“She’s improving,” says Kate who will be moving her business to bigger premises in the next few weeks where a water treadmill will be added to the treatments available.
“I get some older dogs and they come in here struggling to walk but they get in the pool and their faces light up. They love it and they get much better movement after a few sessions.
“You can’t turn back time but you can get them moving again which allows them to take more exercise which helps to keep them mobile and helps to stop the cycle of decline.
“I had a 15-year-old labrador come and he had to be lifted in the pool but after a few sessions he was able to move about much better.
“He has a much better quality of life now, and that’s what matters.”
Man’s best friend needs therapy whatever their roles in life
SHOWDOGS, guide-dogs for the blind and arthritic ex-police dogs all need therapy now and again.
Kate Clapperton has treated them all – some for injuries and complaints most of us might not think of.
“Obedience dogs tend to lean into their owners legs as they walk and can get problems from that,” said Kate.
“Some show dog owners want to add muscle to their dogs for appearance’s sake when they are in shows and even guide dogs for the blind have problems because they are always trying to keep out of the way of their handler as they walk.
“They sort of walk crab-like and they can develop problems because of that.”
“I’ve even had an arthritic former police dog who benefited from hydrotherapy. A lot of people don’t know about it but if they give it a try it usually does some good.
“I have treated six dogs whose owners thought wouldn’t walk again and they have all come here and got better.