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years ago, Janet Van Dyke, DVM, packed all her surgical tools
into a big blue Rubbermaid plastic tub. Best to keep them handy,
she thought. This new idea about starting a canine physical
rehabilitation business might be the biggest stumble of her
“I gave myself six months’ sabbatical to try and make this
thing happen,” she says.
She needn’t have worried.
Today the Canine Rehabilitation Institute Dr. Van Dyke founded
in Wellington, Fla., is a thriving business with a second
facility opening this spring on the campus of Colorado State
University in Fort Collins. The institute has certificated about
100 students, attracted an impressive roster of physical
therapists and veterinarians to teach its courses and become a
model provider of animal rehabilitation certification–even as
the veterinary community works to create a governing body to
oversee the certification of this emerging specialty. And
if there’s one sure sign that a trend is sticking, it’s the
arrival of healthy competition in the form of similar
certification programs, which Van Dyke welcomes.
“A little competition forces us to stay on our toes and do the
best that we can do,” Van Dyke says.
Competition has long been in Van Dyke’s blood and a driving
force in her career path.
“I wanted to be a jockey, but I’m 5 foot 8 inches,” she
says with a laugh.
Although equine surgery seemed the perfect fit for her interests
and athleticism, Van Dyke, 51, says it was unheard of for women
of her generation. She chose canine surgery and says she never
“I think it’s the problem solving I like. It sounds like
I’m being kind of crass, but if you look at surgeons we tend
to be a little bit of the ADD [attention deficit disorder] type.
You get in, you get your job done and move on to the next
one,” she says.
After graduating from the University of Illinois College of
Veterinary Medicine in 1981, Van Dyke completed her internship
and surgical residency at the Animal Medical Center in New York
City and specialized in surgery, orthopedics and sports medicine
for many years in New York and Chicago before moving to Florida.
About six years ago, she considered reducing her practice and
perhaps teaching a few anatomy courses while enjoying a
semi-retirement. But when she went to observe and work with Laurie McCauley, DVM, founder of TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation
Center near Chicago, it occurred to her that there was a great
need for veterinarians and physical therapists to work together
in the budding area of animal rehab.
Her business idea was born. Van Dyke would offer comprehensive
training programs designed for veterinarians and technicians,
distilling the science and technology of human physical therapy
and veterinary medicine.
It would be a demanding program, but certification and a new
skill set reward the graduates who pass every requirement and
complete satisfactory case studies in the field. Not everyone
Today, there are a handful of similar certification programs in
the U.S. and a growing number of clinics offering rehab
services. As yet, there is no governing body overseeing the
education process for animal rehabilitators. The American
Veterinary Medical Assn. has formed a committee to work on an
oversight plan, Van Dyke says.
“I think it needs to be done,” Van Dyke says. “I applaud
so much more science and art to it than just buying a water
treadmill and sticking all the dogs in it.
year Colorado passed legislation allowing physical therapists to
work with veterinarians after completing 80 hours of education
that covers a host of specific topics. Van Dyke’s program
meets the topic list spelled out by the Colorado legislation and
exceeds its instructional time by 20 hours.
Van Dyke predicts that, eventually, board certification for the
specialty of animal rehabilitation will follow.
“I see vet schools certainly coming on board with it as far as
a clinical offering. They may not have the time or finances to
add it to the curriculum yet, but 17 of the vet schools in the
United States have clinical rehab services for their
patients,” she notes.
For Van Dyke, the venture into professional rehab education has
been hugely satisfying as a business and a passion. It combines
the surgeon’s craft, the internist’s knowledge and the
physical therapist’s skills and mechanical know-how.
“There’s so much more science and art to it than just buying
one of those water treadmills and sticking all the dogs in
it,” she says.
Best of all, it’s good for clients.
Van Dyke loves telling the happy recovery tale of an 80-pound
shepherd mix hit by a car and left with little use of its hind
quarters. When she first saw the dog while visiting one of her
clients, Van Dyke was not optimistic. It dragged itself across
the floor by its front paws and needed manual assistance to void
its bladder and move its bowels.
A few months later she visited the same clinic and was baffled
by a dog in the play yard that scampered about but often fell
down, only to get up and carry on.
“I told them in the office that I thought that dog might be in
trouble. And they said, ‘Oh, that’s Cayman. That’s THAT
dog. Remember him? Now he comes here to play.’ Those are the
sorts of cases that turn heads,” Van Dyke says.
Dramatic and satisfying as they are, such stories are actually a
small part of what’s driving consumer demand for animal rehab,
Van Dyke says. The biggest push comes from baby boomers
discovering the benefits of physical therapy for their own
arthritic aches and knee surgeries and wanting the same for
their canine companions.
But work and sport are factors, too. Security, military and
police dogs are often in need of rehab to treat
repetitive-stress injuries. Agility enthusiasts love the
competitive edge that comes with the sophisticated fitness
training a trained therapist can safely deliver, she says.
“It’s such an incredibly popular sport across the U.S. Last
year, there were 872 agility events in the U.S. They’re
extremely competitive,” she says.
All of which means that blue tub of tools Van Dyke tucked into
her garage didn’t have to be dragged back to work. In fact,
most of the tools have found good homes with up and coming
surgeons who’ve come through Van Dyke’s programs. And the
semi-retirement? That’s been shelved, too. But it’s all good
with Van Dyke.
“There’s something to seeing these animals get so engaged in
rehab and seeing the clients get so engaged,” she says.