“ ‘Well, have you considered acupuncture?’ ” Schoell recalled the acupuncturist asking. “I said, ‘You mean, like, for a dog? Uh, no!’ But then I thought, ‘Well, it worked so well for me — why not?’ ”
Increasingly, pet owners like Schoell are turning to the ancient Chinese medical practice for treatment of their cat’s asthma, their rabbit’s head-and-neck strain or their canine’s hip dysplasia.
The practice has become more popular as acupuncture for humans has become more mainstream, said Simon Flynn, executive director of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. This year, the nonprofit group has a membership of 800 veterinary acupuncturists, compared with about 200 a decade ago, Flynn said.
“There’s such substantial growth in veterinary acupuncture, and it’s driven by pet owners who had acupuncture and want their pets to have the same kind of therapy,” Flynn said. (Veterinary acupuncture was approved as an “alternate therapy” in 1988 by the American Veterinary Medical Association.)
This raises the question: Do we have boundary issues with our pets? Perhaps. When we see a human trend on the rise, it’s a safe bet that a companion-animal trend will follow. Think: dog therapy, pet spas, organic pet food and yoga classes known as “doga,” for, yes, dogs and their human partners. (Please refer to the book “Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi.”)
“It became a quality-of-life issue,” says Schoell, 40. “If your dog is anxiety-ridden, it’s going to make you anxiety-ridden.”
Shortly afterward, she and Cashew were in the flower-framed entryway of Greta McVey’s brick Cape Cod in College Park. McVey is one of the region’s best-known pet acupuncturists. Maryland is the only state that allows non-veterinarians to practice acupuncture. Licensed acupuncturists are permitted to treat pets after obtaining an additional 140-hour certification in animal acupuncture.
McVey, 53, speaks in a low Southern drawl and has a tendency to ask pets how they are feeling before she asks their owners. A curly-haired woman with soft blue eyes, McVey hails from the coal mining town of Cedar Bluff, Va., and is descended from a long line of country doctors and healers — “Mama’s grandfather was a vet.”
McVey’s 30-minute sessions cost about $75, which is standard in the industry, and are much like acupuncture for humans — including the insertion of tiny needles into specific points on the body. Animal acupuncturists say they can treat an array of maladies, from emotional trauma like Cashew’s to a parakeet’s stomach woes or a rabbit’s hind-limb paralysis. McVey stresses that her treatments are meant to complement, not replace, veterinary medicine.