Paul Wellman

When I entered through the back door of Atlas Rehabilitation for Canines (ARC), a Great Dane cheerily trotted up to greet me. Blue was his name, and he was at the clinic getting physical therapy for weak hips and hind legs, one of a handful of canines being treated that day.

From 2009 until this past June, ARC owner Karen Atlas was tending to Santa Barbara’s four-legged population in her position as head of HydroPaws, the Santa Barbara Veterinary Group’s rehab facility located at San Roque Pet Hospital on upper State Street. But after eight years, Atlas, a licensed human and canine physical therapist, decided it was time to open her own facility.

“Though my decision to open my own practice brings added responsibilities,” she explained, “it also provides me with the freedom to develop my own style of client relations, shape the feel and style of the facility, and, of course, provide top-notch animal rehabilitation care in a brand-new facility.”

Paul Wellman

Dogs came and went during my visit, each one seemingly oblivious to the other canine patients. Bodie, a 150-pound, 7-year-old Leonberger, was lying quietly on a mat while Atlas massaged his hind quarters to help alleviate a pinched nerve; Kenya, an 11-year-old English Mastiff, was getting treated with microcurrent electrical therapy (Alpha-Stim) to help stem weakness and pain she had following TPLO (tibial-platueau-leveling osteotomy) surgery; and Plumb, a black lab, was walking on an underwater treadmill to strengthen her muscles.

Each animal comes to ARC with a unique set of rehab needs. First, each patient is examined by Dr. Bill Otto, the facility’s managing veterinarian. Then Atlas conducts a comprehensive evaluation to determine the course of rehab, which could involve cold laser therapy, land-based therapeutic exercises, balance therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, and brace/cart fittings, among other treatments.

“Basically, anything you would see a human physical therapist for, we treat on dogs,” said Atlas. “We treat a variety of diagnoses, including preoperative and postoperative conditions, neurologic and orthopedic dysfunctions, muscle strains or spasms, ligament sprains or tears, dysplasias, arthritis, and tendinopathies.”

Atlas is well suited to her profession, exuding a calm confidence to which both animals and their humans respond. And while she is passionate about her hands-on work with the critters, she is also focused on educating animal owners — and physical therapists — about the benefits of her trade.

“In addition to community outreach, I am also passionate about providing unique and quality educational experiences for already-certified rehab professionals so they can learn more advanced techniques to improve their clinical outcomes,” said Atlas, who is working to change state regulations on animal care, which would boost the number of practitioners and make this type of care more available.

At the end of the day, Atlas and her team’s primary objective is to “improve the quality of life for your four-legged family members,” she said. All you need to do is spend a few minutes at ARC to see that they’re already accomplishing their goal.


Atlas Rehabilitation for Canines is located at 3208 State Street. Call (805) 724-4272 or visit


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