Editor’s note: The Westminster Dog Show is Feb. 16-17 in New York City. Shelton resident Laura Wells is expected to compete in the show with Bubba, her grand champion Rottweiler. Below is a story on Wells that was published in January.
The idea for Pawz for Wellness came to Laura Wells about 10 years ago as she was driving home from an out-of-state physical therapy session for her prize-winning Rottweiler.
The dog was suffering from biceps tendinitis, and the only facility that offered a therapeutic swimming pool for the dog was a horse farm several hours from Shelton. “I’m going to build a rehab center,” Wells said to herself.
Four months later, her dog was back in the ring, and today, Pawz for Wellness, on Old Mill Road in Shelton, has the only swimming pool built specifically for dogs in Connecticut. It also has a loyal clientele.
Linda Chehy brought her Airedale terrier to Pawz for Wellness for rehabilitation.
“I call her Dr. Laura,” Chehy said, referring to Wells. “She’s so knowledgeable. She’s a certified veterinary technician and canine rehab practitioner.”
What impresses Chehy about Wells is her dedication. “It’s always dogs first,” Chehy said.
“I love this place,” said Pat Homola-Portuondo of Milford, who adopted her dog Chucky a year ago after he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him partially paralyzed.
The laser treatments, swimming and treadmill workouts “have helped his spine so much,” Homola-Portuondo said. “They built up his muscles, and he has more nerve function.”
Pawz for Wellness provides rehabilitation and conditioning for “all kinds of dogs,” Wells said, ranging from Great Danes and St. Bernards to “small dogs like Chucky.”
Breeder of champions
But in her role as a nationally known American Kennel Club (AKC) breeder of merit, Wells has focused on one breed — the Rottweiler.
She’s been breeding them as show and companion dogs for more than 25 years. “In college, a friend took me to a dog show in 1984, and I was hooked,” Wells said.
The research she did at dog shows from 1985 to 1988 led her to choose Rottweilers. “I liked the look,” she said. “It’s a very regal, independent breed.”
Wells has bred 19 champions, four grand champions and three obedience champions.
Competing with Bubba
This past December, her grand champion Rottweiler Bubba (Am GrCh/Can Ch Wllslands Salt Rocks St. James Guinez) was a top winner at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship Owner-Handled Series finals in Orlando, Fla.
There are two winners in the competition — one of each sex. The female dog won Best of Breed, while Bubba won Best of Opposite.
Wells and Bubba compete at “all-breed” dog shows two to three weekends a month on the grounds of the Big E in West Springfield, Mass.
The results at the shows qualify the dogs for the Eukanuba national championship, and the top 10 dogs of every breed receive invitations, Wells said.
Pedigrees and Shelton history
“Bubba is the product of many years of studying pedigrees, hard work and solid health clearances,” Wells said. “He is the No. 1 owner-handled Rottweiler in the United States.”
She breeds her dogs “as close as I can to the Rottweiler standard. It’s incredibly selective breeding,” said Wells, who takes into consideration the canine’s temperament. “We breed only dogs of sound, mellow temperaments to make society happy,” she said.
Wells is descended from one of the founding families of Shelton, and she’s named several dogs she’s bred from the city’s history.
She points out the bloodlines on a chart on the wall of Pawz for Wellness. “Dragon produced Daxx, who produced Ripton, who produced Tanner,” she said. “Tanner is Bubba’s mother, and Dana and Ripton are brother and sister.”
Wells is president of the Shelton-based Trap Falls Kennel Club, which co-hosts an “all-breed” dog show in April and then a “responsible dog ownership” event in September that she said can attract 2,000 people.
In February, Wells and Bubba will be competing for best of breed in Rottweilers at the Westminster Dog Show in New York City. It will be their fourth time competing in the event.
Back at Pawz for Wellness, Wells visited with staff and clients on a recent afternoon. “Our job is to educate the public,” she said, and to add years to the lives of the dogs that visit the facility.
Much of the work is post-surgery rehab for dogs that have had knee and hip replacement and elbow surgery, but the center also helps dogs with obesity and geriatric issues.
Wells recalls the time staff members had to drag a mastiff with “frozen” limbs to the pool on a sheet. “It took four visits to make its legs move — and within six months, the dog could hike,” she said.
In many cases, dog owners are busy and don’t exercise their dogs.
“Dogs don’t exercise on their own,” she said, and recalls that she rehabbed “an old black Labrador” who spent his days “lying around” and soon couldn’t stand up.
Pawz for Wellness provides an “option to putting dogs away,” Wells said.
Staff member Tammy Noren, a physical therapist and certified canine rehab therapist, crossed over from treating humans to dogs a year and a half ago. “I wanted to work with dogs,” she said.
Noren applied a therapeutic laser light treatment to Chucky, who seemed to enjoy the experience. “It’s very beneficial to the health of a tissue,” she said. “When dogs have an injury to a muscle, we use heat.”
Noren treats dogs with knee, back and neurological injuries, dogs that have been hit by cars, dogs in a post-op stage, and dogs with general geriatric problems.
‘Swimming is great exercise’
Many dogs visit the center for wellness swimming. “Swimming is great exercise to help with obesity,” Noren said. “Eight minutes of swimming is equivalent to 30 minutes of walking. The water is a low-impact exercise.”
Pawz for Wellness can rejuvenate 98% of the dogs that come through its doors, Wells said, and she gave another example of its success.
Great Danes often don’t live more than seven years, but the goal for the owners of a Great Dane who visits Pawz for Wellness was to get their dog to his ninth birthday.
“He celebrated his 10th birthday in December,” Wells said. “This is unheard of.”