Former Royal Marine dog handler says treating injured animals with hydrotherapy helps “fill the void” of losing his own dog on active service

On a training exercise in 2014, Royal Marine dog handler Scott Candlish was working as usual with his animal, Max.

Both veterans of the war in Afghanistan, Scott and Max were an inseparable team and had complete confidence in each other.

However, on this training serial something went wrong and both, unfortunately, were left badly injured after a fall.

Scott, 39, suffered two fractured vertebrae in his back and Max badly damaged his legs. Sadly, due to his injuries and consequent behavioural change, Max had to be put to sleep some time later.

Scott knew he had to continue working with dogs, even as he accepted his military career was over and as he mourned Max, so retrained as a canine behaviourist and hydro therapist.

“There was always a void, always something missing, and this is it,” he told me.

Scott acknowledges his work with dogs has helped his own physical recovery from injury and the loss of a career he loved. The split between treatment for the animal and therapy for himself is “50-50,” he said.

“I get most pleasure out of helping people watch their dogs recover and prolonging a dogs life so a person doesn’t have to go through the pain I did watching my dog suffer.

“Dogs go through the same emotional pain as we do when they’re injured, when they’re used to doing something day to day that they enjoy that releases endorphins.

“[Max] was in so much emotional pain that I had to let him go. He developed behavioural problems, teeth baring, displaying aggression. He never bit anybody but it was coming.

“He was unhappy. It was time to let him go, and that hit me pretty hard. I put my Squadron badge on him and I was there. He knew. He knew that was his last day.”

His back injury meant Scott was no longer able to deploy on operations with the Royal Marines and, devoid of the opportunity to work as a dog handler, he left the service.

However, having found hydrotherapy very effective for his personal recovery he believed the same principles could be applied to dogs and set up the Pawseidon treatment centre in Poole with Jimmy Hill, another former Royal Marine dog handler.

The pair treat injured dogs in a five by four metre pool, or a treadmill in a water tank. They say the warm water and slight current that can be generated by submerged jets is ideal for helping injured animals or those recovering from surgery.

The canine therapists sometimes play classical music and reggae during sessions as they found the sound can have a noticeable calming effect on some dogs.

Scott described how he and Jimmy helped a family say goodbye to their dog that had been living in pain.

“The dog was going to be put to sleep on the Monday so we got the owners in. We brought them in for a free swim – his final swim – and let the owners get in with him, which is out of the ordinary. We sat in the pool with them, had a cup of tea. The owner was really upset, but at the same time really grateful. It was nice for us all. Selfishly, I do get pleasure from helping dogs, it’s not work.”

Nicky Stazey, from Poole, had brought Thor, a four-year old Great Dane weighing 90kg, to the centre for treatment on inflamed joints.

She said treatment in the pool to build up muscle tissue had clearly alleviated his suffering.

“When I first brought him he was literally hiding behind me,” she said. “But he’s come on leaps and bounds. His confidence is through the roof at times…he’s fantastic.”

Jimmy, 37, was shot multiple times in December 2013 during an operation in Afghanistan which left him with arthritis in his hip and a lower leg injury.

He lost his dog, a Belgian Malinois, in the same action and eventually had to leave the Royal Marines due to his injuries having endured 16 operations.

Throughout his recovery, he was unsure what next to do with his life, but “the idea of working with dogs kept coming back like a boomerang,” he said.

Although he has worked with other animals, such as cats, rabbits and even a ferret, dogs are his real passion.

“Seeing dogs hurt now and seeing what we can do with the properties and power of water, it’s unbelievable.

“What we do now is a bit pink and fluffy, but it’s all about having a passion for animals and the satisfaction of helping dogs.

“There’s a communication you have with animals through therapy and helping them and you can see that they really benefit from that and warm up to you.

“Even in pain dogs will stay loyal to their owners. They are stoic in their whole recovery journey and I really admire that.

“Dogs are great at reading our emotions and acting on them to comfort their owners, which in turn helps owners overcome that battle back to fitness.”

As science evolves vets are increasingly confident practices such as hydrotherapy can offer alternatives to invasive surgery.

Pet owners too are starting to understand the benefits of alternative therapies, such as canine myotherapy, a form of deep tissue sports massage for animals.

As Jimmy observed: “There are other ways to skin a cat”.

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