By Dr. Becker
I’m at the AHVMA conference today, chatting with holistic veterinarians as part of my Highlighting the Healer interview series.
Dr. Sarah Daane-Froehlich
My first guest is Dr. Sarah Daane-Froehlich. Dr. Daane-Froehlich graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 1986, and went to work at a mixed animal practice in Billings, Montana.
Dr. Sarah, as she is known, was first exposed to integrative medicine in veterinary school when she attended a lecture on acupuncture. She thought to herself, “Wow! I want to learn that someday,” but it wasn’t until a dozen years later that she took a course given by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).
By that time, she had started her own veterinary practice in Casper, Wyoming, and after taking the course, she was able to begin offering acupuncture to her patients -- primarily small animals, including the occasional parrot and rabbit, and horses.
Soon, her small animal clients started suggesting she learn about herbal remedies, and her equine clients were requesting that she learn chiropractic. Dr. Sarah grew up thinking chiropractic was “quackery,” but several of the people who had been in her acupuncture class also did chiropractic, so she decided to give it a whirl and became certified. Soon after, she also began offering craniosacral work to her patients.
As she gained all that knowledge in alternative therapies, Dr. Sarah believes she probably lost a few clients who were only interested in conventional veterinary treatments for their animals. But she soon concluded she’d rather have a holistic-oriented practice anyway.
Dr. Sarah’s Most Memorable Patient: A Paraplegic Border Collie
I asked Dr. Sarah to share some of her most memorable cases and “Aha” moments.
One of the cases she always remembers involved a 2-year-old Border Collie named Chase. She was working in Billings at the time, and Chase’s owners drove five hours to see her. The dog was chasing cattle on the ranch and didn’t see a wash up ahead because the grass had grown up level to the ground. Chase ran right into the wash and caused severe injury to his head and neck.
By the time he was found, Chase couldn’t walk at all. His owner first took him to another veterinary hospital in Billings, where they performed x-rays and a myelogram, and concluded there was no fracture and no spinal cord compression. The vet gave them a 2-week supply of steroids and sent them on their way.
Fortunately, Chase’s guardian didn’t stop there. He eventually connected with Dr. Sarah, and she saw Chase for the first time about 4 weeks after his accident. She performed chiropractic, craniosacral, and acupuncture treatments on the dog – a total of 5 treatments. But she was about to relocate to Wyoming, and Chase’s family was also moving, so they had to part ways. By that time, Chase was able to use his front legs and had some movement in his back legs, but he still wasn’t able to stand or walk yet.
As they were leaving their last treatment session, the owner said, “Chase, turn around and thank Dr. Sarah.” Incredibly, Chase turned to face her and looked right into her eyes. It was amazing. That was back in 2006, and she still gets emotional every time she remembers Chase on that day. Not only did a very special patient say thank you in his own special way, but the moment validated for her that she had done exactly the right thing by taking her veterinary practice in the direction of holistic and alternative therapies.
Dr. Margie Nard
My second guest today is Dr. Margie Nard, who is a native of Phoenix, Arizona and has a practice there. Dr. Nard received her degree from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine because Arizona doesn’t have a veterinary college.
Upon graduation, Dr. Nard headed to northern Arizona to work in a very busy mixed practice. Next she moved to a small animal practice back in Phoenix. These days, she has her own practice – a mobile holistic practice. Dr. Nard performs regular conventional veterinary exams as well as holistic exams in which she looks at pulses and the tongue. She does energy medicine. She checks chakras and the energy field.
Once she has a full picture of the patient, she’ll make recommendations on nutrition, supplements, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, homotoxicology, osteopathy – whatever she feels will be beneficial for the animal. Dr. Nard says, “All of my cases get their chakras cleared and their energy field opened up.”
I asked Dr. Nard how she became interested in holistic treatment modalities and her response was, “My dog taught me this.” It seems her dog became ill and she couldn’t help her at all with traditional veterinary treatments. She happened to hear about an animal communicator, and she took her dog there. As she explains it, “We had a nice conversation.”
She asked her dog “Do you want to go on vacation with me? We’ll go hiking.” According to the animal communicator, the dog said yes. So Dr. Nard took her dog -- who was so sick she couldn’t walk before seeing the animal communicator – on vacation with her. The dog climbed a 14,000 foot peak right beside her. “Oh, my gosh, that got my attention,” said Dr. Nard.
After the vacation, the dog still needed help. The animal communicator also did qi gong, so that was Dr. Nard’s introduction to Chinese medicine, and from there, she set out to learn everything she could. She started with Chinese herbs, then moved on to acupuncture, and then homotoxicology. Those modalities led her deeper into the energy field and energy medicine. And now she does them all.
Dr. Nard was a traditional vet for 10 or 15 years before she completed her transition to a holistic practitioner. Today, pet owners learn of her exclusively through word of mouth, either from other clients or practitioners. She has a nice working relationship with the traditional veterinarians in her area, which is wonderful.
Dr. Nard’s Most Memorable Patient: A Samoyed with an Immune-Mediated Disease
Dr. Nard has many memorable patients she has treated for years, in part because animals who receive holistic therapies tend to live long lives.
She remembers a Samoyed with an acute case of uveodermatologic syndrome. In uveodermatologic syndrome, the dog's body attacks its own melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment primarily in the skin, the retina, and the uveal tract of the eye. The dog developed uveitis and was losing the pigment on his beautiful black eyelids and lips. He was also developing skin lesions. Dr. Nard was able to get his condition under complete control – for 3 years now – using Chinese medicine and homotoxicology.
The Samoyed must be maintained on his protocol continuously for the rest of his life, but he’s enjoying a wonderful quality of life, with full pigment and a full coat.
Not only is Dr. Nard’s example a great testament to the power of Chinese medicine, but it also shows that while we can’t always cure our patients, we can often provide them with a maintenance protocol of natural remedies that gives them an excellent quality of life for the rest of their life.
Dr. Judith Shoemaker
My last guest today is Dr. Judith Shoemaker, who practices holistic and integrative veterinary medicine in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. Dr. Shoemaker graduated from the University of Georgia in 1980, rode horses competitively, and wanted to be a veterinary orthopedic surgeon.
Her dream was to be the finest orthopedic surgeon around. She trained in using bone plates and screws, and “how to take a real mess and put it back together.” However, she soon realized that animals she thought would do really well post-operatively didn’t do so well. She would do an excellent surgery, but they had only a mediocre recovery.
Or she’d send animals home on antibiotics, steroids, or anti-inflammatories, but they didn’t get better. She was beginning to grow discouraged. At the time, she was the junior vet at a wonderful practice in southeastern Pennsylvania and was asked to take a “cookbook acupuncture formula” someone had brought back from China and perform acupuncture on a very dangerous stallion with back problems.
While three people held the horse, Dr. Shoemaker managed to get the needles into him. A few days later, she returned to do a second treatment on the horse. Incredibly, she was able to do the procedure alone in the stall. As she explains it, “I’m a good horse handler, but that was quite a revelation. That horse was remarkably different” for the second treatment.
The incident with the stallion made her very interested in acupuncture, so she took the IVAS course and loved it. The people taking the course with her were fascinating, and she also had a shamanic experience. She explains it this way:
“It was just totally, totally mind-bending and physiologically changing for me. I saw – with the explanations that I was given in the acupuncture course – the patterns that I was seeing in practice that were not explained even a little bit in what we learned in vet school.”
Dr. Shoemaker was on her way, and in the late 1980s was invited by Dr. Sharon Willoughby to attend her first program in animal chiropractic. Dr. Willoughby asked her to stay and help teach the basic course in chiropractic, and she became a founding member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA). She taught their basic program for 15 years and also did some of the diplomat teaching as well.
Working with a Network of Veterinary Specialists
By 1989, Dr. Shoemaker’s practice evolved from a partly conventional practice to exclusively integrative, offering chiropractic, acupuncture, homotoxicology, and other alternative modalities. And she was very fortunate to be working for Dr. John Lee at that time, who allowed her to do her own thing while working out of his practice.
Dr. Shoemaker’s practice continued to grow through the 1990s, and these days she does very little conventional medicine. Her specialty is what she calls an integrative overview. She works with clients who also take their animals to regular veterinarians and veterinary surgeons. She has great working relationships with several high-level referral practices in her area that treat her as a colleague. They refer patients to her and she refers to them, so the animals get the best of both worlds.
Dr. Shoemaker is very grateful for her working relationships with other veterinarians. This isn’t a luxury every holistic practitioner has. Often they are isolated, viewed as “whackos” who aren’t practicing “real medicine.” Dr. Shoemaker’s traditional veterinary colleagues respect her as someone who can really make a difference in the quality of life of patients.
And she feels wonderful being able to tell clients, “Let’s get a definitive diagnosis. You need to do this imaging,” or “You need a cardiology consult,” or “You need a great surgeon to help with this.” She can refer to all the specialties in her network, which gives her the opportunity to concentrate on what she does well, while also providing the best possible care for each patient.
A Passion for Learning and Teaching
Dr. Shoemaker is also passionate about sharing what she knows with others, and I asked her to talk a little about that.
She explains that anyone who wants to visit her practice to see integrative veterinary medicine in action, and learn from her, is welcome, including veterinarians and veterinary students. In fact, she’s currently hosting an intern who is pre-vet (meaning he hasn’t started vet school yet), and she says, “I’m going to spoil him so much, he won’t know what to do with vet school when he gets there.” She loves having visitors, because she learns from them as well, and they keep her on her game.
Dr. Shoemaker also developed a continuing education program for veterinarians called Postural Rehabilitation, which was given a grant by the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) to research equine abnormal and normal posture and learn the factors that make a difference in that balance.
The program has a non-species specific introduction, an equine series, and also a canine series. Dr. Shoemaker is also planning to produce an information series to teach the techniques to AVCA chiropractors, and licensed canine rehabilitation professionals.
One of the unofficial goals of the program is to help practitioners accumulate knowledge about their own bodies that can help them maintain their own health. Many large animal practitioners are done in by the time they’re 40 because their bodies are worn out. It’s a physically tough profession. Dr. Shoemaker is in her late 50s and says she can still get underneath a founder horse. She’s blessed not to have physical problems, and she attributes her still-limber body to her conscious effort to use it appropriately.
Creating a Safe Space
Dr. Shoemaker is obviously a very busy woman! She says she’s lucky that she has a lot of things to do, but she’s also always striving to create and maintain balance in her own life. In fact, these days she raises angora goats instead of working all the time.
She feels that the balance she has created in her life is something people are drawn to. Her clients feel good when they come to her practice. She strives to make people feel safe when they walk through the door. One of the reasons is so that she can elicit a thorough history from them. She doesn’t want anyone feeling embarrassed or worried that she’ll be upset to learn they feed their dog Milk Bones.
Creating a safe space allows animal guardians to be vulnerable and transparent. Dr. Shoemaker allots 2 hours for new small animal appointments, and 3 hours for new horse patients. Follow-ups are a full hour. There are no 15-minute office visits in her practice, and the new patient paperwork is a very comprehensive 5-page questionnaire about the animal’s environment.
Dr. Shoemaker knows that she can’t treat patients successfully without knowing about their human family. She and her staff do a lot of counseling of family members. And she loves to hear comments from clients like this one: “You not only made my animal better, you changed the way I think about taking care of myself.”
Many Thanks to Today’s Wonderful Healers!
I want to extend my sincere thanks to the wonderful Dr. Sarah Daane-Froehlich, Dr. Margie Nard, and Dr. Judith Shoemaker for sitting down with me today to discuss their practices and their commitment to the health of animals.
I’m sure you’ll agree with me that these women are truly inspiring!