One Step at a Time: Behind the Scenes – Hydrotherapy Dog Spa Build

Hydrotherapy Dog Spa- Behind the Scenes Build

Never, ever did I think the stairs would be THE biggest obstacle in the process of the hydrotherapy dog spa build. 

I had searched and searched for a swim spa that did not have seats in it. I wanted the maximum amount of room for the pups to swim. After all, this was for the dogs, not for humans and pool parties. I knew when I found the swim spa I wanted, I would have to build stairs into the pool because I carry and walk in 95% of the pups. The stairs are literally one of the most important parts of the spa. No problem, or so I thought. I figured I would use PVC pipe and some wood or something simple and have stairs built in a weekend.  Never did I think it would take 6+ months and many tears to complete these simple yet important stairs.

Once the pool arrived, I decided where I would place my stairs. I would cover the lounge seat as this was not a useful part of the pool as opposed to taking up valuable real estate on the open floor.

Hydrotherapy Dog Pool

Just as I got going, I noticed there were a lot of curves and contours to the seat so PVC pipe would not work. I thought it over and using my better judgement, I called in my friends Dave and Doug who both looked at it and decided it would be best to build the stairs out of wood.

Seeing all the contours, I was nervous from the start to build these stairs. I enlisted, Warren, my boyfriend, to help. At first it was decided we would make a template out of pine and then once we had that, we could make the final set out of cedar. I had to special order the cedar so that took a hot second to come in. I am building this spa during a pandemic, so things were not always readily available. That was all good and well because building the first draft took longer and was harder than I thought.

We got started and oh boy, was it ever a project. First, I made the box or platform to sit on top. This is where the stairs would attach. After I finished, I noticed the box was not sitting securely on the ledges.  It rocked this way and that. I can’t have that when holding precious pups.

Hydrotherapy Pool Step Platform
Hydrotherapy Stair Platform made of Wood

Holy moly, the angles, slants and dips! Do you see the tiny little sliver of wood in the bottom corner of the end of the box? Nothing was straight or even. It was not even, from side to side. I bought an angle finder and fussed with that. Thank goodness Warren helped. He has a better eye and knowledge of angles and degrees. Ok, ok, things are going ok. Baby steps. The box is done.

Hydrotherapy Step Platform & Curve

Now we just need the add the stairs and we have our mock-up right?

Hydrotherapy Dog Steps Build

We found the right angle where the stairs would sit. We need to cut where the stair rungs will lay and off we go. We cut one and thought we will just duplicate the other because they are the same…….yea right! Nothing is the same from side to side so we had to redo things a few times. Finally, we got it right and were ready for the rungs.

Dog Pool Steps for Spa

They are looking good if I do say so myself. I even got the very top step on there. That was a bugger because it is not a perfect semi-circle. I had to make the top out of cardboard several times before I got it right, but I was tenacious and got that sucker! Then, I filled in the gaps on the side because you wouldn’t believe where dogs will get their legs stuck and I was not going to take any chances.

Hydrotherapy Wood Steps

Well, look at that! The draft stairs, after all the fussing getting the pieces juuuuussssttttt right, are DONE! Well, that is what we thought anyway.

After making this set of stairs, we realized it would be virtually impossible to make a second set to match. This set is so exact we could not reproduce it. So, all that wood I bought will just have to sit.  I decided to go with this pine set and make do.

I was so relieved to have gotten to the stage of painting. After painting, I would be able to use the stairs.  It was so exciting! Out came the caulk for creases and paint. I went to town painting with old school rap in the background. I danced and painted putting on several coats of the deck paint because I did not want the wood to be exposed to water and rot.

Painting Pool Steps with Primer

I even put on a lovely strip of another color on the edge of each step so the dogs and myself could see the steps easily. So pretty! I added rubber to all the contact points so the stairs would not scratch the pool. I was all set!

Dog Pool Steps

Now I waited for Warren to come home from work to help me get these awkward steps into their place.

Dog Pool Spa Steps

And there they are! SO PRETTY! They are done! They are done!! I giggled and danced. Pinch me! I could not believe they are done. I was so darn excited to being closer to getting Bam into the pool. I couldn’t lift him in, so I had to have the steps and now I do!!!! Next is water and I was in business! The next day I called to have water delivered. The super, duper company came out and started to fill the pool. The questions remained, will the steps stay put or will they float. Please stay. Please stay.

They did not stay.  They floated.  S*%(#(#$(!!!!!! 

So out they came. It was a sad day. Think, think, think. What can we do to add weight to these beautiful steps? We came up with buying kettlebells and attaching them to the bottom of the steps. Out we went to purchase nearly 200lbs of weight to attach to the bottom.

Pool Steps with Weights

Getting the stairs into the pool was a circus after applying all that weight but together Warren and I did it and there they were, in the water, not moving, just as pretty as could be. Now, we are really done.

I used the pool a couple times with Bam and it was absolutely amazing. I was thrilled. We got started on building the deck to surround the swim spa. It was then we noticed a black something starting to build on the stairs.  We wiped it off whatever it was, only to find that it came back. Mold. My beautiful stairs were growing mold. How could this be happening? I do not use chemicals in the pool, but I do use UV light and natural options, but the mold kept coming. I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was devastated. Insert many tears here. Many, many tears.

I was simply out of ideas on how to fix this problem. When this happens, I called my live saver Dave again. Dave suggested using fiberglass. Fiberglass? I don’t know how to fiberglass. Turns out he did and was willing to help and teach me. Ok, it’s a plan. It always feels better to have a plan of action than to not.

He told me the existing layers of paint need to come off before we can fiberglass. Okey-dokey! I went out and bought all the sanding tools I could find that would take that paint right off. They worked a little but at that rate I would be here the following year still trying to get off the many layers of caulk, primer and paint.

Wood Pool Steps Sanding

I went to a paint store and asked for the strongest stripping agent they can sell. The associate told me to hold and went into the back of the store. He came back with a bucket. He began to warn me profusely about how abrasive and dangerous this product is. I assured him I can handle it and I was desperate to get this darn paint off I would risk anything. I skipped home with my chemicals in hand only to find out they didn’t work that great either.

Stephanie building hydrotherapy dog spa steps
Sanding pool steps

I worked and I worked and cried and cried trying to get this paint off. It amazed me that I was using chemicals trying to get this paint off but if I left the stairs in the pure water the paint would come right off. Water is so powerful on so many levels.

After days of sanding and scraping and making very little progress, I started making phone calls. I called furniture restoration places to see if they could strip the stairs. I drove the stairs to a place in Idaho and they said they could do it but they couldn’t get to them until the end of the year. This was about 4 months away at this time. I couldn’t wait that long. I was trying to get my pool built before my dog died who was the whole reason I was doing this pool build in the first place. I said I would pay double in cash if they would do it now and they still would not do it any sooner. And they say cash talks but apparently not at furniture restoration places who have plenty of business. I called a few more places and I came in contact with a wonderful human at Richard’s Repair and Finishing in Spokane, who said he would work on it over the weekend and do what he could as a side project. I thanked him over and over, jumped in my car and drove the stairs to him. I was willing to pay anything. I just needed help. He was the only one who said he could and he did.

Stephanie Nilles building pool steps

I came back on Sunday and the stairs were stripped as much as they could be. I was so, so happy. It was worth every penny.

Now, time to fiberglass. 

I headed over to Dave’s and we started the stinky and sticky process.

Pool Stairs Prep Process
Stairs Pool Prep Process

I learned how to fiberglass. It took a couple days to complete the process allowing time for drying and reapplying. I never, ever thought I would learn how to do this especially at the time I thought building the stairs would be no big thang. Here I was up to my eyeballs in fiberglass. I want to give a HUGE THANK YOU to Dave who took time to help me do this. I couldn’t have done it without him. Dave, you are one of a kind.

I went back to Dave’s to load up the stairs. He had a friend over who was, let’s just say old school and of the thought “girls didn’t lift things”. I said, “could you just lift your side” and he and I loaded the stairs into my van. We aren’t in the 50’s anymore sir and I’m the last girl you want to tell to just sit quietly and be pretty.

I drove home to try the stairs out in the pool. We did a really bang-up job making sure there were not leaks. We pressure tested the cavities and all was good. When we were getting the stairs ready to fiberglass, we had the discussion about weighing the stairs down. Dave added some weight to the inside and we thought that should be enough.

Warren and I carried the stairs into the pool and waited for them to sink so we could celebrate. We waited. We waited some more. Those bloody stairs didn’t sink. They were airtight but floating like a damn boat. Out they came. I cried. I cried more. Oh, the tears and tantrums I had.

What do we do now? The only thing we could do is fill any remaining room in the cavities with cement.  We drilled holes into the fiberglass.

Dog Spa Steps Cement

Scoop by scoop we funneled in cement. We waited for the cement to cure and then Dave came over and patched the holes.

Now that we weighed the stairs down, we had the job of carrying it up the ramp and getting it into the pool ever so gently so not to crack the 3500 gallon spa which was full of water. The stairs weight approximately 300lbs now.

Let me also just say that during this time we were planning out how to insert the stairs, Warren had smashed his finger at work. He smashed it as good as you can so that hand was no longer useful. That was a concern finding really strong people to manage carrying these steps. The steps are small but HEAVY so we can’t have lots of people but instead, a few really strong people. We called in Dave’s son, Kenny. Kenny is always willing to help just like his Dad.

Warren and I discussed and discussed our plan for getting the steps gently into the pool without cracking the frame. The day came. Kenny showed up. We had five arms to help. Warren and Kenny carried it up to the deck. They were so heavy. I was so nervous. This could potentially go very, very bad.

We stood looking into the pool for a good 30 minutes trying to figure out how on earth we could gently drop these 300lb steps into position without creating damage. We talked and talked until we just finally had to act.  I, again was so nervous I could hardly stand myself. When Warren looked at me and said he was nervous, I about died. No, no, no, no, this is not how this works. I am always the nervous one, the worrier. Warren is always steadfast. He keeps me grounded. If HE was worried, then this is a big, big deal.  Kenny looked none too confident either.

We edged the stairs toward the pool ledge. We got some 2x4’s and painfully got them underneath the stairs. I got into the pool and was in charge of controlling the 2x4’s. I was to lower them slowly while Warren and Kenny would try to not let the stairs slide uncontrolled into the pool. We inched the stairs in until finally I had to pull the boards out from underneath while Kenny and Warren held the stairs for the final placement. They came down into place with the slightest thud. We all held our breath. It’s good. It’s all good. I think we did it. Holy sh*% I think we did it. We all stood there staring watching for who know what. Nothing happened.

These stairs are not going anywhere. They are so heavy they don’t move an inch. Well, those stairs will be staying put until we get a crane to get them out. No, I am not exaggerating. It will literally take some kind of crane to get them out one day. Let’s hope that day doesn’t come for a long, long time. I am also happy to report the stairs are not growing anything on them either. Since the awful task of placing them into the pool was done, I have had zero problems with them. Knock on wood!

Hydrotherapy Dog Spa Steps

I have said many times that people will never know how hard it was to put in those stairs. They look like regular, simple everyday stairs. They are no big deal on the surface, but I know and now you know, the battle of building the stairs. It is burned into my mind how hard it was to complete that part of the pool build. Nothing is ever as it seems on the surface. There is always a story that lies beneath.

I want to thank Dave and Doug for always believing in me and always coming to my aid when I get myself into these crazy projects.

I want to thank Sarah, my bestie for listening to me complain and agonize about the steps for months and months and always validating my feelings and for cheering me on.

I want to thank Warren for being by my side through all the ick. Listening to me complain and hugging me when I was feeling sorry for myself. For all the help and time, you gave me to help me reach my dream. I love you to the moon.

I want to thank myself. I want to thank myself for not giving up. For falling down, crying, rolling around in the mud, but always, always getting back up to try again even if that meant more tears were going to come. I kept going. One step at a time. 

I'm excited to share the new Pawsitive Connection hydrotherapy spa with you.

Learn more how to schedule your dog hydrotherapy spa appointment today!

~ Stephanie

Hydrotherapy dog spa in Spokane


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1 thought on “One Step at a Time: Behind the Scenes – Hydrotherapy Dog Spa Build”

  1. Stephanie, you are so driven toward your objectives even if it requires new skills and a bunch of hard work. Great job, very proud of you and glad to help.
    You have taught me as well, as was demonstrated in North 40 yesterday where Nala, off leash provided a little show of behavior and tricks learned in your classes. Sometimes she makes me proud as well, even as stubborn as you know a Ridgeback can be, and none of this would not have been possible without your tenacity and motivation to you customers like me.
    Thank you!

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