Charlotte Hogan, RVT, CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner)
A Dog’s Comfort
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Charlotte: I graduated from the University of Guelph (Ridgetown) for VT and the University of Tennessee for CCRP.
OAVT: What is your current job(s)? When did you start it? What services do you offer?
Charlotte: I’m an RVT at a small animal clinic part time, doing all the regular RVT things. I started there in 2015. In 2019 I also became a CCRP and was offering rehabilitation services to patients through the clinic. In part due to the pandemic, things needed to change a little so in September 2020, I opened A Dog’s Comfort out of my home. I offer canine (and sometimes feline) physical rehabilitation services. This includes therapy for those recovering from injury or surgery as well as pets trying to lose weight or gain strength and comfort for senior and/or palliative patients.
OAVT: How did you decide to start your own business?
Charlotte: Family and friends actually pushed me into it a little. It was difficult to find enough time and space within the clinic to provide appropriate rehab services to my patients and after the clinics reopened from the first lockdown we were so busy it became almost impossible. I also started seeing an increase in interested clients and patients. My husband first brought up the idea of having my own business outside of the clinic, then when discussing rehab options with my manager at the clinic, the idea was brought up again, so we ran with it. My husband and I renovated an extra space we had in our home to create a dedicated exercise center. I decreased my shifts at the clinic to allow full days to see patients. While there was some risk involved, I was very fortunate in having an excellent supportive team and was still able to work at the clinic as much as needed.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you at work?
Charlotte: I am very fortunate to have the rehab center in my own home, it makes the rehab days very flexible to schedule. I usually offer appointments 1-2 days a week right now. Generally I set up an obstacle course for the 1st patient of the day and make adjustments to it as needed for each of the patients to come, depending on their size and physical ability. A rehab session starts as soon as the client arrives with their pet and I observe them walking up the driveway. Inside, we briefly discuss how the patient has been doing at home since their last visit and review what exercises they have been doing. We then get started on a warm up, usually a few rounds on that day’s obstacle course, then follow that with some more specific and targeted exercises to help improve the patient’s area of weakness. All sessions commonly include some form of massage therapy to help identify and relax painful areas of the body and stretching to help keep everything moving. As needed, measureable components, such as ROM, are checked for progress. We often play a game of sorts for a cool down after the workout as I discuss the next steps and at home exercises with the client for the coming week(s). Most clients elect to stay and observe their pet’s session but during lockdown times this was not possible, so I recorded video of all sessions that the clients could then view at home. After each session, or more likely at the end of my full day, I write up a session report for each patient and send it off to the referring DVM. I also email a brief recap of the session to the clients and the exercises I would like to have them work on with their pet. This is a very general session idea. Each patient gets individualized plan based on their needs. Some patients come just for massage and stretching as they may be palliative, others (and I) get quite a robust workout as they may be full of energy and need conditioning.
OAVT: What is your favourite part about your job?
Charlotte: My favourite part of rehabilitation is being able to work hands on with the patient and develop very unique plans for each individual. As each session is approximately 45 minutes, I get the chance to know the pet and the client quite well. I learn what the patient finds is fun or motivating and use that to get them to complete “exercises” in a way that is just a game to them. I get to know their life at home and develop ways for the client to reach their goals for the pet in question. It’s a very personal approach to medicine that we don’t always have time for in clinic settings.
OAVT: What is the hardest part about your job?
Charlotte: Often it is the educational component. Physical rehabilitation can help so many conditions, not just post orthopedic surgery or OA patients. Also, that starting early is the best way to see long term results. Rehabilitation is often seen as a last resort after the DVM and client have tried “everything else”. DVMs do not receive a lot of education on rehabilitation in school so they simply don’t have the information they need.
There is also the RVT factor involved. As an RVT in Ontario, I must follow all CVO guidelines. Alternative and complimentary work on patients must be prescribed and supervised by a DVM. This means that the DVM must be comfortable with every treatment plan that I create and must give the “go-ahead” for the patient to receive the treatment. Understandably, it can be very hard for a DVM to put their license on the line if they do not understand the rehabilitation treatment plan and how it is appropriate. I must work very hard to build trust with all the DVMs I work with at A Dog’s Comfort.
OAVT: You work in a less traditional sector for RVTs (i.e. not a companion animal clinic). Do you find that moving out of the traditional clinic life has given your RVT career more longevity?
Charlotte: Working in a less traditional sector has given me more flexibility over my career and where I take it. Being able to do something I love does make getting at it easier each day.
Unfortunately, rehabilitation sessions can be very physically demanding. As long as I practice safely, I’m sure the exertion is very good for my health.
OAVT: How has being an RVT helped you in your role? Do you feel like you are using a lot of your RVT skills and training?
Charlotte: Being an RVT is unmeasurably helpful in the rehabilitation sector. I use my RVT skills and training all the time. Palpation for pain, reading the patient’s body language, safe patient handling all play a very important role in rehab. Understanding nutrition, supplements and various medications and what they treat is also crucial to keeping the pet healthy during their session and into the future.
Communication with clients and DVMs cannot be understated. It is important to build strong relationships with each to keep my business moving forward.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Charlotte: I still work as an RVT at a small animal clinic at which I am also the social media coordinator which is a lot of fun. I also enjoy volunteering at out-reach clinics with the OSPCA and OVC.
OAVT: COVID-19 has amplified stress in everyone’s lives. How has this impacted your role? And if so – what specific tools are you focusing on when helping individuals or teams through the stress of COVID-19?
Charlotte: COVID-19 was actually a big part in opening my own rehab center as clinic life simply became too busy to keep the previous way of doing things possible. With the pandemic I have had to ensure I am able to keep myself and my clients safe. As sessions are individual it was easy enough for the client and I to keep a safe distance and wear face masks. During lockdown, it was decided that the clients would no longer come into the center with their pets so I started recording videos of the session that I uploaded to a shared cloud file that they and their DVM could watch anytime.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about (nutrition, research, spay/neuter, dog bite prevention, education, etc.). What is YOUR passion?
Charlotte: I am definitely passionate about rehab in general but I am specifically passionate about what I call “Comfort Care”. It’s my way of giving clients a way to help their pets’ age gracefully and as pain free as possible. We discuss ways to make their home more assessable to the pet, nutrition specific for seniors, devices such as harness and carts that can help, and ways that they can still do the things their pet loves, like hiking, in a healthy and safe way. Of course, we include therapies such as massage and stretching to keep the pets relaxed and comfortable.