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Our Best Friends - Lake Cowichan Gazette Column




October 26, 2016


I had heard it was good for your soul to take a year off after high school, so I took 12 years and worked extensively with animals.  I raised and trained dogs, schooled and worked horses, and had a wide range of experience with farm animals, especially beef and dairy cattle.   Although I’d considered becoming a vet, I’d really wanted to have relationships with animals vs. just showing up to ‘fix them’.  In 1988, I was ready to integrate both.

After completing the two year pre-vet program at the University of Alberta, I was one of 20 students of the 175 applicants, to be selected to attend the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon.  It was an amazing, challenging program with incredible professors, facilities and patients.  I graduated with Great Distinction in 1994 and took my first veterinary position at a mixed practice in Alberta.  Over the ensuing years, I worked emergency and small animal practice as a locum, an associate and as a practice owner.  In 2000, I established Cowichan Veterinary Services, a small animal full service clinic in Lake Cowichan.  Knowing how much research and funding was involved in small animal medicine, I became increasingly concerned and confused about the dramatic rise in illnesses - our pet population was becoming sicker, not healthier.  Diseases that were uncommon when I graduated:  cancer, immune mediated illness and allergies, were becoming the norm.  I took a sabbatical from work and researched in depth what could be causing these immense challenges in our pets that often took their lives way too prematurely.  Were the culprits commercial diets filled with gmo’s inappropriate ingredients and toxins? annual vaccinations with their load of heavy metals, preservatives and antibiotics?  pharmaceuticals, the ‘silver bullets’ that all have a cost on a body as my pharmacology prof had taught?  I integrated my research, my veterinary training, and my life time of experience with animals and shifted my veterinary work to what I call ‘Radical Wellness’.  ‘Radical’ means going to the root or origin; pertaining to what is fundamental, far reaching and thorough.  However, the solutions of detoxification, species appropriate nutrition and support through these toxic times, were not readily available so I continued researching and began formulating them myself.  I created about a dozen organic wellness products for pets to help them through these challenging times.  The first and my favorite is called G.I. & Immune Support, a blend of earth ingredients and probiotics that helps our pets detoxify, heal, and thrive.  I now offer housecall and telephone consultation focusing on species appropriate nutrition and holistic wellness.  After all, like Hippocrates, the father of medicine said in 450 BC:  “Let food be thy medicine”.  How was it that we forgot that or were convinced otherwise??  


November 9, 2016


In veterinary college I had an outstanding pharmacology professor.  He was internationally published, well spoken, humorous and had received many awards and honors.  He used to say that the sign of a good doctor is how many patients you can get off medications, not how many you can put them on.  I remembered laughing and at the same time being surprised hearing that from a man who had dedicated his life to studying drugs and was considered to be one of the top veterinary clinical pharmacologists in the world!  He reminded my class regularly that every single drug has side effects and that the body has to deal with them and “it’s not always pretty”.  He told us that every drug can and will, at some point, cause harm.

I wanted to be a good doctor and I certainly didn’t want to cause harm in the process.


The basis of the Hippocratic Oath, “First Do No Harm,” had always appealed to my ethics and ideals for living and for practicing veterinary medicine.  Hippocrates was a Greek physician, who lived about 400 B.C. and was considered “one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine” and the Father of Modern Medicine.  He understood that the body has an amazing ability to heal and that the physician’s job is to support that process.  This is the essence of Holistic Medicine and recognizes that the parts of the body are intimately interconnected, as well as to its environment.  A sick liver, for example, is viewed as being a part of the whole patient; affected by diet, lifestyle, emotions, and all the rest of the body parts.  Healing then becomes a team approach that addresses all aspects of an animal’s life and uses a variety of health care practices to support and facilitate the patient’s innate ability to heal.  Treatment involves working towards correcting the cause of the condition, not just alleviating the symptoms.  Allergies are a good example - instead of simply prescribing drugs such as antihistamines or steroids to relieve or bandage the patient’s symptoms,  a plan is formulated to work with the healing intelligence of the body by removing toxins, strengthening the body’s immune system, and limiting further immune stress through diet and other considerations.  A healthy immune system doesn’t attack its self and healthy pets don’t do drugs.


“First Do No Harm” - doesn’t that just make sense? 


December 07, 2016


"We have happy cow ads, happy chicken ads, and it's all a lie. It's totally dishonest, but it's not illegal. You can do anything you want to an animal whose flesh or milk or eggs you intend to sell, and you can lie about it all you want, because we have made this semantic distinction between some animals and others. Some we love, others we not only butcher, we torture.” -‘Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows - an Introduction to Carnism’ by Dr. Melanie Joy


Our sentimental image of pigs, chickens, and cows being raised on an idyllic family farm is seriously outdated. Over 95% of the staggering 650 million animals raised and slaughtered for food in Canada today are mass- produced on factory farms. Here they live their short lives indoors in intensive confinement systems, deprived of everything that is natural to them including sunlight, family, fresh air and even the ability to turn around. The horrific conditions that exist on Canadian modern farms are beyond shameful and include animals being crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, wire cages, gestation crates, and other cruel confinement systems. These animals suffer staggering neglect, mutilation, genetic manipulation and drug regimens that cause acute and chronic pain and debilitation. During transport thousands die from overcrowding and extreme temperatures. Their tortured lives end in terror with violent and gruesome deaths in slaughterhouses across the country. Factory farming is built on an attitude that regards animals and the natural world merely as commodities to be exploited for profit. In animal agriculture, this attitude has led to institutionalized animal cruelty, massive environmental destruction, resource depletion, and animal and human health risks.

And somehow we rationalize this, forgetting that all of these creatures have something incredibly important in common. They all draw breath from the same source as we do. They are all parts of the earth community. "All God's critters," someone wisely said," have a place in the choir.”

How can you be part of the solution?

Know your farmer - purchase meat and eggs from a trusted source. Ask questions of your butcher, grocer and food server about the conditions in which your ‘food’ was raised. ‘Grass Fed’ and ‘Pasture Raised’ mean that the animals have had their feet on the earth while growing up for you. Demand fair living practices for the animals that give life and fuel to you and your family and be part of the solution - compassionately.

You can check out the BC SPCA Farmed Animal Welfare page online for tons of info about advocacy, farm animal facts and to sign up for the FarmSense ENewsletter. Public input is requested in drafting welfare laws. Your voice makes a difference - speak up for those that can’t. 


November 23, 2016


I was just finishing up with my last surgical case for the day when the clinic phone rang. The caller had heard whining coming from within a boarded up shed in a yard in Lake Cowichan and on investigation had discovered a momma dog with a litter of newborn puppies inside. Not normally any cause for concern, newborns are resilient and have all their needs met by a healthy mom and big dogs rarely have difficulties post whelping. This situation was different. This dog’s family had moved out of town 7 days prior and had left her behind. If someone was supposed to have picked her up from the shed - they hadn't showed. This momma dog had spent her last week of gestation locked up, with no food and no water. I prepared for the worst - warmed IV fluids, heated blankets and hot water bottles, set out injectable glucose and calcium and rolled out the crash cart.

The car pulled into the clinic parking lot and I watched as a young medium sized German Shepherd cross dog was led out. She was very thin, missing most of her coat but her tail was wagging and she was able to walk slowly in to the exam room with her rescuer. She greeted me, tail still wagging, friendly eyes and then turned to receive the big box full of wriggling puppies carried along behind. A look into the box revealed 7 fat, healthy puppies. No concerns there, they had pulled all the nutrients they required out of their momma’s body. Returning my attention to their momma I was amazed that her mammary glands were stretched tight with a huge load of milk. How had she managed to pull that off and still be on her feet after a week with no water? As she eagerly drank the first small bowl of water I noticed the slightest muscle tremor along her flank, then her ear twitched. Her body had given itself fully to the mission of whelping and lactating, even as it was outstripping her blood supply of calcium. Postpartum hypocalcemia is an emergency condition, she arrived just in the nick of time! Intravenous calcium restored her blood levels and she finished her second small bowl of water in a large kennel as her puppies settled in for a nap beside her on a warmed blanket.

As I poured a bowl of dog kibble for her, I noticed I had her complete and undivided attention and saw the lengthening string of drool from the mouth that hadn’t had sustenance for so long. Opening the kennel door that held her and her young family, I set the bowl of food before her. As she began to rise, to meet the offering, a puppy awoke and with a whimper or two began to suckle. She froze half-way up and looked around at the puppy suckling and then she looked forward at the bowl of food that lay before her. She paused and then, as Life gives itself to Life, she lay back down for the puppy to nurse, postponing feeding her own starving body.

Tears spilled down my cheeks -
I reached for the kibbles in the bowl. “I’ll hand feed you Momma!” She gently accepted my offering, one handful at a time, until she was satisfied. So ended our first day of the next ten years together. 


January 4, 2017


“How can I best contribute here?” I inquired of the SPCA manager on my first day volunteering. She motioned to a kennel and said “You could start by taking this one home with you.” I laughed. If I brought anyone else home I would be living outside with them, the current four-legged residents would insist. “So what’s this buddy’s story?” I inquired as I approached the kennel housing a stunning gray Maine Coon cat.

“This is Max. He was brought in nearly two weeks ago, found at the side of a road in screaming pain by a passerby. Suspect he was hit by a car, no apparent fractures but his hind end is paralyzed. He uses his litterbox to defecate but just dribbles urine, guess the bladder function went with the hind legs. By the time his mandatory hold time of 72 hours here was up he seemed pretty comfortable. We would prefer not to euthanize if there’s any hope for recovery and adoption.”

I opened the kennel door and was greeted by Max’s resounding purr. His big hairy maned head pushed itself into my hand as I stroked him. “What a handsome boy! Let’s have a look a you Max.” Max dragged himself over to the kennel door.

Max’s injuries were extremely serious. Although he seemed relatively comfortable, he had no ability to move his hind legs nor to empty his full bladder. His long fur over his hind end was saturated with urine. Max made it very clear that he would rather be stroked than examined but he tolerated my prodding examination without offering harm.

Recovery was an extreme long shot for this patient. Max seemed undaunted as he deftly dragged himself into his litterbox with his powerful front end. Once he had finished his bowel movement, he dragged himself back out. As soon as his hind legs fell off the side of the box, he pulled himself around to face his job and meticulously covered his feces, pausing several times to rebalance himself.

“Well you’re a pretty amazing guy, let’s see what we can do to support you Max. We had better start by giving your bladder a well-needed rest and getting you out of those urine soaked pants.”

My plan was to place a urinary catheter into Max’s urethra and fix it there so that as urine was produced it would direct drain outside his body and allow his bladder to remain empty for an extended period of time. This procedure would at least improve his comfort level and I hoped, give his bladder wall time to repair the damage of prolonged overextension and whatever neurologic damage had occurred, if it was possible at all. While Max was anesthetized for the procedure I shaved all the hair off his hind end, effectively removing his ‘pants’ and the irritation and odour of urine. I was then able to see the cause of his paralysis - Max had been shot! The entry hole of the pellet at his spine was still healing. What an act of cowardice that had caused this cat immense suffering. It was beyond me who could do such a thing. All the odds were stacked against him but he was willing to persevere and so was I. 



January 18, 2017


Working with Max the Maine Coon Cat, after he had been shot in the back, was a remarkable opportunity to witness the body’s incredible ability to heal in a truly determined being.  Because I was front row as Max’s doctor, physiotherapist and cheerleader, it just made it all the sweeter.


Day after day his resolve, goodwill and tenacity won my respect and I was constantly thinking about how to improve Max’s quality of life.  The prognosis in the veterinary literature was grave, minuscule to no hope for recovery from this type of spinal damage.  I closed the textbooks.   Max was strong and persistent and I was on his side, we were going to ‘wing it’ together.  I added massage and energy work to his treatment plan, ramped up the physio, included high dose vitamin and nutritional support and promised him a trip to my favourite warm sandy beach if he’d get his butt up.  He stared through me with those piercing golden green eyes and shoved his big hairy maned head into my hand and purred contentedly.  There was no room to waver, we were in this together. 


While his catheter rested his bladder, Max decided the rest was over for his hind end and it was time to stand.  Remaining paralyzed was clearly not on his agenda.  Leaning against the wall he would will himself up, push against the wall, wobble and fall.  Will himself up, wobble and fall, over and over.  By the time he had pushed himself up with his powerful front end, his hind legs would often be crossed because his brain didn’t know where they were and even if it did, he didn’t have the connections to physically lift his feet up. Another moment up, then he would fall.  He didn’t seem discouraged, he just got up again.  Leaning against a wall allowed him to be up on his feet longer but he wasn’t satisfied with being a wall flower.  Over and over he stood, he fell, he stood and each time gained slightly more strength and slightly more coordination.  In a short time standing wasn’t enough, he was determined to take a step.  He fell.  He stood.  His brain had lost communication with his hind legs.  Max was undaunted.  He had things to do and places to go and those hind legs were going to be coming along one way or another.  


Max was my star patient and the star at the SPCA.  We were all so excited for his miraculous progress.  It was easy to forget that it was essential for Max’s bladder to return to function as well as his legs, for him to have any chance for quality of life and a home.  Without bladder function he was at serious risk of life threatening kidney infections, chronic urine scald and not much of a chance for adoption.    As I planned our celebratory trip to the beach, I also planned the day for catheter removal.  Max’s last big hurdle.  A chill thought of ‘what if’ came to mind and I pushed it aside.  His bladder had one more week of rest before it had to pull through for him, regardless, the following day we’d be on the beach together celebrating this phase of the journey and by then, I would know if there would be any more for Max.



January 25, 2017


It was a paradox how hind end paralysis hadn’t really slowed down Max, the Maine Coon cat. He moved through time with grace, the utmost of curiosity and sheer determination, regardless of his physical ability. As a patient, he had become an incredible teacher to all who witnessed him and clearly, we all needed more of Max - more of his courage, his zest for life and his indomitable spirit. It was unheard of in veterinary medicine to catheterize a patient’s bladder for as long as I had with Max. He needed time to heal without the strain of use but the longer the catheter remained, the more likely that it would damage Max’s delicate tissue and result in scarring and no ability to use his bladder. It was walking a razor's edge - too soon and Max wouldn’t have time to heal - too late and he’d be damaged beyond repair, either way a death sentence. I asked for guidance from the Universe, held my breath and removed his catheter. As Max continued to practice standing and willing his legs to move forward that day, he was now, truly on his own. Would his spirit and willpower triumph over the damage done to his spine by a bullet intended to cause him grave harm? The following morning I came to collect Max for his promised trip to the beach. I had never been so delighted to scoop a litterbox - there it was, a small but precious clump of urine! We were headed in the right direction and it was time to head to the beach to celebrate. The atmosphere at the SPCA was festive as I crated Max and shared my plans for the day. I had no idea that Max would never return to this place that had spared his life. Max managed the car ride with ease and looked about with wide eyed curiosity as I loaded his crate into my sailing dinghy and called Shasta, my dog, aboard to join us on our victory trip. We sailed across the bay on calm waters and I beached the dinghy on the sandy shores where I had imagined bringing Max not that long before, dreaming of his freedom. I had so wanted to share this place with him, so he could have respite from kennel confinement, the ever-present smell of his urine, and experience the heat of the sand warming his body and now, here we were. The fresh, warm breeze brought the symphony of smells of all things briny and he pushed his big maned head against the crate door, eyes closed, nostrils wide open. I watched him breathing in this new, salty world and then, with great honour and pleasure, I picked up his crate and carried it up above the tide line to dry warm sand. Forever more, in exquisite detail and slow motion, I will remember opening that crate door that could never have confined a spirit as indomitable as Max’s and setting my patient free. He pulled himself onto the sand and into his new life with Shasta and I, grinning from ear to ear on the beach. So was I.

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