Curing Your Pet, the Natural Way
Homeopathic treatments rise in popularity
Sticking needles onto the back of a Labrador will cure him of inflammatory bowel disease. Flower remedies will alleviate a Chihuahua’s fear of thunderstorms. Paddling about in a pool of water will heal a dachshund’s spinal disc disease. Feeding your Siamese cat raw meat will cure her of scabies.
This isn’t Harry Potter magic or voodoo: It’s veterinary holistic therapy.
Holistic therapy purports to addresses all aspects of a being: physical, emotional, psychological, social, spiritual and environmental. Holistic practitioners pronounce “disease” as “dis-ease.” It is the belief that disease comes from an interruption or imbalance of the system.
“That’s the way holistic people talk. Disease actually probably comes from dis-ease,” said Dr. Marcie Fallek, a veterinarian with more than 20 years of experience as an acupuncturist and homeopath. “Our energy should be flowing. And when we’re sick, it’s no longer easy flowing; it’s disconnected.”
A Holistic Pet Care Store
“If you see it on TV we won’t sell it,” said Phil Klein, the co-owner of Whiskers Holistic Pet Care, a store in New York’s East Village dedicated to holistic animal healthcare and natural, organic pet food.
This isn’t a typical pet store. Though the usual baskets of plushy and squeaky toys, treats, leashes and cleaning supplies are on sale, there’s also a miniature pet pharmacy, with herbal medicine, vitamins, minerals and natural food supplements. Each shelf has an identifying label: arthritis-joint support, urinary system support, dental care, digestion, cardiovascular nutritional supplements, etc.
There are jars of homemade food: “Michael’s Home Cookin’ for Dogs: Soul-Stew,” one jar says, “Ingredients: water, venison, yams. Home Cooked in Pennsylvania.” Two freezers are placed near the entrance, filled with giant sausage-like packages and containers of raw meat.
Taped to the freezer doors are letters of gratitude from Whiskers’s life-long customers. Hidden in the shelves of the pet pharmacy are three more 3-inch binders filled with letters from customers all over the world: “It’s not easy to convey the miracle that you worked for Kellie, our Golden, and us,” wrote one couple from Ireland.
Klein doesn’t claim to be a veterinarian or a pharmacist.
“I’ve had no formal training whatsoever,” he said. “Only years of experience.”
One customer, who had just adopted a cat from an animal shelter, walked in seeking Klein’s help with a diet plan. He peppered her with questions: “Do we know how old this cat is? How has he been sheltered?”
Then he recommended one. “We’re not fans of dry food but we’re going to try and keep him comfortable…We’re going to start with 25% of the new food physically mixed with 75% of the old food, every meal, everyday for 9 days. On the tenth day, fast the pussy cat – water.”
Klein sends her off with some “homework:” a packet of articles and information to read on holistic medicine.
On a lowered ceiling above the registers hang framed pictures of the owner’s two former dogs: Tiffany-Anne, a black and grey husky, and Tedi-Anne, a mutt with golden-brown fur.
“She’s the reason why we’re here,” Klein said, pointing to the picture of Tiffany-Anne. “She set the path for this place.”
“Tiffy,” was misdiagnosed by her traditional lifelong vet, Klein maintains. After undergoing a year of unsuccessful antibiotics, drugs and commercial diet food, the vet gave up on her. Klein and his wife, Randi, then decided to seek alternative treatment in a holistic veterinarian. Tiffy wasn’t cured, but lived to be almost 13.
After this frustrating experience, the Kleins adopted a mission: to educate others about holistic animal health.
Frequent customer Kevin Carrigan pulled sausage-like rolls of raw meat from the freezer. He feeds them to his four cats.
“When a cat’s in the wild, what do they eat?” he asked rhetorically, “Little creatures, little birds, mice, salamanders, chipmunks – that kinda thing. Are they cooked? Do they come in a can? Are they in cookie form?”
“Cats don’t eat cookies. They don’t eat that canned stuff which is the most horrible, nasty tumorous vile stuff that you can get.”
Carrigan’s show of knowledge reinforces what Klein has sought to teach for 20 years. “This is not a pet store,” Klein insisted. “It is an educational resource.”
The Hydrotherapy Approach
You wouldn’t know she was missing a hind leg. Gracie, a Golden Labrador, swam perfectly. With the guidance of Jean Marie Cooper, a licensed veterinary technician and hydrotherapist, her three legs propelled her slowly through the water, as she panted heavily through her nose.
Water 4 Dogs, an animal rehabilitation center in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, provides therapy for dogs recovering from surgery, or suffering from paralysis, arthritis, obesity or joint disease. Outfitted with red and orange doggy lifejackets, a custom-made heated swimming pool and two underwater treadmills, Water 4 Dogs is a therapeutic sanctuary.
Gracie comes twice a week for swims of at least 30 minutes, resting occasionally on the shelf built into the side of the pool. As she sits panting and enjoying her break, Cooper massages her by firmly pushing her fingers against the matted, wet fur of her shoulders, spine and neck.
“With her, she has no back leg, so she shifts a lot of her weight to the front,” Cooper explained. “Her shoulders are really stiff, so I give her a really good massage.”
On the underwater treadmill, a dog walks while partially submerged in water. Once submerged, animals can reduce their body weight by as much as 60 percent. The exercise relieves pressure on their joints, builds muscles and prepares them for a quicker transition to land-based therapy.
The Controversy over Homeopathy
“It’s like an ‘Oh my God’all the time,” said veterinarian Dr. Jill Elliot, of the wonders of homeopathy.
The Society of Homeopaths defines homeopathy as a form of alternative medicine, in which patients are treated with a highly diluted substance, or remedy, designed to trigger the body’s immune system. Developed almost 200 years ago, homeopathy has been known to treat both physical disease and behavioral problems, such as fear of thunderstorms or extreme shyness.
The principle is based on the Latin phrase “similia similibus curentur,” or “let likes be cured by likes.”
“Remedies act on the entire being – the physical and the mental. You’re trying to catch the essence of the animal or person and when you get that, you try to match it up with the remedy that has that essence,” Dr. Elliot said. “Three different cats can come to me with liver disease, but because of their personality, they’ll get three different remedies.”
“[Vets] don’t understand the holistic nature of what they do,” Klein said.
Holistic vets have often been criticized and ridiculed by strictly traditional veterinarians and non-believers. But as alternative medicine grows more popular, ever more evidence points to its success.
“Years ago, when I was one of the first acupuncturists in Connecticut, I was told ‘Anyone who thinks they can treat influx bowel disease with acupuncture is a quack,’” Dr. Fallek recalled. “And now, of course, because it’s been written up in journals, now they know it can.”
“I would find some people a little skeptical, derogatory, snippy, disbelieving – thought it was magic,” Dr. Elliott said.
It is not only the nature of their practice that attracts hostility, but the threat and promise that holistic medicine holds. Traditional veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies feel threatened by the cheap prices of homeopathy, acupuncture and nutritional supplements.
Dr. Fallek described having a patient with a ruptured cruciate ligament, a common knee injury in dogs that may require surgery that can cost thousands of dollars: “I put her on a homeopathy remedy, and 10 days later she was healed. I’ve had an 80 percent success rate in treating ruptured ligaments with homeopathy. We try to avoid surgery. So why would a vet want me around, really, if I can treat everything with homeopathy!”
However, Dr. Elliot, a veterinarian who practices both conventional and homeopathic medicine at the Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital, has had a different experience: “There are four [other] doctors that work here. Each and every one of them respects what I do.”
Dr. Elliot tries to balance between the two seemingly clashing approaches. She describes the traditional education she received in veterinary school as the conventional toolkit, and her homeopathic education as giving her some additional tools: “And I prefer to use the other tools first if it seems appropriate. It depends on the client. I offer them everything.”
However, she doesn’t preach her practice: “I don’t ever try to convince people of anything. I say, give me your worst patient: the one you can’t do anything with. Let me see what I can do. And usually I succeed in some way.”
Cora Wu is a journalism student at New York University.