I trust vets, as a rule. They love animals, make little money, work long hours, and spend years paying off their student loans. Most of those I've dealt with are well-informed diagnosticians, quick to seek help or refer clients to specialists. Imperfect though veterinary care may be, I think vets are a dog owner's best shot when health issues arise. Still, conventional veterinary care has its limitations. Vet offices are crowded and stressful; vets are busy, often harried. They tend to get uncomfortable when they find themselves beyond measurable physical ailments. Many lag behind, for instance, in dealing with the behavioral issues that are now the leading cause of death for American dogs, because behavior doesn't show up on diagnostic tests.
My vet understood her limitations. So, I ended up driving to Vermont with Orson—skeptical, but figuring I owed it to the dog to give it a shot.
Stephanie's office was surprisingly quiet, almost soothing—no other dogs, no crowds of people. All of the rooms were carpeted, the windows curtained. New Age-y music was playing in the background.
Stephanie gave Orson four or five minutes to sniff around, check her out, get comfortable. She talked to him quietly, mentioned his name often, gave him a treat or two. There was no examining table, just a carpeted platform in the middle of a large room. Orson hopped up on it without even being asked. I appreciated the atmosphere; vet offices can be stressful for humans, too. Stephanie took considerable time talking to me about him, time a regular vet could never afford. I amazed myself by nearly bursting into tears after telling her, "There is a broken part of this dog that I just can't reach." I had never quite said that to a vet before, nor had any vet asked.
She gave Orson a chiropractic exam, massaging him gently and discovering extreme sensitivity along his spinal column, perhaps from the time years before when he'd been hit by a car. Stephanie felt he was tense, in pain. I could see and feel his discomfort too, once she showed me.
She suggested a program of treatments to ease his arousal and excitability. He was appropriate and affectionate, she could see, when not excited or alarmed. She prescribed Chinese calming herbs, plus acupuncture for his soreness. We'd start that day. I felt she had quickly identified and focused on the right issues—discomfort, arousal, anxiety—and considered them treatable.
I had brought along Rose, my other border collie, Orson's pal and protector. When Stephanie took out her acupuncture needles, Rose jumped up and stood between him and this new vet, growling and showing her teeth—something I'd never seen her do before.
Stephanie seemed to be expecting it. She didn't startle, reassure, pull back, or scold. She showed Rose the needle, speaking her name softly and calmly. Then she brought the needle down to Orson's skin, then back to Rose's nose. Satisfied, Rose jumped off of the table. I was impressed.
Then I watched, surprised, as Stephanie inserted a dozen needles in Orson's back, shoulders, neck, and legs. Within minutes, he was lying on his back snoring, feet in the air, tongue nearly hanging off the table. I had rarely, if ever, seem him so relaxed.
Orson has had acupuncture treatments for several months now, and I'm mixing the prescribed herbs into his food. Everyone who sees him believes he is a radically changed dog. The broken part of him is not fixed. He's still excitable—especially around gates and doors—and protective of me. But he is much calmer, distinctly less uncomfortable and agitated.
When we go to see Stephanie now, he bounds out of the car, darts into her office, jumps up on her platform, and lies down for his needles. Within minutes, he is dozing peacefully. When the last needle is removed, he hops off the table and sits eagerly by the cabinet where Stephanie stores the treats. Then he lies down under her desk while I pay for the visit.