- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Even with two indoor pools and a number of showers, by no means can you consider the Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center in Middleburg, Va., a spa for spoiled pets.

The views of surrounding countryside are magnificent, to be sure, but privacy is nonexistent. The fanciest equipment consists of colorful leashes, belted flotation devices and plastic throw toys. Wall hoses do for showers in a decidedly plain facility where the ceiling peels from moisture and the only background music is a client snorting and splashing through an exercise routine. Handlers in boots and jeans hardly look soignee.

This is very much a working environment where dogs and horses of all sizes and breeds come for fitness, conditioning or rehabilitation. In spite of that, People magazine five years ago jokingly posed owner Roger Collins holding a tray with a flower-filled vase under a horse’s nose. Sensible Mr. Collins, with his background in animal husbandry and vaccine manufacture, knows there are many people who “can’t quite put together the idea of horses who swim.”

Or dogs, for that matter. Mr. Collins, who owns the center with his wife, Laura Hayward, says any animal can be trained to get into the water and, perhaps, even enjoy the experience. Nearly all animals know how to swim, he asserts. “It’s instinctive.”

First, he says, they must learn water confidence before they can feel comfortable entering the water and swimming by themselves, and that takes patience as well as technique.

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