Here is the beginning of an article in the Chronicle today on alternative pet care.
Howlistic pet care
Pets Unlimited offers acupuncture, homeopathy and Chinese herbs in growing field of alternative veterinary medicine as cats, dogs become ever more a part of San Francisco families
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The rooms are a study in color and light, with bamboo floors, framed shoji screen windows, candles on every table and large black-and-white photographs on the walls. The effect is soothing and pristine.
It won't last.
On Monday, the howls and yelps will begin, punctuated by occasional spurts of bodily fluids. San Francisco's first totally holistic center for veterinary medicine will open at Pets Unlimited, a Pacific Heights nonprofit offering free tours to the public today and Sunday.
"Finally, people are ready for this," said veterinarian Cheryl Schwartz, a pioneer in the field of nontraditional care for animals.
The creatures that come to the center will receive such treatments as acupuncture, Chinese herbs and homeopathy -- either as a complement to Western medicine or as an alternative when conventional approaches haven't worked.
"In the last few years we've really seen the demand grow, especially with the aging pet population," said Joe O'Hehir, the organization's executive director.
The center, formerly a grooming and cat-boarding space, is located on the basement level of the Fillmore Street building. During the 18-month renovation, the walls of the reception area became a peach-mango shade, applied using a Venetian plaster technique more often encountered in Italian restaurants.
The three rooms dedicated to consultations and treatments also are painted in colors more likely to be seen in a massage studio or in Architectural Digest.
"A lot of people don't consider the environment as part of the healing process," said Schwartz, who has studied the impact of color on animals for 25 years and was a consultant on the renovation.
Even though pets are mostly color-blind, Schwartz said, the frequency of the vibrations in each color resonates with them.
She said the pink room will help those that are cold -- for example, a pet with hypothyroidism. The yellow room will energize dogs and cats that are lethargic, while the blue room will calm those that are restless or aggressive, such as Pixie, a Rottweiler mix living in Pets Unlimited's shelter who gets acupuncture for arthritis in her hip.
Skepticism about holistic therapy for animals has lessened over the years, said Sally Wortman, hospital administrator at Pets Unlimited.
"A lot of people are having holistic treatments themselves -- or their friends are," said Wortman, who added that the few Bay Area vets who offer such care are often booked months in advance.
Schwartz, author of "Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs," started teaching acupuncture to veterinarians in 1989. Her initial group of students, no more than 100, has grown to several thousand. Meanwhile, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association in Maryland now has more than 800 members.
Even without the holistic center, Pets Unlimited is an unusual place. A nonprofit founded almost 60 years ago by three Pacific Heights women prone to taking in strays, it is both a veterinary hospital that provides 24-hour emergency care and a shelter for dogs and cats with special needs -- disabled, abused or victims of accidents. It now sees 25,000 animals a year, amounting to 45,000 treatments.
"We're the San Francisco General of the animal world," O'Hehir said.
Randy Bowman, one of 13 veterinarians at Pets Unlimited, will provide acupuncture at the center, along with two licensed acupuncturists. For months, he has been administering treatments on a weekly basis to clients' pets and some animals at the shelter, currently inhabited by 50 cats and 20 dogs.
One of Bowman's patients was a 2-year-old pug born with hind-limb paresis. He would drag his hind legs so much that his nails were rubbed raw. After one treatment of electrical stimulation through acupuncture, the rubber boots the dog had worn his entire life were removed. After a second session, he could stand on his hind legs.
"I wasn't expecting that much improvement," Bowman said.
Tom Mason, medical director at Pets Unlimited, said his French bulldog, Fanny, was surprisingly receptive to holistic therapy for her disc problems.
"In a veterinary setting, she's very nervous," he said. "She starts shaking, and her eyes are bugging out of her head. When she had acupuncture, in less than five minutes she was practically asleep."
Event: Pets Unlimited will hold an open house for the public to tour its new holistic center from noon to 4 p.m. today and Sunday at 2343 Fillmore St., San Francisco.
More information: Visit www.petsunlimited.org or call (415) 563-6700.
E-mail Patricia Yollin at email@example.com.