That pet massaging craze you’ve been hearing so much about simply doesn’t exist outside of a tiny, sad sliver of people with nothing better to do, the New York Times reports in the Thursday style section, providing quantitative evidence that such an act barely ever happens, alongside expert commentary explaining that being trained to knead your dog or cat is probably useless, or even detrimental, to their health. What’s that? You’ve never heard of this trend? That’s because the Times, as they tend to do, practically made it up in a giant, 1,720-word article in which a pet owner asks, “She helps reduce my stress, so why shouldn’t I reciprocate?” and the Times proclaims, “That is a question that a number of dog owners — and even some cat owners — have been asking themselves.” A “number” of them! But interspersed with the ridiculousness is some pretty good reporting that shows, no, in fact, this is not real.
“Some pet owners scoff at this idea,” the Times admits. “What’s wrong with regular old petting? they ask.” Veterinarians agree that any evidence pets are actually benefiting is “flimsy.” Later, “plenty of veterinarians” are credited with the idea “that massage offers little beyond the attention and affection.” In fact, it may be hurting your loved one, not helping it:
They note that few clinical studies of pet massage have been conducted, and that claims of its benefits are usually extrapolated from research on humans. At best, they say, pet massage fortifies the bond between human and animal in the same way that a good belly scratch does, and at worst, it may aggravate a serious medical condition or prevent owners from seeking veterinary help.
The (unspecific) numbers cited in the piece prove that no one is doing it anyway: “By most estimates, only a few of the nation’s pet dogs and cats — which the American Pet Products Association estimates at 78.2 million and 86.4 million, respectively — are fortunate enough to receive massages.”
And yet, the nonsense. “At night, when I watch ‘American Idol,’ I’ll sit on the floor and massage him to the music,” says one pet owner, in a quote meant to convey I am every American because of my taste in television. Ma’am, you are not normal, you are weird.
Its biggest advocates, unsurprisingly, have something to gain. Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, who swears by the practice of massaging your dog, wrote a book that teaches people how to massage their dogs. It’s called Canine Massage: A Complete Reference Manual and “is considered the standard text.” One woman who runs an animal massage workshop swears that people love it. “It’s really taken off,” she says, plugging the fact that she will be offering a class every month.
The practice, according to the Times, comes from the ’70s and ’80s when the United States equestrian team had a massage therapist. What’s not even implied in the history lesson is that horses were likely undergoing physical strain; your average neighborhood Fido just dreams and drools all day.
The article ends with a lesson from Hourdebaigt, who literally wrote the book on dog massages: “Start with light pressure… Maintain an even speed… Learn palpation… etc.” According to the experts quoted in the newspaper — the ones without anything to gain — it’s advice you’d do best to ignore. As if you weren’t going to anyway.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 21, 2011