Holistic health--no longer just for humans

Popular on the West Coast, alternative wellness for pets begins to grow here on the East Coast
Brooks receives a Reiki treatment from Val Young for her arthritic hips. Photo by Judy Keenan.

The popularity of alternative health practices (or wellness) for humans continues to grow. Alternative wellness practices, including massage, Reiki and acupuncture, are now commonly offered along side traditional medicines. Although popular in other parts of the country, these alternative methods are beginning to catch on here in the area of veterinary medicine. Two Cape Cod professionals, Val Young and Dr. Jim Lear, DVM, provide such alternatives to pet owners looking to approach their pets' health issues in a holistic manner.

Val Young--Reiki & massage for pets

Alternative wellness practices such as Reiki and massage for pets "are virtually non-existent on the East Coast because people are not that well adjusted to alternative medicines for pets. If you go to the West Coast everyone does it," says Val Young in her charming British accent. She continues, "In the UK pet owners are also more accepting of alternative medicines. Flower remedies, Reiki and water therapy are quite common."

As a fitness teacher in the UK, Val found regular massage to be very beneficial. She took that enthusiasm and her love of animals with her when she migrated to the USA and settled in Brewster. While working at Nauset Kennels she took classes at the Northwest School of Animal Massage and did a practicum at the Atlanta Rescue Center to receive her certification. Then she took classes in Reiki, a Japanese stress reduction and healing method that purports to use the "life force energy" we all have to radiate energy to another and promote healing.

Hands-on (or paws on) practice

While massage is clearly a hands on experience, Reiki can be applied without ever touching the patient although Val did use an extremely light touch on Brooks, a mixture of Boxer and Rhodesian Ridgeback who suffers from arthritic hips. Reiki can be used on injured limbs for pain relief where massage cannot be used. To start the session, Val calms Brooks with her gentle voice and soft hands. When the dog "relaxes out" she moves her hands to concentrate on the pain area. Humans sometimes say they feel a tingling sensation from Reiki. "Animals can't fake anything. You get instant feedback," says Val as Brooks gets restless signifying the end of the session.

Embracing all alternatives

Like many who are open to alternative wellness, Val is a practicer of other alternative methods and has books and newsletters such as The Whole Dog Journal, Bach Flower Remedies for Animals, Herbs for Pets and Animal Reiki. After years of living on the Cape, Val's children and grandchildren in the UK would like her to return. Val's unique gifts for healing will be missed on the Cape. She is an English rose who can probably tell you many ways to use that English rose to heal your pet.

Acupuncture with Dr. Jim Lear DVM

Dr. Jim Lear DVM is a trusted and liked staff member at Lower Cape Veterinary Services and at C.A.R.E. where he uses Western medicine skills and knowledge to help heal and care for animals. Off hours, Dr. Lear makes house calls for pet patients on whom he performs acupuncture, a three thousand year old Eastern wellness skill.

The theory of acupuncture

As an adult in his native Los Angeles, Dr. Lear was plagued with insomnia for a time and in frustration he tried acupuncture. It worked for him. How does acupuncture work? The theory is that our bodies and animals bodies need to be in balance (yin/yang) and that by locating acupoints and employing tonification (stimulation) or sedation the body's balance can be restored.

But how does it really work?

Hardest to grasp is that there is no scientific evidence to support acupuncture's benefits and yet it is being taught in some veterinary schools and once certification is obtained it is recognized by the state. In the National Geographic News; November 25, 2002 in an article by Sean Markey entitled Animal Acupuncture: More Pets Get the Point: the author writes; "Anecdotal evidence suggests that acupuncture is an effective treatment for a host of ailments in animals. But researchers still understand relatively little about why and how this alternative therapy works."

To demonstrate acupuncture, Dr. Lear uses Harry, a "Cape Cod Labrador". Coal black and very friendly, Harry is 9-years-old and has had bad hips since she was about 4-years-old. From his box, Dr. Lear extracts a cellophane wrapped set of needles. Each needle is encased in a tube about three quarters of its length and each needle is so thin and fine it looks like a strand of hair. First he lays Harry on her side and then locates an acupoint on her hip. He holds the tube to that point and then inserts the needle. What is evident is that Harry felt no pain and there is a small tube visibly sticking up from her hip. The process continues with Dr. Lear using a total of ten needles. How the needle is inserted determines whether the imbalance is being corrected with stimulation or sedation.

Other ways of using acupoints include acupressure, aquapunture where a saline solution with Vitamin B12 is introduced and electro-acupuncture where a very low electric pulse is employed through the needles. Amongst many of his pet patients, Dr. Lear has used acupuncture on a dog that fell down a flight of stairs and the damage could not be repaired surgically. After three treatments the dog is fine. He has treated a horse in Truro with gait problems and that took four sessions to correct.

Another "tool in your box"

"Acupuncture" as Dr. Lear says, "is just another tool in your box for promoting healing in animals." At the website for the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society there is a quote for those of us who may be East Coast skeptics to consider: "It does not matter whether medicine be old or new, so long as it brings about a cure. It matters not whether theories be Eastern or Western, so long as they prove to be true." - Jen Hsou Lin, DVM, PhD

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