Phoebe's Story

© Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.


One blustery New England morning in the fall of 1997 I received a desperate phone call from an 80 –year- old psychologist, Dr. David Ulrich. There was an urgency to his voice, which was totally understandable: his beloved Golden Retriever mix, Phoebe, had just been hit by a car and was laying totally paralyzed, screaming in pain, at the veterinary hospital. The board certified orthopedic surgeon had given the dog a 10% chance of recovery with the help of surgery, a full body cast and many months of rest. Mr. Ulrich had already made up his mind that he could not and would not do the surgery, as the follow-up care would be more than he could handle.

This was relatively early in my holistic career and was the most challenging case that I had yet to encounter. Enquiring from whom he had received my name, David told me the referral had been from his Chinese acupuncturist, a doctor whose services I had also occasionally used. We were off to a good start, as the owner was aware of the benefits of holistic care, and at the very least was coming to me with an open mind. David asked me if I thought I could help his cherished dog. Truly, I had no idea if it was possible, but I told him I could give him at least the same odds as the surgeon, (10% being a completely non committal and useless number I thought to myself). Despite the suggestion of surgery and a body cast, the orthopedic surgeon had also advised David that the most appropriate and kindest act would be to “put her down.” As David had many positive experiences with Dr. Ho, he asked the veterinarian his opinion of acupuncture as an option. The response was that acupuncture could not heal the structural damage of the spine and was a total waste of money.


Then there was the management problem- Phoebe weighed over 75 pounds, and David and his wife Judith, being rather elderly, just did not have the strength to care for the dog at their home. They had been told that Phoebe would have to be confined to a cage for months, and that it would require two people to move her six times a day. Truthfully, I don’t believe many people could have managed a dog her size in that condition. Fortunately, at that time of my career, I was able to make the round trip hour- long journey three times a week to a colleague’s veterinary hospital where we decided to keep her until her eventual hopeful recovery.

Driving along the highway to the veterinary facility, I scanned my mind for all the possible treatment options. Loaded in my car, were acupuncture needles of various sizes, my electrical acupuncture stimulation device, supplements that I thought could be useful to help heal the spine, as well as a handful of homeopathic remedies. I knew that I needed to pull out all the stops to help Phoebe walk. Upon seeing me enter the hospital, the veterinary technician quickly ushered me into the back treatment area. What waited for me was heart breaking. An absolutely beautiful golden haired dog was lying on a blanket howling in pain. Her back was broken, or in technical terms, there was 100% displacement of two of her vertebrae. She couldn’t urinate or defecate on her own, nor move her legs or wag her tail. I had cured many cases of mild paralysis before, especially in Dachshunds, but I had never been presented with such a severe situation. The Xrays were dramatic, the spine was completely broken into two sections, the lower, caudal part of the spine, was a full vertebrae length ventral or underneath the thoracic section. I could understand why the orthopedic surgeon had said that acupuncture could not heal the back. The worst part of the situation was the excruciating pain that Phoebe was suffering. The Ulrichs basically told me that if Phoebe was not better in a couple of days, they would have to seriously consider euthanasia, as they could not bear to see her in such agony. I wholeheartedly agreed- her pain was gut-wrenching. I felt tremendous emotional pressure, as I entered uncharted territory.

Carefully placing the razor thin needles cranial and caudal to the break in the back, I began to silently pray. Phoebe needed all the help she could get! Needles were strategically inserted in other points on her body, including sites that would alleviate the pain as we healed the spine. Electrodes were then attached, which would send a very low charge of electricity through the needles so as to facilitate and hasten the process of healing.


Chinese medicine sees disease as an interruption of the flow of energy (Qi ) along meridians, which are well -defined energetic pathways of the body. The insertion and stimulation of the needles, according to Traditional Chinese medicine, allows the Qi to re-establish its normal healthy flow, thereby restoring the body to health. I left the needles in for approximately fifteen minutes. The homeopathic remedy Hypericum, was added to the treatment protocol. This remedy is derived from St. John’s Wort, a plant famous for treating mental depression in its herbal state. In its homeopathic or energetic form, it is the remedy par excellence for the treatment of nerve damage. I showed the resident veterinarian, Dr. B how to administer the Hypericum to Phoebe, as she needed it thrice daily. Additionally, I had brought along a castor oil pack, which is an old fashioned way of treating a myriad of problems, which I have found very effective for disk disease. It is a time consuming affair, taking about an hour daily, but it is very soothing for pain, and was certainly worth the effort in this situation. A few supplements and vitamins were also added to the regimen that would hopefully add additional support to the healing process. My heart felt very heavy as I left the office, as I was not confident in the least that I could help this poor dog.


I was in constant communication with the pet hospital and the owners. I had begun treatment on a Wednesday, and the next day, Thursday, there was virtually no change in Phoebe’s condition: she was utterly miserable in her cage, her bladder had to be squeezed to express the urine, her hind limbs were still paralyzed and in her pain she completely ignored David when he came to visit. Feeling very discouraged and unable to bear seeing his dog suffer, he called his wife, to tell her the disheartening news. It was decided that Phoebe would be euthanized the next day. Judy planned to take the train from her place of employment in Manhattan to the hospital, holding Phoebe in her arms while Dr. B. put her to sleep. Just as Judy was leaving work, however, at the 11th hour, she received a call from the hospital reporting that Phoebe had eliminated on her own, and seemed to be a bit better. The vet suggested that she be kept going at least over the weekend.


This weekend was critical, and much effort was mustered up on Phoebe’s behalf. Her name was placed on the prayer list at a friend’s church, despite the fact that dogs were technically not allowed on it. The Brownie troop that had originally found Phoebe by the side of the road, were contacted and were also praying for her. David had decided to get some training in Reiki, a method of energy healing, where the practitioner puts their hands over the diseased area to send healing waves. He told me that since he couldn’t get to Phoebe physically, he would perform the Reiki on a teddy bear and send the energy via the bear to the hospital where Phoebe lay. “Who knows,” he told me, “we are in the New Age after all!” said the renowned 80 -year old Doctor of Psychology.


When I arrived at the hospital for the second treatment, Phoebe was able to manage a feeble wag of the tail upon seeing me. This, along with the fact that she urinated on her own, meant that the spinal cord was working. At each subsequent visit, there was another miracle to report: she moved a paw, the clicking sound in her spine stopped, she was able to stand, she took a step….


Ten days after her first treatment, the attending veterinarian suggested that the owners buy a state of the art two- wheeled cart, custom made for Phoebe, a sort of doggie wheel chair, that would support her hind end while she propelled herself with her front legs. I was not optimistic that this would be of any use to her, feeling she would either be healed enough to walk on her own, or conversely would fight the cart if she had some movement of her legs but not enough to walk. However, not being at all certain of the final outcome, I withheld comment. Dr. B cheerfully predicted that Phoebe would be out of the cart by the spring (it was now mid November).


Fourteen days after her initial treatment, the day before Thanksgiving, bolstered by the prospect of the cart, and her much improved mental and physical state, it was decided Phoebe could go back to her home in Lyme, Connecticut. That evening, when David and Judy sat down to dinner, they were startled by Phoebe’s sudden heaving herself up on her forelegs and staring at them indignantly, as if to say: “how dare you start without me.” She dragged herself over to them, lying in her usual position, under the table, quietly and without begging, contrary to he usual behavior: this time she only desired to take her rightful place as part of the family. David told me that although we may forget how important it is to be together at meal times, Phoebe certainly didn’t. A canine way of saying grace, he said.


As ‘luck’ would have it, that Thanksgiving, the Ulrichs had plans to celebrate the holiday with the family that had originally rescued Phoebe. Not wanting to leave her all alone, they carried her into the car, and brought her with them for their Thanksgiving dinner. During dinner, they learned for the first time, all the details of how Phoebe had been saved. It seems that on one Labor Day morning Kirsten had seen a sad dog tied to a tree in front of a parking garage. The attendant had seen a man in a suit leave her there earlier. All day long Kirsten kept watch, but the man never returned. Around five pm, Kirsten decided to go buy a leash and take the dog home. Returning from the pet store with the leash, she noticed two homeless men untying the dog and walking off with her. The dog turned towards Kirsten, imploring for her help, trying desperately to run away from the men. Understandably concerned over the intentions of these men, Kirsten offered $20 for the dog, which they immediately accepted. The dog, now named Phoebe, went home with Kirsten to her 5th floor walk up apartment near the World Trade Center where she lived with her Great Dane dog, Puppy. Kirsten put up signs, fruitlessly searching for the dog’s owner. Two large dogs in a small 5th floor walk up was too much for Kirsten to handle, and so began the search for a better home for the dog. Kirsten’s parents were good friends with David and Judy and with just a little coaxing the gorgeous sweet dog had found a loving home at last.


Phoebe was now dropped off at the hospital once or twice a week for her acupuncture treatments, Lyme being too far a drive for my schedule. Checking in by phone with David daily, he would relay to me the details of how they were managing with Phoebe in their home. Every precaution was taken to avoid further damage to her spine. They purchased wire fencing material that was made into eight sections. They used the fencing to keep her confined, so that she couldn’t drag herself around the house. These two elderly people figured out a way to carry her up the stairs at night to bed, without moving her spine, David joyfully reported, telling me it was “neat when they all moved in sync like a six legged creature.” Using a strap, they were able to help her out into the yard enabling her to “do her business.”


On the second day of her homecoming, David reported that a miracle had occurred. I had taught them a rudimentary sort of reflexology, showing them how to massage the bottom part of her hind paws twice a day for five minutes. While David was performing his daily massage ritual, Phoebe suddenly started to scratch vigorously at her ear with that paw. Seeing that leg fly back and forth was a totally unbelievable experience David told me. Things progressed rapidly after that.


When Dr. B. saw her on November 24th, watching as I performed her weekly acupuncture treatment, he now estimated that she could probably dispense with the cart after only a few weeks. Four days later, when the cart finally arrived, he was forced to admit, that the cart wouldn’t be needed after all. My observation at that time was that Phoebe was 80% of perfect. Over the next few weeks, Phoebe improved almost daily. Besides standing and walking, albeit with a slight weakness, particularly of the left leg, she managed to jump on their bed, was taking progressively longer walks around the neighborhood and one fine day she ran out of the door and shot like a rocket after a squirrel to David’s chagrin. He had faith however, that all would be well, as, a few nights after her accident, he had a dream she would run again, and he told me of how his heart sang as he watched his dream transform into reality. Her healing had taken a total of twelve acupuncture treatments in the course of about 6 weeks.


David decided to take Phoebe to the original orthopedist to behold his reaction to Phoebe’s amazing recovery. The doctor was shocked when he saw the dog, exclaiming: “What is this? What did you do?” Dr. R couldn’t believe his eyes. Judy then told him, but “see she still wobbles a little.” “So what?!” Dr. R replied vigorously. He took Phoebe’s leash and brought her into the back for a follow up X-ray. Returning to the exam room, the vet’s face was pale, David recounted. He placed the two X-rays side by side, on the viewer, the first from the time of the accident, pre treatment, and the second one, post treatment, which he had just taken. He stood looking at it for a while, shaking his head. He then called the entire staff in to look at the ‘miracle’ which he was privy to. “Look, guys, see what’s blowing me away? There is a one hundred percent reduction in the displacement of the vertebrae. It is enough to make you a believer. Marcie should be proud of herself. This makes my day.” David told me that during this brief session Dr. R proved himself a very big man indeed, showing not a trace of professional jealousy, nor a trace of shame in being wrong with his prognosis.


I was of course delighted and in awe myself of the healing that had taken place. My hope was that Phoebe’s “miraculous” recovery would open up the minds of these eminent veterinarians in the county’s most prestigious referral hospital to the option of holistic medicine for other ailing animals thereby possibly helping to save other lives.


As a footnote, I saw Phoebe 10 years later, when she was 15 years old. David, still going strong at ninety and his wife, Judy had sought me out after all these years to help treat her Cushings Disease with holistic medicine, as they were skeptical of the harsh traditional treatment suggested by their conventional vet. It was wonderful to hear that Phoebe’s back had produced nary a problem for her, during the last decade, and she ran and jumped and enjoyed the good life that she so deserved.


David told me, that twelve hundred dollar cart had made a beautiful planter that they kept in the living room as a reminder of their grace.


Disclaimer:  The case histories that I write about are chapters from my upcoming book, and are based on actual animals that I have treated.  The names of some clients and patients have been changed to maintain their privacy.  The facts are written as accurately as possible, based on my medical notes and phone and/or in-person interviews.  Some minor details of setting or other non-medical facts may differ slightly due to lapse of memory after so many years. I apologize in advance for any such errors.


Marcie Fallek, D.V.M., C.V.A.