A growing number of massage practitioners work with dogs, horse, cats and other animals.

Share story

GRAHAM, Pierce County — Karen Briskey gently rubbed Ellie’s head, then her back.

Not long ago, this would have been all but impossible. The 7-year-old Arabian mare didn’t like to be touched, even by her own foal.

So when Ellie was set to have another foal, owner Barb Hoover — who runs Yellow Rose Arabian Horses — called Briskey, one of a growing number of massage practitioners who work with animals.

“I decided I needed to do whatever I could to make sure Ellie took to (this foal),” Hoover said on a recent evening.

The massage sessions seemed to have worked. Ellie’s new colt, Captain, born about three weeks ago, hardly left his mother’s side.

Hoover watched as Briskey kneaded her hands from Ellie’s mane to her tail.

“There you go,” she said soothingly to the horse as she worked. “That’s much better.”

Briskey, 44, has been certified in small and large animal massage since 2008. Her range of clients includes a Pomeranian with an injured leg and Ellie the equine.

She’s also licensed to work with people and calls her business Two ‘n Four Legged Massage.

She didn’t set out to be a massage practitioner; she spent several years working in ground service for an airline. But friends who received her amateur massages encouraged her to pursue it as a career.

Folding animals into her clientele was a natural progression. She grew up around them; her dad, William Briskey, is a veterinarian.

“Their intentions are so pure,” she said of her animal clients. “If they tell you they don’t like you, they don’t like you. You can maybe help them around that.”

Briskey lets one of her own animals in on the massage act.

She’s had Banjo, a towering quarter-horse, for about 11 years and regularly brings him to Life Care Center of Puyallup and other senior facilities. His visits are a form of therapy for residents; they feed him apples, stroke his mane, lead him around.

When they turn their backs to him, he does his own version of massage, nuzzling his nose into their necks. “They love it,” Briskey said.

“It just completely soothes people,” said Daisha Cruz, activities director at the Puyallup center. “It makes them feel more at home.”

Briskey said she feels lucky to be able to work with animals and do what she loves. She hopes to expend her practice, which now includes about a dozen regular clients, as the economy improves.

At Yellow Rose, she spent about an hour working with Ellie. When she was done, she turned her attention to the colt, Captain.

Like his mom, he was scared to be touched.

Briskey took a step forward and reached out to him, but he flinched and darted back, his spindly legs turning him in circles.

Briskey kept inching closer, extending her hand. Captain kept darting away.

After several minutes passed, he let her touch his nose. Then his head. Eventually, she started rubbing his back.

She spoke gently to him, like she had to his mom.

“There you go,” Briskey said, “it’s your first little massage.”