By Laetitia Clayton - email@example.com
Mary Pat Corrigan runs her hands down the spine of her 81⁄2-year-old American dingo, Nadia. Nadia's white head begins to droop and her panting slows as she feels her owner's fingers working their magic on her back and hip. She stands completely still.
"She gets thrown out," Corrigan says of Nadia's alignment. "She's had injuries. Her pelvis will tilt. She gets sciatica. We've been working on that, trying to fix it."
Nadia is luckier than a lot of people, as she gets massaged twice a week, says Corrigan, who formed her business, Higher Ground Bodywork, three years ago.
Corrigan is a certified canine massage therapist, but she also works on horses, cats and even a steer or two. She is in the process of earning her equine massage certification, but there isn't one for cats, she says, which doesn't make sense to her.
"I think you ought to be able to get certified in animal massage," she says, "and then get trained on multiple species."
In addition to animal massage, Corrigan is a reiki practitioner, which she describes as "working the universal energy field with the patient's energy field, and that I do on people and animals."
"I am seriously looking at going to get certified in human massage," she adds.
For now, Corrigan travels almost daily -- mostly to Northern Virginia -- to work on various animals. There is the cat whose back legs were so mangled when her owners rescued her that she has no use of them. Her front legs and shoulders get stressed from overcompensating, Corrigan says, and that's where massage work comes in. There was also the 17-year-old dog who lived near Tysons Corner, and Corrigan would drive in to see him every week for massage sessions. There are other patients, ranging from race horses and hunting dogs to two pet steer -- Archie and Pepper.
"I love working on them," Corrigan says of the steer. "They are so peaceful. Archie will sometimes hum."
Her own house is filled with rescued companions -- in addition to Nadia, there are five or six cats that roam around and two small zebra finches in a large cage. She also had two Husky-mix sisters, Shiro and Doshi, that were award-winning therapy dogs. Doshi died last June at 161⁄2 and Shiro was 13 when she died in 2006.
"Shiro was my inspiration actually for doing this," Corrigan says of her business.
But her love for animals goes back as far as she can remember.
"My mom said I was born with it," she says. "I've just always had this unusual rapport with them."
Corrigan recalls a grasshopper hospital she created when she was 7 or 8 years old, complete with wards and private rooms.
"So it goes way back with me," she says. "I feel the need to do this. There's something about touching."
Even though she started Higher Ground in 2007, Corrigan actually began working with animals years ago.
"I started putting my hands on horses in 1983," she says. "I found I just did it naturally and it had these tremendous results."
She worked with horses while managing an equestrian center in Puerto Rico and at two show stables in New York before leaving the field to work in information technology for 17 years. After her mother became ill, and Corrigan herself contracted Lyme disease and got very sick, her world started to unravel. She was eventually laid off from her job.
"I hit rock bottom," she says, "... and the only way you can look is up, and then you see everything.
"I thought, 'I'm just gonna go do what I really, really want to do,'" she says.
So, Corrigan got her canine massage certification in 2006 and opened Higher Ground Bodywork soon after. She moved from Rappahannock County to a secluded farm in Warren County last year.
"I started this business from scratch," she says. "It's been hard, but I love it. I wouldn't trade a minute of it."
Clients find her by word of mouth, or they see her information online and elsewhere, she says.
"There is a larger demand [for animal massage] than what most people think," she says, but admits that business was better before the economy soured.
"It's a luxury for a lot of people," she says. "But a lot of people have animals that are athletes, and they are just now starting to understand the benefits," such as increased circulation and flow of nutrients through the body as well as flushing out toxins.
Massage can also help heal injuries and make athletic animals perform better, Corrigan says. It lowers stress levels, too, and is good for senior animals.
"I had a horse in Berryville yesterday who was almost 40 years old," she says. "She fell asleep during the massage. It was so cute. We left her standing in the field asleep."
Although Corrigan has led a varied and interesting life -- she studied music at Boston University, was trained in kickboxing and competed in running and sport karate to name a few -- animals have always been at the core of her being, going back to that grasshopper infirmary she had when she was a child.
Now she just wants to get the word out that pet massage therapy can really be beneficial.
"We really underestimate the body's ability to heal itself -- if we assist and then get out of the way," Corrigan says. "Massage and reiki help with that process."
"But I'll tell you, this is my heart," she adds. "I love doing this."