Swimming in a pool with a female pit bull mix named Blossom helped reconnect Melanie Barrett to the dream job of her childhood.



Barrett, a Santa Rosa Beach resident, met Blossom while in Orlando as she worked to become certified in canine aqua therapy, which she is now offering in the area.



Blossom needed to strengthen her back legs because she had no back feet. Her mother had chewed them off when she was born.Blossom was one of 50 dogs she worked with while in Orlando.



"It was a very fulfilling class and I enjoyed it," she said. "I knew I wanted to offer it here, and certified animal massage. Dogs can be helped by swimming if they have emotional issues, hip dysphasia, an injury, for surgical recovery, obesity, arthritis, joint and spinal disorders, quality exercise to stay fit, and especially for some who have excess energy. It helps them to move. Being in water is easier and better."



Aqua therapy offers much the same benefits to dogs as it does to humans, said Barrett, especially for weight management and in recovering from surgery.



Dogs grappling with anxiety, fear, aggression, boredom, depression, and pent up energy, said Barrett. Aqua therapy can help build a pupís confidence by promoting relaxation, and providing mental stimulation. teaching them to learn to trust someone other than their owner,



Always an animal lover, as a child she brought home birds that fell from the nest, lost dogs, and even a baby duck once. She wanted to be a veterinarian, but thought she couldn't be a vet because she couldn't stand to give an animal shots, cut them open, or put them down. So she got a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. Barrett went on to work as a TV reporter, then as a newspaper reporter, then as a freelance writer for various print and online magazines.



She moved to Destin 20 years with her husband, Craig, and she has done photography and video. Three years ago, they built a home in Santa Rosa Beach, where they now live with their four dogs, two cats, and 15 small birds. Their most recent addition was a Tennessee Walker named Dusty Dollar.



Several months ago, Barrett was in her vet's office with one of her dogs, and she noticed they needed help answering the phones. Since she lived nearby, she offered to help out until they could hire someone full time.



While there, Barrett got to know the owners and see how things were done.



While meeting the vetís clients and their pets, she noticed that some dogs had emotional issues that she believed could probably be helped in a holistic manner.



Barrett has studied aromatherapy for animals ó dogs and horses ó for about a year and will become certified this year. She is also working toward becoming certified in canine massage therapy.



After seeing the emotional issues of animals at the vet's office, she began searching the Internet for holistic centers for animals, but she didn't find much available. She found one in Orlando that offered a canine aqua therapy class. Barrett signed up and went there in November.



During the time she was there, she worked with dogs of all sizes.



"The pool was heated and 4.5-foot deep for the entire length, with steps at the entry. I sit on the steps and the owner is there. The dog faces their owner. I squat and the dog's hind legs rest on my legs. I have his rear and hold him and I bring him into the water. I go away from the owner. Their paws rest on my forearm as I take them to the opposite end of the pool away from the owner. I hold him to provide a little resistance," she explained. 



Barrett admits that some dogs resist and can be muzzled if growling occurs.



She is currently looking at pools and plans to have one installed or built at her home this month. She is also looking at off-site indoor locations to offer climate-controlled enclosures to be able to work with dogs in the winter. The pool will be heated and non-chlorinated.



Meanwhile, until she gets her own pool, Barrett is available for aqua therapy at someone's house.



"I'm going to the dogs," she said. "Did I think after all these years I would be doing this? No. But something opened my eyes and here I am."



Email melaniebarrett@mac.com. Visit her website at www.melaniebarrett.com.