Results, Natuarally Family Veterinary Center Takes A Decidedly Nonconventional Approach

When Greg Dubreuil’s white German shepherd, Nikita, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia a decade ago at the age of 2, he took her to a few different doctors, but wasn’t finding much help.


“They decided that, even though the X-rays looked terrible, she was functional, and we should treat the dog and not the X-rays,” Dubreuil said. “But from the traditional medical side, they really weren’t doing anything. So we decided to try a non-traditional route.”

That involved a regimen of supplements and vitamins, as well as a treatment option many dog owners aren’t even aware of — acupuncture, administered by Dr. Bud Allen at Family Veterinary Center in Haydenville.

“She had an improvement in her condition, with both the pain and the lameness,” said Dubreuil, who has since gone on to other forms of alternative care for now-12-year-old Nikita, including hydro-therapy, magnetic therapy, and simple physical therapy.

Nikita’s story doesn’t surprise Allen in the least, nor his wife, Dr. Robin Karlin. As the owners of Family Veterinary Center (FVC), which specializes in holistic and homeopathic medicine for animals, they have grown accustomed to patients seeking them out as a last resort, once traditional veterinary care has failed to uncover answers.

“We’re a last resort,” Karlin told The Healthcare News. “We get dogs that are nearly dead, ready to be put to sleep.” But through their longtime work in this unconventional area of veterinary medicine, the couple has become the first resort for an increasing number of pet owners.

Barking up the Right Tree

When Allen and Karlin married in the late 1980s, she was in veterinary school, and he had an equine practice. Karlin launched a practice called House Calls for Smalls before the couple opened Family Veterinary Center in 1989. In 1996, they moved to their current location alongside Route 9.

Allen had long been involved in acupuncture and chiropractic care for animals, but Karlin’s path into alternative medicine stemmed from a personal life change. She and Allen had been trying to start a family, but at age 35, fertility clinics were telling her she might have to accept the fact that she wouldn’t have children.

That’s when she discovered another treatment option, one involving acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy. Almost immediately after, she became pregnant — and did so again when her first child was only five months old. Karlin was firmly sold on homeopathic medicine, and soon after underwent training to become licensed in that kind of veterinary care.

Homeopathy, she explained, is a system of medicine that promotes general health by using natural remedies to reinforce the body’s own, inborn healing capacity. The art and skill of homeopathy, then, lies in accurately matching up the “energy patterns” of the remedies with those of the patient.

“The results were phenomenal,” Karlin said of her first experiences with homeopathic pet care. “You could see the results — the dog feels better, or he doesn’t. There’s no placebo for dogs.”

Karlin said that, more than many veterinarians, she focuses on lifestyle and diet factors when making initial diagnoses, incorporating traditional Chinese medicinal concepts such as ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ foods, and what is right for a particular animal’s constitution.

Understanding the concepts of homeopathy, she said, gives her an advantage over traditional veterinarians who are relying on what they have studied in school to provide all the answers.

“For people trained in medicine, there’s a lot of book knowledge about different conditions and how to treat disease A with X, Y, and Z,” she said. “But in real life, disease A doesn’t always respond to X, Y, and Z. And a lot of people’s veterinarians don’t give them options.”

That can be frustrating for pet owners such as Dubreuil, but it poses a real opportunity for Karlin, Allen, and the rest of their staff, which also includes a third veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Dzulinsky.

Allen called the center’s work “integrative medicine” because it does not shun traditional modes of care. “Western medicine does have its place,” he said, citing emergency surgery as an example. But here, surgical, radiological, and physical therapy services fit comfortably alongside the acupuncture, chiropractic care, and homeopathy on which FVC made its name. Soon, Allen and Karlin plan to add a pool for hydrotherapy.

The practice’s offerings go well beyond medical care, however. Grooming, boarding, and even inserting identifying microchips are all part of the menu. In addition, FVC runs a rescue program called Puny Paws, taking in stray cats and small dogs and placing them with families.

A Better Life

But the practice’s main goal, obviously, is helping families care for pets they already have, and that can take many forms. It all begins with a thorough overview of the patient’s history — pet owners are asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire detailing health issues, temperament, and other factors — to find the correct holistic match.

“Many times, there were problems in utero,” Allen said. “A lot can go wrong just by being born.”

For many older and chronically infirm dogs and cats, the main benefit of acupuncture, physical therapy, or homeopathic treatments might be to bring comfort, increase mobility, and grant a better standard of living for the time the animal has left.

“A large part of what we do is making the pet comfortable in those situations,” said Karlin, who still makes house calls. “There are many different treatment options for different situations.”

“To see that quality of life restored, to us, is very rewarding,” Allen added.

Karlin said that, although the complementary medicine practiced at the center is based on centuries-old concepts, knowledge of how those ideas apply to modern medicine is always advancing.

“There’s a lot of good knowledge out there, and we are pursuing it,” she said, and that involves plenty of continuing education. Meanwhile, Allen shares that knowledge as a frequent lecturer on issues related to alternative pet care.

Some traditional veterinarians are becoming more educated themselves about the benefits of non-conventional care — a few even take their own pets to see Allen and Karlin — but acceptance has been gradual at best, they say. Some of that might be a reluctance to give away business, but a real bias also exists against anything outside the mainstream.

“I think what we do is gaining acceptance,” Allen said, “but very slowly.”

As for Dubreuil, he’s glad he didn’t have to resort to surgery on Nikita — especially since there’s a 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} chance a dog will reject a new hip, and thus not survive the operation. Nikita is now 12 years old, but thanks to years of non-traditional care, doesn’t always act like it.

“Since she’s white, her face doesn’t show her age with graying,” he said. “When I went to therapy, I was talking to someone with a 19-month-old Great Dane, and he asked how old Nikita is. I said 12 years and four months, and he was just floored.”

Just as floored, no doubt, as many pet owners who have found unexpected success in the holistic care offered by practices such as Family Veterinary Center —even if it is a last resort.

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