My life is proof that a curse can become a blessing. I was diagnosed with allergic asthma at age 2, and when two rounds of allergy shots and specialists proved unsuccessful, I learned to live with the disease. Admittedly, as I grew up, my habit of collecting every half-starved cat or dog, hamster, or rat did little to help my animal dander allergies. So I had drawers of medications and inhalers, and my weakened lungs meant I contracted pneumonia several times before I was 10 years old.
When I was in veterinary school, a poor student diet, constant exposure to animals, and the routine farming-practice of burning the wheat fields brought my symptoms to a head. I looked into alternative treatments, first trying acupuncture and herbs and then progressing to cleaning up my diet and NAET (Nambudiprad’s Allergy Elimination Technique). Over a period of four years, all of these treatments together ended up curing the illness I had previously lived with my whole life. Now, I do not know where my inhalers are. I am around more animals than ever, living with horses and treating dogs and cats in my holistic practice.
So I guess you could say my own health problems became a roadmap toward opening myself up to other philosophies and treatment possibilities. But even more than that, I had always felt a little uncomfortable about the authoritative hand of Western medicine, even while studying it in veterinary school. I worried that some surgeries and medications may have thrown off the natural vitality of the body, that natural healing force present in every living thing.
Our finely bred animals are but a shadow of their wild, more resilient descendents, but even they still possess healing abilities. One of the biggest problems is that the whole philosophy of Western veterinary medicine often goes contrary to this innate healing, and even worse, it can disrupt it and create new problems, especially in the case of chronic disease.
One of my most successful cases was a fawn Pug named Pricilla, who, after a series of acupuncture treatments, finally took her first deep breath in almost two weeks. There was a softness in her gaze as she relaxed her neck and lowered her head. The acupuncture had dissipated her pain. She sat quietly on my soft covered table, her pink harness in place with rhinestones along her chest, glimmering to offer all of us hope.
Before I met her, the Pug’s cervical stenosis had gradually gotten worse, and the disease was pinching her spinal nerves. Her concerned caretakers, an elderly couple, spent weeks doctoring her condition, taking her out to relieve herself around the clock, pedaling her weakening back legs when she could no longer move them on her own. They ordered a cart, giving up on her walking again. The husband, a kind, thin man, did most of the caregiving. He bent over his dog, holding her up with one hand and showing me a picture with the other of the couple’s grandson, about 10 years old. The child’s big happy grin followed me around for months.
When I first met the Pug, I could tell she was stressed by the red around the outside of her eyes and her rapid pulse. Despite medications, she wore her pain on her face. Three acupuncture treatments later, after administering herbs and homemade food and supplements, we finally saw a significant break in her symptoms. After a few minutes, she wiggled her tail and twitched a left rear toe. She shifted her weight back a little off her front paws, which had been splayed with the burden of carrying her back end around. But we all saw a glimpse of what was to come.
Within two more weeks, Pricilla’s pain was gone. She would eventually use her back legs, first walking like a drunken sailor. She would never be “normal” again, but her symptoms were miraculously improved.
So how did holistic medicine help Pricilla? I believe there is a magic within the body called the vital force. When we use supplements, herbs, and acupuncture treatments to harness and awaken it, all types of healing can occur. Acupuncture can’t work for everything, but to see Pricilla parade around in her vest harness, her wheelchair in the closet, is a gentle reminder of what it can do for our patients.
Donna Kelleher, DVM, has been a holistic vet for 18 years. She lives north of Seattle with her partner and fellow veterinarian, Jeff Blake, and her two rescued horses, Charlie and Tino. She is the author of The Last Chance Dog: And Other True Stories of Holistic Animal Healing (Scribner, 2003) and The Proof Is in the Poodle: One Veterinarian’s Exploration Into Healing (Two Harbors Press, 2012). Read more about her last book at The Proof Is in the Poodle and her veterinary work at Whole Pet Vet.