Stronger Together!

By Denise Theobald | NCCMT, VMRT, LMT

“What do you do for a living?”  It’s a common question one hears when meeting new people, but “animal massage and bodywork” is an uncommon reply.  It used to be that we would receive incredulous grins, giggles, and cocked heads that relayed a message of “did I hear that correctly?”  More often than not, people would ask “what is animal massage and bodywork” and “why would that be necessary?” Over time, though, these common responses have evolved into ones such as "I’ve heard about that; tell me more” or “my dog could really use some massage” or “my friend uses a canine massage therapist for her dog.”

Yes, we’ve come a long way!  But, just as it is true with any field of work, we have more to do collectively to bring the benefits of animal massage and bodywork to the forefront.  In order to do so, we have to be well educated in our profession, and we must strive to let the general population know that we have high standards in our industry.  As animal massage and acupressure therapists, we do all we can to set ourselves apart when becoming practitioners.  One way we do that is by becoming nationally certified through the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage (NBCAAM).  Although this certification is required in only two states, we at CSCM encourage and prepare students to sit for the NBCAAM exam and to be fully confident when doing so, which results in a high pass rate. This certification sets practitioners apart and is an important standard for our industry.

Lola Michelin, founding NBCAAM member, current NBCAAM Board Vice-Chair, and Director of Education at Northwest School of Animal Massage, explains that “NBCAAM, at its inception, filled a much needed role in helping to establish a recognized standard of practice for our industry.  Over the years, it has evolved into a resource for professionals and students alike and provided a beacon for educators and legislators regarding the value and the changing landscape of massage and acupressure for animals…. NBCAAM provides a valuable service to the animal community by offering a way for owners to select highly qualified providers. I believe NBCAAM is invaluable to providers themselves, not only for the recognition it provides, but for the support it gives them through legislative efforts, continuing education opportunities, and business support.”

Lisa Ruthig, current NBCAAM Board Chairperson and Director of Animal Programs at Bancroft School of Massage Therapy, adds, “as an educator I've found the NBCAAM standards valuable in developing curriculum for Bancroft's animal programs, and as a practitioner I'm grateful for the legal guidance they offer in dealing with state requirements, as well as offering a standard for comparison to animal owners. I'm honored to be part of NBCAAM's mission and would welcome all new practitioners to become part of it as well.”

NBCAAM is a not-for-profit organization run completely by volunteers.  One way that we as practitioners can work together for the common good of our industry and to ensure that NBCAAM stays strong is to join the organization and serve as a volunteer on the board or on one of its many committees. We need practitioners to continue voicing their legal rights when practicing in the state in which they live. We need to nurture and support each other in every way.  Working together, we accomplish more than if we try to go it alone.

Current NBCAAM board member Megan Ayrault emphasizes the importance of working together:  

Working together as a team has so many advantages over trying to achieve something in isolation. Trying to do it all on your own. That's hard! Yet in this world of being an animal bodyworker, most of us are going to have independent businesses. And the fact is, along with the animals, the independence is part of what attracts us to this work in the first place.

To find the best of both worlds, I’ve created the Power of Touch for Animals T.E.A.M. membership to help professional animal bodyworkers, and aspiring professionals, get all the benefits of a vital support system. T.E.A.M. stands for Tribe, Expertise, Action (and Accountability), and Mentorship. You can see all the details of what's included at this link: http://learn.poweroftouchforanimals.com/courses/team

For right now, this is a charter membership, which means charter spots are limited, and you get to be grandfathered in at the special charter rate. Once the charter spots are filled, the membership will close temporarily, and reopen later in 2017 with a higher membership fee.

As a team, we also need to oversee each other when it comes to the schools and programs offered. Right now, animal massage and bodywork schools are not regulated unless through their home state. Sometimes state regulation is voluntary, sometimes it is legally required. We at CSCM have worked hard and are incredibly proud to have achieved certification as a career training and vocational school of higher learning by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.  More schools need to take this step to prove their value to the community and to the animal bodywork industry as a whole.  

My hope is to see animal massage and bodywork professionals coming together as a team to continue the growth and increase the credibility of this work, just as I experienced in the human massage industry.  We must support each other. That includes working with other schools, therapists, veterinarians, and other professionals in the animal care industry.

Let's keep strengthening the standards, and I am confident we will see exponential growth.  A job well done shows results, and results from this work are what will catapult this field into the mainstream and beyond.  What do I do for a living?  I’m an animal massage and bodywork professional!