Dogs seem drawn to David Feldman, with good reason.
He’s an animal lover, and lives with dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and ducks at his little farm in Ipswich. And he said that he has lived a life devoted to animals.
The certified small animal massage therapist was perched on a mat at the Gloucester Dog Park booth adjacent to the Cape Ann Farmers Market on Thursday afternoon, first with Luci, a terrier mix who normally does not like men, her owner says.
You’d have never known it, however, to see her leaning in against him, enjoying the massage around her head and ears, between her toes and along her back and stomach. She was smiling, her mouth wide open and tongue out, bright-eyed.
“He’s a big draw to the booth,” Tom Schauer of the Gloucester Dog Park group said of Feldman. Feldman is available, as a volunteer with the group, to give the massages free of charge, and advice to dog owners about how they can massage their pets at home correctly. He will be with the group at the next three events they will be holding at Stage Fort Park on Aug. 16, Sept. 13 and Sept. 27 from 3-5 p.m.
On Thursday afternoon, Feldman had a stream of people with their dogs stopping by to talk with him, and a few dogs did sit still for him.
“At its best, massage should be done in quiet,” he said, but considering the general hubbub around and the many tasty and interesting odors from the nearby farmers market, most of the dogs took to massage very well.
Feldman had been a real estate appraiser in his previous career life, but retired last year and decided to become a small animal therapist, as a “natural fit.” He has been involved with training dogs to be therapy animals, many shelters and animal organizations and supports dog parks, plus he has worked with special-needs children receiving horse therapy.
Luci’s owner, Martha Swanson of Rockport, was marveling at how Luci immediately took to Feldman.
“Some days, she barks at everyone,” she added, in addition to usually being afraid of men. But Luci was content and quiet. Feldman noticed that she was very healthy, her paws looked good, her back looked good, and “she settled right in and leaned on me.”
He was also pleased that Luci let him work on her paws.
“Dogs can be sensitive about their paws,” he said. Terriers, he said, are very active and bright dogs, and “typically like to be served,” unlike some other dogs, like labs, which love to serve their human friends.
Princess Aurora, a dachshund described as “curious, super-excited and ecstatic” by her owner, Kay O’Rourke of Gloucester, also enjoyed having her paws worked on. Feldman said dachshunds need to have healthy spines and recommended a massage of the dog’s long muscle along her spine.
He also recommended massages right behind her shoulder, or scapula, and he showed O’Rourke how she can give her dog an ear massage, with long, soothing strokes of one hand over the ear, while held in the palm of the other hand, plus a little acupressure point in a little hollow behind each ear. Princess Aurora was cuddled in O’Rourke’s arms as she sat on the grass with Feldman, and she settled right in and really seemed to be enjoying herself.
Feldman advises owners to be aware of all the signals that dogs give to show their feelings: their bodies pulling away from you as opposed to leaning in when you touch them; noticing when their bodies tense and relax at your touch; watching their eyes for hardness and seeing the whites of their eyes, as opposed to when they’re softer and more relaxed looking.
Feldman earned certification from at the Bancroft School of Massage — for humans — and, about 10 years ago, developed a program for small animals and for horses, looking to focus on small household pets.
The training is similar to dealing with humans — learning anatomy and physiology, about bone and muscles. Physical characteristics might be different, Feldman said, but animals and humans have a lot of overlap, with blood flow, bowels, and so on and veterinary school textbooks were used.
“It’s great to see what you can do once the dog is settled,” he said. “There are no non-essential” movements, he said. “They lean in or pull away and give you clear signals.”
But even more importantly, the owner needs to settle down, just like the dog needs to settle down. Once both dog and owner are settled down, “they both go to another place, together.”
Also, the Gloucester Dog Park is still in search of $65,000 in order to open the facility at Stage Fort Park. Anyone seeking to make a donation may send a check to Gloucester Dog Park, c/o The Gloucester Fund, 45 Middle St., Gloucester, MA, 01930. See their website at www.gloucesterdogpark.org
Anyone seeking more information on pet massage may contact Feldman at 978-500-9716 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allegra Boverman is the Gloucester Times photo chief and a staff writer. She can be reached at (978) 283-7000 x3448 or at email@example.com