Kiera lies on a mat in a soothingly lit, well-appointed room. Jessica Dreyfuss – Dr. Jessie to those that know her – sits on the ground next to Kiera, applying acupuncture needles. Kiera wears a pair of dark-tinted safety goggles and eats from a small cup of semi-solid mixture that looks like a candle and is said to taste like chicken. Other than one flinch when Dr. Jessie places a needle in a particularly troublesome spot on her hip, Kiera is relaxed.
Kiera, a big black Labrador retriever, is getting up in years, but that doesn’t stop Dreyfuss from calling her a kid, as she does all the animals that come through the door. When John and Audrey Gorman first brought Kiera in to see Dr. Jessie more than a year ago, they didn’t know what else to do.
“She couldn’t stand,” John Gorman says. “The vet that we were using at the time was pretty much out of options. It was bleak … but Dr. Jessie gave us hope.”
These days, Kiera gets around. “It’s not a pretty walk,” he says. “But she walks.”
There have been a few stories like Kiera’s since Dreyfuss opened Healing Paws Center two years ago. The Oakland Park Boulevard practice is a local entrant to the new but growing field of holistic veterinary medicine. If it wasn’t for all the dog-related art on the walls, the place could be mistaken for a day spa or physical rehabilitation clinic. Down one hall there’s a series of treatment rooms, including one that’s cat-only – no dog smells or anything similarly startling in that one. A large front room acts as a gym, with several treadmills (one of which fills with water) as well as various steps, balance balls and other equipment that will be familiar to anybody with a gym membership. They also fit pets with animal wheelchairs.
Dreyfuss is a licensed vet who has done additional studies in areas such as veterinary acupuncture and food therapy. Much of that work has been done at the Chi Institute, a University of Florida Veterinary School institution that pioneers work in the field of alternative medicine for animals.
And look, Dreyfuss knows how this might sound. Cat acupuncture? A dog doing rehab on a treadmill? Isn’t this all a bit much? To that, Dreyfuss has several answers. One’s practical: often, her treatments are the economical option. If, say, a dog has a serious spine or hip problem, one option is surgery that will run into the thousands, possibly tens of thousands. Another option is saying goodbye. A third option is trying something new.
As her background indicates, Dreyfuss believes in mainstream veterinary medicine. She’s trained in it. Her practice mixes both Western and Eastern medical traditions tailored to veterinary medicine. But she’s seen the results these new methods can achieve. In fact, that’s basically what brought her to this particular form of veterinary medicine. In particular, Duke brought her there.
Named for her alma mater, Duke was a good boy. When he was diagnosed with a particularly nasty form of cancer, she called around looking for help.
“That’s my heart dog, that’s my soul dog,” she says. “There’s got to be something.”
Somebody mentioned canine acupuncture. Dreyfuss was skeptical.
“I remember saying to her, ‘I’ve never heard of that; that’s not going to work.’”
But she was out of options. And after two sessions, Duke was acting like a puppy again. Veterinarians who had treated him gave him weeks; he lived for two more years. And they were happy, active years.
“Western medicine did not give him a quality of life,” Dreyfuss says. “Eastern medicine did.” It also converted his pet mom. Several years later, she’s successfully converting others.
They see all sorts of dogs, says vet tech Briana Moglia – from older dogs with age-related problems to dogs with cancer or other serious illnesses to competitive show dogs that just need to be at their best.
“Sometimes it’s rehab; sometimes it’s prehab,” Moglia says.
And it’s not limited to dogs and the occasional cat. Lucy the rabbit comes in for regular treatments. That was an interesting one at first; Dreyfuss didn’t have a lot of previous research to go on.
“Bunny acupuncture is not widely discussed in veterinary circles,” she says.
Not that Lucy’s the most exotic patient.
“We did have a skunk coming in for a while,” Moglia says. “We fitted him for a wheelchair.”
The skunk eventually passed – but not before becoming popular on YouTube.
For Dreyfuss, that never-know-what-might-come-in-the-door diversity is part of what makes the job interesting. And it’s not just diversity of animals; it’s diversity of treatments. Later on this day, she’s in a consultation with the owner of a massive Dogo Argentino with equally massive allergy and diet problems that are presenting themselves in some less-than-ideal ways. (“Her poop was huge,” the owner tells Dreyfuss. “Like a cow.”)
Dreyfuss goes over all sorts of options. There’s acupuncture, but also various potential diets. Various protein sources and special diets are discussed – bone broth is recommended, as are probiotics.
“There’s no one thing that’s going to fix this,” Dreyfuss says to the owner. “It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take tinkering.”
Dreyfuss loves spending the time and doing the tinkering. The epileptic boxer does not need the same treatment as the poodle with an odd gait. Every day is different.
No two kids are the same.