London - As nation of dog lovers it is, perhaps, not surprising that many pet owners leave no stone unturned in their attempts to ensure their animal is in tip-top health.But the days of relying on regular exercise, a healthy diet and trips to the vet are gone.
Today, a dog is just as likely to be found on a therapist’s couch as a vet’s examining table. Even at a time of economic uncertainty, many devoted owners are splashing out on alternative remedies such as acupuncture and homeopathy, while data from Lincoln University recently found that more than 15,000 pets are referred to animal psychologists every year in the UK.
And some of these treatments are even more traditionally ‘human’.
When Lorna Arrowsmith, 43, from Shrewsbury, grew concerned about her rescue dog Cassie, a 12-month-old bull terrier, she turned to a Reiki master for help. Lorna wasn’t fully aware of Cassie’s history, but says it was obvious that the dog had experienced some abuse or trauma.
“We got her home and she stayed rooted under the kitchen table for three days, constantly shaking,” she says. “She was petrified of everything from cars to brooms.”
Then, in January last year, Lorna saw an advert for Rob Fellows, a Reiki master who works with animals with emotional and physical problems and decided to take Cassie for a complimentary treatment.
Despite the fact Reiki, a traditional Japanese form of therapy that involves the transfer of energy through the hands to the patient, is thought of as a “human” treatment, Lorna was amazed to see immediate results.
During their first session, Cassie was so anxious it took Lorna ten minutes just to persuade her to lie down. After that, Rob gently stroked her before laying his hands on her. He explained he was unblocking energy, stimulating Cassie’s natural healing process, dissolving stress and putting her at ease.
“By the end of the session, Cassie had stopped shaking. Even though I had initially been sceptical, the results spoke for themselves,” Lorna says.
After a longer follow-up session at a cost of £50 (about R600), Cassie relaxed even more, stopped cowering under furniture at home and greeted Lorna’s children when they came home from school.
Lorna attended one of Rob’s £175 courses so she could learn to administer Reiki herself, something she does every evening.
‘”riends and family can’t believe the difference in Cassie,” Lorna marvels. “She’s been transformed from a scared little thing to the most tactile, loving dog.”
Reiki isn’t the only “human” therapy that appears to work wonders on animals - as Alice Shaw, a carer from Pimlico, Central London, discovered.
Tyson, her Staffordshire bull terrier, was born with a displaced hip and, when he was just four, developed arthritis in his elbows. By last year, the arthritis had grown so bad that Tyson could no longer walk.
Alice’s vet referred her to a physiotherapist but when that had little effect it was suggested she try acupuncture at the Blue Cross Animal Hospital in South-West London.
Alice, 57, says: “I’d heard good things about it being used on humans, and Tyson was in such a bad state I had nothing to lose.
“The vet would feel Tyson’s body for areas of stiffness in his elbows, and ask me how he appeared when his body seized up, when it happened most.”
Then the vet inserted a series of long ultra-fine needles along the length of Tyson, from the nape of his neck, along his back and into his legs. “I sat beside him to reassure him, but while he flinched occasionally, as it was obviously a strange sensation, I’m certain he was in no pain,” Alice says.
Tyson had the same acupuncture treatment weekly for the first month, then fortnightly, and now monthly. “Within a couple of weeks, there was a noticeable difference,” Alice says. “He could run without appearing to be in any pain and I haven’t had to carry him around at all. I only make a voluntary donation each time, so it’s affordable and the results couldn’t be better.”
Candice Roundell, the 34-year-old veterinary surgeon at the Blue Cross who administers Tyson’s acupuncture, says: “I’d had it done a couple of times for my back pain and knew it could work, so in 2009 I did a course at a clinic in Glasgow which inspired me to carry acupuncture out on animals.
“The response can be dramatic. I had one cat who couldn’t jump after being in a road accident and, after just one session, he was leaping over fences.”
When Anna Webb, a 46-year-old presenter on BBC Radio London heard Molly, her ten-year-old miniature bull terrier, needed surgery, she feared that she might lose her. Molly had developed an irritable wart on her neck and vets urged Anna to have it surgically removed.
“Molly had had a general anaesthetic a few years previously and she was sick for weeks. Plus, the wart was close to the jugular vein and the risk of her bleeding to death was too dreadful to think about,” says Anna from Dalston, North-East London.
Then, through her radio show, she met Dr Richard Allport, founder of the Natural Medicine Centre in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire.
Anna says: “Richard prescribed a homeopathic treatment of three tablets and three doses of Thuja (a plant extract) tincture each day. Within ten days the wart had fallen off - I’d been as sceptical as anyone about homeopathic treatments, but I’d gone from thinking I might lose Molly to finding a completely painless path to recovery.”
Anna paid £14 for the homeopathic treatment and £40 for her 20-minute consultation with Dr Allport, compared to £75 for a 15-minute consultation with her regular vet - before any surgery or medicine bills. Now Anna says that, although she still uses conventional vets, she always turns to homeopathic treatment first for Molly and has used it to treat everything from bad bruising to an ear infection.
When Sue Bubenzer, a 61-year-old retired charity worker from Carmarthenshire, rescued William, a Jack Russell-collie cross, from a nearby shelter she hoped he would be a loving companion for her and husband Gunter.
However, when William displayed signs of aggression and barked relentlessly, Sue, an experienced handler of rescued animals, turned to dog psychologist Ben Evans for support.
Sue says: “We got William four years ago, when he was one, but none of the usual tricks made any difference.”
William was terrified of everything and would bark hysterically when anyone came to the door, or if Sue or Gunter ever met anyone on walks.
“It was like William was ruling our lives, leaving me in tears on several occasions,” Sue says.
The turning point came this March when, on a recommendation, they contacted Ben, who visited them at home.
William barked when Ben approached, but, as Ben calmly stood his ground, the dog backed down. “Ben explained that William was terrified of so many situations because he didn’t have any trust in our leadership skills,” Sue says.
Along with the group sessions - where William learned to recognise other dogs as non-threatening - Ben used positive reinforcement techniques during his £40 individual sessions to show William that a situation he perceived as threatening was, in fact, safe.
For instance, Sue or Gunter repeatedly went out the front door and came back in with either a little ball or a food treat, until William associated people coming to the door with a positive experience.
“Firmly but without anger, we told William what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour. We faced up to walks where we knew we would meet other people and stood strong, showing him our calm confidence where previously we’d let William get his way,” Sue says.
“We’ve stopped him going up the stairs - from where he had a sense of power - and he’s not allowed to jump on the furniture and growl at us, staking out his territory. We still go to Ben’s classes and, although William’s far from perfect, his transformation has been miraculous.”
Ben Evans has worked in animal rescue centres since he was 14 and now has a diploma in dog psychology and behaviour.
He says: ‘”very dog is different and my job is to understand what they’re trying to communicate through their actions. With the right treatment, any dog can be helped. When I see a dog like William find his own peace and give so much joy to owners like Sue and Gunter, it’s wonderful.” - Daily Mail