Vashon Islander specializes in massage for animals, including horses, dogs and zoo animals.

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Lola J. Michelin

What do you do? I am a licensed massage practitioner, specializing in massage for animals, mostly horses, dogs and zoo animals. I also teach and develop curriculum for the Northwest School of Animal Massage [on Vashon Island], which I founded in 2001.

How did you get started in that field? In 1987, I was studying pre-veterinarian medicine at Michigan State University and working as a veterinarian technician at the Detroit Race Course when I first saw massage being used on racehorses. I was so impressed with the results, I was immediately hooked. I have been practicing and learning about massage and related therapies ever since.

What’s a typical day like? A non-teaching day starts with meditation, some play time with the dogs, a few hours of writing and school administrative tasks, then it is down to the barn to tend to the horses at our equine retirement and rehabilitation farm on Vashon Island. I see my animal clients in the afternoons; a few come to my space, but mostly I drive to barns in the area to do my work. In the evening, I prep for our upcoming classes, cook dinner with my husband, and then usually we either curl up with the dogs and read to one another or listen to a podcast. Currently, Bulletproof Radio is one of our favorites. A few nights a week we take a walk along the beaches with the dogs.

On teaching days, class starts at 8:30 with stretching and meditation. I teach and demonstrate massage until 5 p.m., and then usually ride my horse before dinner and “dog time.”

What’s the best part of the job? The moment during a massage when a horse or a dog feels the release of tension or discomfort and just melts into your hands. Sometimes a horse will put the whole weight of its head in your arms and just rest there. It is hard to explain, but it is just an amazing feeling to offer them that. I also gush with pride on graduation day for our students. They make me so proud and never cease to amaze me.

What surprises people about what you do? Just about everything. People often chuckle when I tell them I massage animals for a living, but then when we get talking about all the ways animals give back to humans, it starts to make a lot of sense. Pretty soon, they are telling me about their first dog or the first time they rode a horse. If you have ever had an older pet, you can just imagine how much it means to an owner to be able to make them feel good. People are also often surprised when I tell them the different kinds of animals I have massaged: giraffe, monkeys, big cats, and even a rhinoceros once.

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