Meet a Holistic Vet Who Helps Pets See, and One Who Rescues Survivors of Natural Disasters

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May 31, 2015 | 19,974 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Dr. Terri McCalla is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist in Bellingham, Washington whose inspiration to learn about non-traditional medicine was her autistic son. Dr. McCalla has co-developed an amazing ocular supplement that helps dogs with eye disease maintain their vision
  • Dr. Brad Roach is a holistic practitioner in Oklahoma City whose career turned in a dramatically new direction when he headed up disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating tornado that leveled Moore, Oklahoma in 2013

By Dr. Becker

I'm at the AHVMA conference today, chatting with holistic veterinarians as part of my Highlighting the Healer interview series.

Dr. Terri McCalla

My first guest today is Dr. Terri McCalla, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist in solo practice in Bellingham, Washington. Dr. McCalla attended a combined veterinary program at Oregon State University and Washington State University. She graduated in 1984 and obtained her ophthalmology certification five years later in 1989.

Dr. McCalla's journey toward holistic veterinary medicine began with the birth of her first child, Kurt, who was later diagnosed with autism. At that time, Dr. McCalla was a "Western medicine practitioner all the way." However, Western medicine failed her son, and so she sought other ways to help him.

Kurt is much better now than he once was. Dr. McCalla is very glad she sought out alternative options for him, because beyond helping Kurt, her search also caused her to question the treatments she offered her veterinary patients. Were there other things that could help them? Her experience with her son forced her to start thinking outside the box when it came to medicine.

Amazing Supplement Helps Dogs with Eye Disease Continue to See

One of her patients, a dog with progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), was also a turning point for Dr. McCalla. PRA causes bilateral degeneration of the retina, ultimately resulting in blindness. Her patient had been living with the disease for years… but he could still see. As it turns out, his owners had been giving him an antioxidant supplement every day since the age of two, and he still had his vision. Dr. McCalla thought to herself, "Wow! What's this all about?"

So she began doing research, and the more she read, the more she learned about potentially beneficial supplements for her ophthalmology patients, including other dogs with PRA, and pets with glaucoma, cataracts, and uveitis.

Eventually, she was recommending a combination of several different supplements, and the dogs' owners had to cut them into little pieces to feed their pets. The process wasn't working too well because the dosing was just too difficult and variable.

So in 2005, Dr. McCalla decided to create a combination supplement. She reached out to people who could help her make it happen, including another veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Carmen Colitz, and compounding pharmacist Debby Smith. Together they invented a canine vision supplement called Ocu-GLO™.

Ocu-GLO™ contains 12 different ingredients, and in Dr. McCalla's opinion, it's an amazing supplement because it helps dogs with PRA continue to see. In dogs with the condition, the rods in the retinas of the eyes are shut and they no longer have night vision, but Ocu-GLO™ helps keep the cones functional.

Ocu-GLO™ can also stop blindness in diabetic dogs as long as they are started on the supplement before cataracts develop.

Ocu-GLO™ Studies and Veterinary Community Response

Ocu-GLO™ also has science behind it. Currently there are three research projects underway with the product. One study being conducted at Colorado State University is looking at the neuroprotective properties of Ocu-GLO™ in treating glaucoma.

In addition, veterinary behavior specialists are looking at it for dementia and cognitive issues in dogs, because as Dr. McCalla explains, "What's good for the retina is good for the brain."

Ocu-GLO™ has received the expected pushback from the conventional veterinary community. They want scientific proof. But there are also many open-minded veterinarians who get it right off the bat. Their response to the product is, "Wow, this is great. I'm going to use it." And there are some vets in the middle that could go either way.

Another obstacle is that ophthalmologists aren't accustomed to using supplements in their practices. They're used to dispensing drugs, and that's it.

As Dr. McCalla points out, it's important to view supplements for what they are. They don't promise results. Their role is to help support health. Just as with every inherited disease, some dog breeds are predisposed to eye problems. Why not help protect those breeds with a supplement? Why not decrease the likelihood those genetic predispositions will express themselves?

If a supplement like Ocu-GLO™ does no harm, and holds the potential to radically improve a dog's health, it makes plain old common sense to use it. Ocu-GLO™ is made in the US using high-quality control standards, it is pharmaceutical grade, and Dr. McCalla takes it herself. There's also an Ocu-GLO™ for humans coming soon.

I have great admiration for Dr. McCalla's work and her passion for giving animal guardians everywhere the opportunity to improve their pet's eye health.

Dr. Brad Roach

My second guest is Dr. Brad Roach, who graduated from the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University in 1990. Dr. Roach was in practice for about 12 years before he became interested in holistic medicine, after dealing with the undesirable side effects of medications he used to treat his patients. He thought to himself, "There has to be something else."

The first alternative approach he learned about was Dr. Brian McLaren's photonic therapy, which is the scientific application of light as a therapeutic modality for people and animals. Dr. Roach liked the fact that he didn't have to use needles, and the light made so many animals better.

Next he investigated acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, homotoxicology, and biopuncture, and for the last 12 years, he's run an integrative solo veterinary practice. His education in holistic techniques has helped improve the health of not only his animal patients, but his human family as well.

Working with Animal Survivors of the 2013 Moore, Oklahoma Tornado

Dr. Roach is also very involved in animal rescue, and I asked him to talk about his work in this area.

He explained that he had decided to move his practice to Oklahoma City because so many clients were driving hours to reach him. On May 20, 2013, 10 days before he was set to open his Oklahoma City practice, a tornado devastated the town of Moore, Oklahoma. The USDA decided to make the building he was renting for his practice into a sanctuary for animals displaced by the tornado. In the 30 days following the tornado, the sanctuary housed 159 animals and saw over 1,110 volunteers come through.

Dr. Roach had no background in this type of rescue operation, so his involvement was trial by fire. There were veterinary teams coming from all over to help out. They brought whole trailers full of food and medicine. Dr. Roach was amazed at the generosity and outpouring of both the companies and the people. There were a total of about 30 veterinarians who volunteered throughout that period, from all over the US.

Due to the types of injuries -- both physical and emotional -- the animals suffered in the tornado and its aftermath, Dr. Roach contacted the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine, and they were very helpful in sending all kinds of equipment and supplies. So he got to expose the volunteers at the sanctuary to acupuncture, biopuncture, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, and other modalities.

All the visiting vets and their teams were practicing under Dr. Roach's license because he was in the building. He had homeopaths, aromatherapists, chiropractors, and other practitioners helping animals in any way they could.

Reuniting Pets with Their Families and Finding New Families for Unclaimed Pets

Of the 159 animals taken in by the sanctuary, 89 were reclaimed. And Dr. Roach says he learned something very valuable. "The human-animal bond is so much stronger than human attachment to things," he says. "Oh my gosh, it's the joy. They didn't care if they lost their house or their car. If they found their pet, it meant everything."

They held an adoption event for the unclaimed animals, and Dr. Roach was very worried they wouldn't all find homes. A humane group advertised the adoption event, and to Dr. Roach's astonishment, every single animal was adopted within three or four hours on adoption day.

The tornado experience also changed Dr. Roach's opinion of microchips. He didn't like using them prior to May 2013, but having seen how helpful they can be in the case of a natural disaster like a tornado, and having never seen a tumor or cancer as the result of microchipping, he's now a believer. In fact, one of his own dogs was reunited with him thanks to a microchip.

I'm not a big advocate of microchips because we're introducing a foreign object into an animal's body, which can have consequences. However, in areas where natural disasters occur, for example, along the Florida coastline, a form of permanent identification for pets, for example, permanent tattooing, makes sense.

Dr. Roach said that just as important is having pictures of you with your pet. During the Moore tornado aftermath, he encountered people who were trying to claim pets that didn't belong to them, and the volunteers had to guard against that. So a picture on your cellphone, or a printed picture, is a good thing to have in this type of situation.

A Change of Heart

I asked Dr. Roach if he would be moved to help out in future disaster relief efforts if needed. He replied, "I would run as fast as I could [to help out]." And he would counsel anyone attempting to manage a disaster relief project to get volunteer veterinarians and donation sources lined up ahead of time if all possible.

Dr. Roach's disaster relief experience in Moore was life-changing, and it also changed his perspective on who should own animals. He once believed that people shouldn't own an animal unless they could afford it. But through his disaster relief efforts, he found that for many people, their animals are their lifelines.

So now he's working with a non-profit to create low-cost pet care programs for low-income families in south Oklahoma City, in Moore, and other areas. The non-profit, called New Leash on Life, also trains wheelchair assistance dogs and helps low-income families acquire those dogs.

Economics don't dictate how much love a person has for an animal. Why let animals die in shelters when they can be adopted by people who desperately need and want them.

As Dr. Roach explains, "What I meant to do was to go to Oklahoma City to open a consulting practice for my higher income holistic clients," but what happened in Moore "changed my heart to work with low-income families."

Many Thanks to Today's Gifted Healers!

I want to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Terri McCalla and Dr. Brad Roach for sitting down with me today to discuss their passion and commitment to the health of animals.