By Jean Zehringer Giesige
COLDWATER -- C.J., a three-year-old Schnauzer, stood trembling on the exam table as veterinary Dr. Ron Anders inserted stainless steel needles up and down the dog's spine. C.J., Anders said, was suffering from heart, liver and kidney imbalances, and the needles would rechannel the energy that flows in every living being, making him a happier, healthier dog.
C.J. eventually resigned himself to the process and relaxed, a sign to Anders that the balance of his Qi (pronounced chi), or inner energy, was being restored. Being a dog, C.J. was almost certainly baffled by the needles, as he would have been baffled by any medical treatment. It was the humans in the room who had to keep an open mind.
Anders has been practicing veterinary acupuncture for more than two years in his County Animal Hospital in Coldwater. He is combining traditional Chinese medical techniques with his Western ways to come up with an approach that he says treats the whole animal, not just its symptoms.
"This has given me a new outlook on my practice," he said. "With the use of acupuncture, I see results quickly. The owners are happy, and the patients are happy."
Anders, who has been practicing veterinary medicine in the area since 1985, became interested in acupuncture when he turned to it for relief from his own pain. Leaving his clinic one night in January 2000, his truck was struck by another driver. Anders was left with two rods and six screws in his back. "I was told by my surgeon that I would never have a large-animal practice again," he said. Desperate to find pain relief -- pain medications and physical therapy weren't working for him -- he turned to acupuncture.
"I felt results in minutes," he said. "The pain was gone in a matter of minutes, and the relief lasted quite a long time. I thought, if it works for me, it has to work for my patients."
The following year Anders enrolled in a five-month course in Houston offered by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).
"When I started, it made no sense whatsoever. Eastern medicine looks at things in such a different way than Western medicine. Western medicine looks at symptoms. Eastern medicine looks at the whole animal, everything working together," he said.
Before long, he began to understand what his instructors were trying to teach him. They taught him to locate acupuncture points along the meridians that can be found on every living being (a dog, for instance, has more than 360 acupuncture points), and how and where to insert needles (an improperly inserted needle can do more harm than good, he said).
"It started making sense to me," he said. "But when I finished the course, came back here and tried to explain some of this to my staff, they looked at me like I had two heads."
Eastern medicine, with its acupuncture needles, heat sticks and laser machines (all intended to redirect the flow of Qi), is a strange sight when lined up with the antibiotics, steroids and other chemical cures on the shelves of Anders' office.
"I do an Eastern diagnosis and a Western diagnosis, and I put the two together to get answers," he said.
Although acupuncture has received some level of acceptance as a treatment for pain in veterinary circles, Anders uses it to treat many ailments -- including adjusting the temperament of troublesome pets.
Anders also prescribes herbal treatments and other Eastern alternatives for his patients.
"I still practice 100 percent Western medicine, too, but when you can combine the two methods, you get the best of both," he said.
It is a point that many in the veterinary world might dispute. Anders readily admits that most of his colleagues resist the idea of Eastern medicine. Although elective courses in veterinary acupuncture are now offered at Ohio State University's School of Veterinary Medicine and at other universities, IVAS lists in its member directory just 13 practitioners who use acupuncture in the state of Ohio (including three in western Ohio: Anders, Dr. Chris Gilbert in Greenville and Dr. Ronald McNutt in Lima).
"You have to keep an open mind," Anders said. "Seeing is believing. Some of my classmates who have heard me talking about acupuncture have referred animals to me, and are now looking into it themselves."
Pet owners and livestock producers tend to have open minds, in direct relation to how desperate they are to find help for their animals. Many turn to Anders' acupuncture treatments when Western medicine has failed, he said.
Carolyn Schmidt of Ansonia is a believer, now that she has seen what acupuncture treatments did for her Doberman, Tucker. Tucker was struggling to recover from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car. Traditional Western medicine had not helped him, and when she brought him to Dr. Anders, Tucker could not walk.
"Tucker was a super dog. I was ready to try anything to help him," Schmidt said. "When Dr. Anders started using acupuncture, it didn't take long before we started seeing results."
Tucker was able to walk on his own again after acupuncture, she said.
Tucker died last Christmas, but his last years were happier and healthier, Schmidt believes, because of his treatments from Anders.
"I can't say enough about acupuncture and herbs," she said. "I have all the faith in the world in Dr. Anders."
More skeptical but still willing to keep trying acupuncture on his registered Holstein dairy cattle is Terry Stammen of New Weston.
"It's not 100 percent, but it has its place. I've seen it work on cows with problems that antibiotics haven't been able to help," he said. "Sometimes drugs can't cure everything."
Stammen asked Anders to try the treatments on one of his prize cows, Miranda, after he'd seen it work on another cow on his farm. Miranda was struggling with mastitis and a yeast infection she'd contracted during a trip to Maryland to calve, "and they"d used drugs on her all summer to try to clear her up. When she came back, she was thin, emaciated and wrung-out."
When her fever spiked up to 107 degrees, Stammen said, he asked Anders to try acupuncture. "For her, it was a pretty quick turnaround," he said. "I think acupuncture kept her alive."
Fellow producers give him strange looks when he talks about the treatments, he said, but if they work, he can live with that.
"Some people laugh about it, or make fun of it. It's something old that's new to us," he said. "If it works for me, that's all I'm going to worry about. I haven't gone away from conventional methods, but acupuncture has its place. I'll do anything it takes to keep a valuable cow alive."
As for Anders, he continues to study the theory and techniques of this new-old medical approach.
"The biggest thing I see in this is a better quality of life for my patients," he said. "Is it better than Western medicine? Not necessarily. Would I use it over Western medicine? In some situations, where I think it would be better for the patient, yes I would."