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Lapping up water workouts

WALTHAM -- Cody doesn't get around as well as she did in her younger days. She suffers from arthritis and has a tough time negotiating winter's icy terrain -- even with four legs.

But the Australian shepherd's tail wags happily at the prospect of a dip in the 88-degree waters of the 20-by-8-foot pool at the new AquaDog fitness center in Waltham.

"The warm water helps with arthritic pain," said AquaDog owner Pam Tewes said, guiding Cody into the pool. "We let them tell us what they want to do, as long as they get their swim time in." AquaDog is the only facility with a pool of this size in the Boston area, Tewes said.

They settled on a game of wet fetch. Dottie Traversi of Waltham, Cody's owner, stood at one end of the pool and tossed a tennis ball to the other side for her to track down.

Only a minute passed before Cody got impatient and barked for Traversi to throw the ball again. Tewes said that in Cody's first few visits, she spent a lot of the time massaging her and acclimating her to the water.

After 20 minutes of fetch, Cody decided it was time for a break. She planted herself in front of one of the massaging jets at a ledge in the 5-foot-deep pool, and let the stream of water work on her sore spots.

Along with arthritis sufferers, AquaDog's customers include dogs who are overweight, recovering from surgery, or simply in need of an outlet for their extra energy.

Only Tewes accompanies the dogs in the water. For the first few visits, she has them wear bright orange flotation vests while she determines how well they can swim.

Amy Lord says her 15-year-old golden retriever, Bailey, has been rejuvenated by her visits to AquaDog.

"Since she's been swimming, she's had more energy; she's been more playful," Lord said.

At first, Bailey was so frightened of the water she was shaking.

"I was afraid she wouldn't swim there. And now she goes for 20 minutes at a time," said Lord, who is director of business development and operations for the local Especially for Pets chain of stores.

Tewes launched the business after her golden retriever, Luke, was encouraged to swim to get exercise. When she couldn't find an outdoor location that was safe and legal, she decided to build a swim center designed just for dogs.

Tewes learned about hydrotherapy techniques from Cindy Horsfall, who runs a similar business, the La Paw Spa, in Washington state.

"It was probably the most intense thing I've ever done in my life," Tewes said. "She walked us through protocol -- if it was for an injured limb, she showed us how to safely handle the dogs in the pool."

Before starting AquaDog, Tewes worked as a corporate fashion buyer. She can't envision going back to her old job.

"I have people traveling an hour just to get to my pool. They're inspired, they say, 'Thanks for coming, we needed this,' " she said.

A local veterinarian, while not familiar with AquaDog's programs, said he has encouraged clients to take pets to similar facilities.

"Sometimes you have animals that are so arthritic that weight-bearing" activities, even walking, "is painful for them," said Dr. Edward Leonard, with the Slade Veterinary Hospital in Framingham.

Leonard said dogs benefit from working on a treadmill or against a current. "It's like weight-lifting without lifting weights," he said.

Aquadog's tank is equipped with high-powered jets that send the water coursing around the pool.

The facility doesn't have a treadmill, as does Paws in Motion in Natick, which is for dogs requiring more serious physical therapy. Tewes said AquaDog focuses on fitness.

Sessions at AquaDog cost between $39 and $49 for a half-hour, depending on the objective of the swim.

Tewes said she can book up to eight appointments a day -- leaving time between sessions to filter out the hair -- and after about two months in business is about halfway to being fully booked most days.

"It's really hard work, but it's so rewarding," Tewes said.

"I just want to give an opportunity to dogs that they don't otherwise get."

Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: AquaDog in Waltham