‘Shaman’ vet sniffs out alternative fixes to traditional problems


Eddie Secrist was scared. His little, gray cat, Stasch, was

sicker than Eddie had ever seen any of his three cats. He

was vomiting every day, sometimes constantly.

It was a cold and dark winter day when Stasch went to the

emergency room. That trip would lead Eddie down a road

he never imagined existed: a road to homeopathy, to holistic

veterinarians, to a whole new way of looking at the  health

of his pets.

“The vet at the emergency room said Stasch should be tested,

because he looked very old. Like he was ready to pass on,”

Eddie said. The cat was five years old. The tests were done,

and Eddie soon ran up a vet bill in excess of 250 dollars. Still,

more tests were recommended, and the bills would double.

As the bills went up, Stasch’s weight went down.

The owner of a health food store recommended a change in the cat’s diet.  Eddie, a beauty supply store manager, knew the effects of good diet on good health. He had been focused on his own fitness for years, and recently turned vegetarian.

Stasch was already on a well-known diet recommended by veterinarians, but Eddie made changes anyway.  “Within a month there was an incredible change in him,” Eddie said. He was alert, ate more, and seemed to be getting back to normal.

But then he came down with feline urinary syndrome. He was catheterized. Five hundred dollars. The vet recommended a return to the old food, but Stasch would not eat anything. No longer did the white-pawed cat stretch out in his favorite spot in the closet, but instead retreated to a corner of the room. The other cats shunned him.

“The vet said he was a hopeless case, that his days were numbered, and that I should consider euthanasia,” Eddie said. He was frantic. He called his friends for advice and support. And he thought a lot about Donny, whom he had loved, and who left the cat in Eddie’s care when he died.

Eddie got canned salmon, liquefied it in a blender, and began to force feed Stasch through an eyedropper. A week later the urinary infection flared up again, and again the vet recommended putting the cat down.

But someone told Eddie about Dr. Ann Ross. “She was not your ordinary kind of vet,” Eddie said. For one thing, she used a crystal to help make her diagnosis and recommendations. Dr. Ross first took the cat off all antibiotics. She suggested certain Bach flower remedies and dietary changes. Together she and Eddie tried a number of homeopathic remedies.  “It was a slow go,” Eddie said.

“Stasch had bad liver enzymes,” Dr. Ross said. “His blood work was bad. He was a sick cat. But rather than suppress the symptoms we worked with them. That’s what homeopathy does.”

The vomiting diminished. First once a week, then once every two weeks. “We figured out what his remedy was,” Dr. Ross said. It was phosphorous.

The total cost of treatment with Dr. Ross came to about 100 dollars. The total cost of the conventional treatment had been ten times as much. But it really wasn’t about the money.

“The happiest moment of my life,” Eddie said, “was when I woke up one morning and Stasch jumped off the bed and ran down the hall like a kitten.”

Stasch is nine years old now. Though he was the runt of his litter, “he now has the healthiest appetite of all my cats,” Eddie said. And he has developed a taste for feta and cottage cheeses -- but only the finest, imported brands.

But stories like Eddie’s are not so rare. As the human population in the United States looks for alternatives to conventional medicine, so many people are seeking other treatments for their pets.

Alternative treatments are specific medicines that include herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathic. Holistic treatment is a view of medical care that takes into account the whole animal (or person) beyond the symptoms of the malady.

Holistic treatment may also include conventional medicines. “You don’t have to use acupuncture or herbs to be holistic,” said Dr. Susan Wynn. Dr. Wynn is co-editor of the textbook Alternative and Complementary Veterinary Medicine. She serves on the board of the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association.

As in the human population, the veterinary medical profession is divided about just how effective the alternative treatments are.  Many vets find the lack of supporting data troubling.

“Holistic vets are not willing to put their procedures to the test,” charged Dr. Todd Phillips, of the Eastgate Animal Hospital and Clinic. “They don’t want to spend the money.”

“There are very few studies,” said Dr. Scott Campbell, of the Grady Veterinary Hospital. “Certainly there are success stories and non-success stories.”

Yet holistic treatment, by definition, means highly individualized remedies that take into account a variety of factors. Dr. Randy Kidd, president of the 800-member American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association, said holistic treatment “includes the body/mind/spirit connection.”

“You treat the whole pet,” said Dr. Wynn, “its diet, its activity.”

“It does not lend itself to studies very well,” said Dr. Ross. “It is a science based on the individual temperament, the physical and emotional components of each animal.” Yet “the thousands of cases of cured disease you cannot dispute,” she said.

One such case is that of Lavonne Amanns, an 18-year old woman who lives in Anderson Township. Lavonne’s kitten, George, developed a viral infection. “His joints swelled up, and after the antibiotics, his head tilted completely sideways,” she said. “I had to hand feed him, carry him to the litter box and everything. He didn’t do anything.”

George got cortisone, too, but after a few spurts toward recovery he stopped walking altogether. The vet recommended an orthopedic specialist or euthanasia.

“I was irate,” Lavonne said. “This kitten was found under a lawn mower when he was one week old. I bottle-fed him. He’s my baby.”

Lavonne’s mother had been using homeopathic for a few years. Once she took Lavonne to a lecture by Dr. Ross. When the conventional regimen failed for George, Lavonne gave Dr. Ross a call. She prescribed homeopathic remedies, vitamins and a mineral mix. “The difference was dramatic,” Lavonne said. “Within three or four days, all his symptoms were gone.” It took a few tries to arrive at the right dosages, but finally George recovered. That was two and a half years ago.

“If it wasn’t for Dr. Ross, George would be dead,” Lavonne said. “Now he’s mischievous. He hops on the table and breaks things. He’s a brat. But how can I get mad at him? I’m glad he’s alive.”

Karen’s household includes five cats, three rabbits and two hedgehogs. She reported success in using homeopathic to treat one of the hedgehogs, too.

But Dr. Phillips said “the results are always mixed” with alternative therapies. He has worked in a holistic practice, but now comes down squarely on the side of conventional treatment. “It’s in the eye of the beholder to some degree. I’ve had numbers of clients coming from holistic practices not getting the results they were promised.”

“People come to alternative medicine after they’ve tried everything else,” said Dr. Wynn. “They’re desperate.”

That was Karen Langenbrunner. Karen, 48, is a hospice nurse. All four of her dogs, Italian Greyhounds, are therapy dogs.  They visit the hospice patients, and cuddle with them. The oldest dog, Lace,  had had twitches for a long time, and over the years they developed into severe muscle spasms. The dog could not sit down.

“I had taken her to the local vet, to internists, to neurologists. Most just patted her on the head and said, ‘she’s fourteen years old.’  Being a born-again Christian, I’m very wary of new-age, homeopathic, herbs and stuff,” she said. “It was a last resort.”

A friend recommended Dr. Mark Haverkos. Dr. Haverkos practices in Oldenburg, Indiana. He works on farm animals as well as pets, using the whole spectrum of alternative medicine. He was a founding member, in 1982, of the AHVMA.

Dr. Haverkos’ training included a six-year stint as veterinarian to the Hopi. He was employed by the tribe, he pointed out, not by the federal government. “I learned more about life and respect for the animals than any specific medicine,” he said.

Dr. Haverkos won Karen over on their first meeting. “This is a grand dog,” he said of Lace. “She has accomplished things in life.” He had not known that “Lace had quite a few records” behind her, Karen said.

Dr. Haverkos used alternative medicines on the old dog, including network chiropractic — a form of chiropractic medicine for which he is nationally renowned among his peers. “Her tremors lessened to the point she could sit comfortably,” said Karen. “She had more freedom of movement, she was more relaxed, more comfortable.  He helped my dog, and that was the bottom line.”

Though others had suggested euthanasia, for Karen it was out of the question. “I went from being a fan of euthanasia to being a hospice nurse,” she said. “And from the last few treatments Lace had with Mark she was able to die a dignified death in her proper time. She was awake and alert until about an hour before she died. She died when she was supposed to.”

Another dog, Slone, ten and a half years old, now goes to Dr. Haverkos about three times a year for regular adjustments.  It’s maintenance. “I want her to be as mobile and fluid as she can be,” Karen said. “I would try anything that works. That’s what I would have to do for my dogs. It doesn’t matter where I have to go or what I have to mortgage to pay for it. It’s hard to determine where their lives end and mine begins. They’re interwoven.”

Sara Petersmann, a 31-year old attorney in Cincinnati, saw Dr. Haverkos speak at a seminar. “I thought he was weird,” she said. Nonetheless she took her prize-winning Doberman, Jesse, “to see what he could do for him.”

“I’m fairly well educated about dogs,” Sara said. She has been showing them since she was 14. “Mark adjusted him, and I could physically notice the difference. His back was smoother, his gait was more even. Now when I take my dogs out there, I notice the difference every time.”

One of the dogs was having false pregnancies, during which time “it would take her three months to raise a litter of fluffy toys.” After being treated with acupuncture, the false pregnancies went away.

“I still believe in the conventional medicine,” Sara said. “The conventional medicine works for me. But Mark has some remedies that the conventional vet does not use. They’re safer. They’re not invasive.”

Barbara Scheve, who manages a Western tack store and, instead of telling her age, says she is “timeless,” also relies now on alternative treatments to maintain the health of her dog, Megan, and horse, Fairly. But it wasn’t always so.

Several years ago she brought Megan to Dr. Haverkos with dysplasia in both hips. The dog was eight years old.

“She had fallen down the steps, and couldn’t walk,” Barbara said. She had a “chronic lameness that the conventional vet couldn’t find. You end up with X-rays and ultrasounds and can’t find anything anywhere. He’s the only one who’s kept her walking.” The dog also receives acupuncture treatments and homeopathic for breathing problems.

Fairly, on the other hand, gets sore just from jumping.  But with her regular acupuncture treatments, “she’s doing great. She hasn’t had any problems in two or three years.”

But Dr. Haverkos was not the first alternative practitioner that Barbara used.  “I’ve used others without good results,” she said.  “I was kind of skeptical because lots of people were jumping on the bandwagon.”

Barbara’s experience points to a dilemma within the profession. Said Dr. Campbell, alternative treatments are “not part of our training in the traditional sense. We are not taught about herbal remedies. We are not taught acupuncture.”  Alternative veterinary medicine courses are available; but none is required in the medical schools. Cornell University may be the only school that offers an alternative course — acupuncture — as part of its curriculum.

“In the early days, we didn’t know,” said Dr. Haverkos. “The competency level has increased so much in the alternative field” in recent years.

Oddly enough, the first veterinary acupuncture course was taught through the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1975. Not long before, President Richard Nixon’s assistant had been treated in China during emergency surgery using acupuncture instead of anesthesia, and the practice’s credibility skyrocketed.

“I worked for the College of Medicine, and applied to the dean to teach the course,” said Dr. David Jagger. “By the time anybody knew what was going on, they had already committed to it.”

Dr. Jagger is executive director and past president of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. He is both a veterinarian and chiropractor, and practices in Boulder, Colorado.  The first three of his acupuncture lectures were given in Cincinnati, he said, the final lecture in Thomasville, Georgia, where the IVAS is incorporated.

The Society, founded in 1974, has about 1400 members world wide, about 750 of which are in the United States, according to Dr. Jaggar.

“It is our intention,” he said of the Society, “that acupuncture be taught in veterinary colleges.” This year the Colorado State teaching hospital began its first such course — at the post-graduate level — according to Dr. Jagger.

Dr. Jagger said that the human population is turning to alternative medicine “primarily because of dissatisfaction with the dominant system. Huge numbers are hospitalized for side effects from drugs,” he said. “Huge numbers of people die from hospital procedures. Huge numbers die from aspirin type drugs. It’s a big impetus for people to reach out for alternative health care.”

If so, then some veterinarians have turned to alternative practices for similar reasons. “I became quite disillusioned with Western approaches to health care,” Dr. Jagger said. “It’s great for life-saving situations: car accidents, broken bones. But when it comes to chronic diseases, these were ineffective. And that’s most of the diseases I treat,” he said.

Dr. Haverkos echoed the sentiment. “I deal mostly with chronic conditions, not acute,” he said.

“I got frustrated with the limits of conventional practice,” said Dr. Ross, “but at first I didn’t know there was anything else. But I began to see that the vital force was the basis of our health. It is necessary to balance the vital force.”

That is what each of the alternative treatments does in its own way. In balancing the vital force it allows the body to heal itself and to maintain its health.

For some pet owners and the vets that try to help them, the limits of medicine can be stretched even beyond the basic alternative therapies — beyond, it seems, imagination.  Just as in the field of human medicine a few doctors are beginning to use “medical sensitives” — people who have a psychic sensitivity in this realm — so some veterinarians make use of “animal communicators.”

The communicator typically will ask the pet questions to determine what is wrong. “It's mind-to-mind contact,” said Kate Bast. “It's like e-mail, only you take the keyboard out.” Ms. Bast lives in Northern Kentucky, and works as both an animal communicator and medical sensitive. It’s telepathy, she said. “And telepathy transcends all boundaries of time and space.”

Dr. Kidd acknowledged that some of his clients have worked with animal communicators. “They come up with some interesting responses that can be spookily right-on,” he said. “I use them more as a confirmation. They are right a high percentage of the time.”

In January, Dr. Haverkos treated an old, mixed-breed dog, Blackie, that had been barking non-stop for several days. Blackie, Dr. Haverkos concluded, was being visited by his ancestors in preparation for his eventual death. The dog was afraid.

Working separately with Blackie’s owner, Kate Bast confirmed the diagnosis.

“I’ve seen this in humans,” Dr. Haverkos said, “and in other animals. But never in a dog.” He performed some “higher-level work” on the dog, he said, “something I rarely have the opportunity to do because either the human will not accept it or it will pass right through the animal.” Dr. Haverkos adjusted Blackie’s energy field, he said, so that the dog would no longer be afraid. Blackie stopped barking that night. In September, he turned 18.

Hearing the story, Dr. Kidd was not surprised. “All of us have seen those kind of miracles,” he said. “And we have to learn not to let our chins drop to our chests. It does not happen in every case. But it happens often enough that it’s spooky.” The more a doctor works with alternative therapies, he said, the more miracles he sees.

In spite of sometimes wide differences of opinion among them, veterinarians seem tolerant of diverse opinions on health care.

“I’ve had zero problems with other vets,” Dr. Kidd said. “They say if that works, go ahead.”

Dr. Wynn agreed. “Vets have been more open than medical doctors for a long time,” she said.

“Alternative remedies aren’t the only things that work,” said Dr. Haverkos, who estimated that his practice is 80 percent alternative.  “People who think conventional medicine is all poison are as far off as those who think mine is witchcraft. Conventional medicine is best at saving the body. Alternative medicine is best at prolonging the body.”

“I would only choose to use alternative treatments when the black and white disappears, and there are only shades of gray,” said Dr. Campbell. “In places where I don’t have answers, alternative medicine needs to be looked at. Both of these arms of medicine complement each other.” But in alternative medicine, he said, “there are so many variables it becomes more of an art than a science.”

Said Dr. Haverkos, “There is more than one way to look at a problem. If people can realize that, then we’ve got it made.”

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