With the sounds of barking, meowing and laughter, this doesn't feel like a place where animals are getting poked with needles.
The Veterinary Wellness Center, located at 5147 S. Harvard Ave., Suite C, has new and interesting ways to make furry friends feel better. Heather Owen, a licensed veterinarian and acupuncturist, and Jacqueline Judd, a physical therapist, work to make pets "feel better one needle at a time."
Heather had been a practicing veterinarian for five years when a six-pound dog changed the course of her career.
"I saw a tiny little Chihuahua with a wardrobe larger than you can imagine suffer from, and loose her life, to kidney failure," she recalled.
This little dog's fight sparked something in Heather. After witnessing the dog's owner spend upwards of $15,000 on traditional medicine and surgeries with no result, Owen knew there had to be something else she could do.
She decided to become an acupuncturist.
After receiving her acupuncture license, Owen stayed in general practice until she realized even she, a certified acupuncturist, was forgetting to recommend acupuncture to her patients. That's when Owen decided to end her general veterinary practice and started focusing on in-home pet services. Business was booming, and The Veterinary Wellness Center was founded.
East and West.
Owen used both aspects of her training and started blending the eastern form of medicine -- acupuncture -- and the western form Americans are more familiar with. Owen feels that using either form of veterinary medicine exclusively deprives animals of total treatment. By combining acupuncture and general practice, Owen hopes to help pets be as healthy as possible.
Acupuncture is the process of inserting needles into the skin at specific points to stimulate nerves, which Owen said sends messages to the brain triggering a release of endorphins and increased blood flow. The practice dates back thousands of years to China and other eastern cultures, but acupuncture has only recently broke through in western culture, particularly here in the United States. Acupuncture wasn't used in veterinary practice in the U.S. until the last five years or so, Owen said.
The Veterinary Wellness Center has a number of success stories. During their first year of business, the center treated 14 Dachshunds that had terrible back problems, some severe enough to prevent walking. After a year of acupuncture, laser therapy and traditional veterinary medicine, all but one of the dogs gained full mobility.
Acupuncture is effective for many problems, but there are some places Owen doesn't want to poke your pet -- so she uses a laser.
"I don't like needles in the legs or paws," she said. "Just think of our hands, we wouldn't want needles in them; so I say that acupuncture works best from the elbow to the knee or the trunk of the animal."
If the animal has issues with its legs or paws, Owen said her laser can help. The procedure may look a little funny, but she says it works.
A pet's primary veterinarian must recommend acupuncture, Owen said, adding that while her clinic isn't a general veterinary practice, she works with vets to find the right mix of traditional and alternative therapies.
Owen said some of the less-typical veterinary treatments take commitment from owners.
"It can take some time to get your pet where they need to be," she said. "We need committed parents."
It could take one treatment or it could take weekly visits for the rest of your pets' life. It just depends on your pet, Owen said.
"We've had patients come in one time and be 100 percent better, but we have some patients that need to be seen a couple of times a week," she said.
One of Owen's patients, Louie the terrier mix, comes in regularly for treatment for renal failure and arthritis. Danna McGlumphy, Louie's owner, is dedicated to getting her little dog better.
"We come and see Heather twice a week, so Louie can get his needles," McGlumphy said. "He actually really likes them."
Having needles jabbed in your skin isn't really something to dream about, but Louie knows they help him. McGlumphy said she doesn't think the procedure hurts her dog, who doesn't show any signs of discomfort. Louie actually perks up after his visits and goes home to play with his brother and sister, McGlumphy said.
"He usually keeps his needles in for about an hour and then we go home," she said.
While Louie is a pretty tame terrier, not all of Owen's patients can sit still for an hour -- and that's not a problem.
"The acupuncture helps as soon as the needle is inserted in the skin," she said, "it's OK for the animals to shake them out after a minute or to leave them in for an hour," she said.
The Veterinary Wellness Center uses acupuncture to treat a number of animal ailments, including pain management and urinary tract problems, to more serious problems like kidney and liver failure. The center also helps unruly pets with some behavioral management treatments. Owen and her team also help with animal physical rehabilitation. The center has stairs, balancing tools and an underwater treadmill.
Owen said the center only accepts "companion pets," animals that can be handled easily to prevent any more stress on themselves, other animals and the technicians.
The center has had some interesting patients, Owen said.
"We had a hedgehog once," she said with a smile. "It was interesting, I poked him and he poked me right back."
So bring in all household animals -- big, small, furry and pokey. A typical acupuncture session is $55, with other options ranging in price from $50 to $130.
Owen loves what she does and she knows the animals do, too.
"It doesn't really feel like working, it just feels like playing," she said with a smile.
For more information, call at 918-728-2351 or visit animalacupuncturellc.com.
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