Community: It’s A Dog’s Life in Potomac

Lap dogs of a different kind paddle for fun and fitness at Potomac Aquatic Center.

One in three Maryland households has a dog, and most are considered a member of the family. Little wonder the buzz about a modest storefront on Travilah Road that is home to pools built exclusively to exercise and entertain our canine kids in Montgomery County and beyond.

Upon walking through the doors with my seven-year-old Spinone Italiano, Carmella, we were greeted by Dominique Darcis. An admitted “Lab addict,” the Parisienne transplant was inspired by her Labrador retrievers to “build the pools they were dreaming of.” And, thus was born the K9 Aquatic and Wellness Center, which celebrates its two-year anniversary this month.

Darcis led Carmella and I into the aquatic center, revealing five glistening swimming pools reminiscent of the healing baths of ancient Rome, that are now a modern-day oasis for our four-legged family members.

The four-foot deep pools are heated and equipped with ramps for easy egress. An abundance of floating toys is nearby to entice pups to paddle forward.

Each dog is assigned a swim coach who works with them one-on-one in the water on a tailored program to meet their specific health or recreational needs across the age and abilities spectrum.


Over the years of caring for her many Labs, Darcis found that swimming was the best answer to treating their arthritis or rehabbing them after surgery, and for the fun of retrieving sticks. She first took her Labs across the river to a swim facility in Middleburg for both horses and dogs. “It was not heated and the lanes lacked ramps,” she said. “Ramps are important because dogs often cannot see stairs.”

Darcis set aside her antiques business to launch the aquatic center for dogs across the age and abilities spectrum. “Dogs don’t stop playing because they grow old; they grow old because they stop playing,” she said. “One minute of swimming is like four minutes of running. It’s the ideal low impact, high results exercise for them.”


Darcis professes the many benefits of swimming for health management and a wide range of medical purposes, including:

  • Mobility issues like arthritis, hip dysplasia, and joint stiffness
  • Weight reduction and management
  • Improved body condition and physical performance
  • Cardiovascular and respiratory fitness
  • Stress relief, including working dogs (assistance dogs and police K9)
  • Pain management
  • Post-surgery conditioning

“There is nothing more rewarding than seeing dogs having fun and our senior swimmers becoming young pups again.”


Swim coach Erica Dale suited up Carmella with her required floatation vest. Carma’s specific challenge is trimming some weight off of her 94-pound physique while strengthening her heart, leg muscles and joints.

Erica led her onto the ramp where Carmella temporary staged a sit-down strike. Taking it in stride, Erica gently led her into the pool and she immediately put her webbed paws to the test pushing against the water. All the while her good-natured swim coach carefully guided her to the end and the pool, helping her turn around to finish her first of numerous laps that session.

Afterwards, Carmella rested contently and slept most of the ride the home. She has since been back for another 30-minute workout, which seemed easier than her inaugural session. A great way to supplement her frequent walks in the neighborhood. She will be back!

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