Heal thyself? Even dogs get the point

News-Times , August 24, 1995 by Jonnie Bassaro

Annie, a soulful-eyed, easy-going, black mongrel, doesn't seem to mind that several sharp needles have just been inserted into her spine. With a cavernous yawn, the dog stretches and rolls onto her back.

Onto the needles?

"No, I only left them in for a few seconds," says Dr. Marcie Fallek, a veterinarian who specializes in acupuncture. She makes house calls to bring the ancient Chinese healing technique to dogs and cats, throughout Fairfield County and takes her practice to veterinarians' offices throughout the state.

On a day when it's too hot to move, she is seated on her cool living room floor with Annie, whom she adopted from a shelter five years ago. Fallek treats the dog for chronic back pain and also places needles around the animal's left eye once a week to eradicate a benign tumor.

The treatments seem to be working. Annie has just bounded down the steps freely to greet a visitor and during her nose-to-nose inspection, no traces of growths can be seen.

Fallek was previously on the staff of Trumbull Animal Hospital and became certified as a veterinary acupunccturist a year ago. She has used the method to treat about 100 animals.

"I practiced it occasionally at the Trumbull hospital," she says, "and saw positive results so often I wanted to do it full time."

Acupuncture is based on the belief that illness comes from an imbalance in body energies. To restore the balance, the acupuncturist applies tiny, very fine needles or heat to specific points along energy pathways, or meridians, on the body.

These meridians were first mapped out by the Chinese 4,000 years ago. Human beings are said to have 365 acupuncture points. Domestic animals have points correlating closely to those of humans.

"Acupuncture causes the brain to release endorphins, or a pain-killing chemical," Fallek explains. "But a big misconception is that it is used only to relieve pain."

For centuries, Chinese veterinarians have used acupuncture to treat allergies, skin problems, diarrhea and colic in farm animals. Fallek has used it to treat chronic bronchitis, asthma, cystitis, bacterial infections, renal failure, hip dysplasia and other disorders in dogs and cats.

Judy Greer, who lives in Shelton, says Fallek saved her dog's life with the process. The Greers had gone out of town and left Sunny, their golden retriever, in a kennel.

"He got upset and ate the plastic lining on the floor of his cage," Mrs. Greer says. "His mouth and paws were bleeding. His fever rose to 107."

"Sunny had an overwhelming bacterial infection," Fallek recalls. "Vomiting, passing blood. He's been under the care of excellent doctors for three days. Intravenous treatment, catheters. Nothing was working."

Fallek asked if she could try acupuncture and Mrs. Greer agreed. "Sunny had stayed at my side when I'd gone through a lengthy illness," she says," I owed him every option."

Fallek placed needles in Sunny's neck and legs, "points that reduce interior heat," she says.

"Within an hour," Mrs. Greer says, "Sunny's temperature dropped and the dog was wagging his tail."

Now Fallek sees Sunny about once a month for checkups.

"I don't have all the answers for why acupuncture works," she says. "The basic concept behind it is the body is self-healing. The acupuncturist merely helps the body to correct itself by redirecting energy. Most doctors who practice it are not strutting around saying, "Look what a brilliant doctor I am." They say "Look what the body just did for itself.'

People often tell Fallek she looks like her best friend, Colette Griffin, an attorney who lives in Bethel and heads New Leash on Life, an organization that finds homes for animals considered unadoptable or marked for euthanasia.

"It's wonderful to find a veterinarian so open to alternative forms of medicine," Griffin says. "Marcie has been very generous in donating treatment to New Leash animals."

Fallek grew up in Lido Beach, N.Y. and received her degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Bologna, Italy. Before that she earned a degree in philosophy from Boston University, and during a year's study at the University of London was introduced to human acupuncture when she sought it as treatment for insomnia.

"The treatments didn't work at the time," she recalls, "But I was intrigued with the process."

Fallek believes acupuncture always should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine.

"Never take your animal to an acupuncturist who is not a licensed veterinarian," she says. "I use my traditional training to make diagnoses. Sometimes acupuncture works, sometimes surgery or chemical intervention is necessary."

Caroline Lynch of Trumbull says Fallek's acupuncture has cured Shannon, her Shetland sheep dog, of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.

"We were told he'd be on antibiotics and steroids for life," Mrs. Lynch says "Marcie inserted needles in about 10 points, including the paws and the head. It cleared up not only the bowel disease, but a skin problem and also an ear problem."

"I'm a believer in acupuncture," Mrs. Lynch says, "I've had it myself to clear up carpal tunnel syndrome."

The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture as a valid modality in its l988 Guidelines on Alternative Therapies, but says the potential for abuse exists. It suggests extensive educational programs be undertaken before a veterinarian is considered competent to practice the technique.

Dr. David H. Jaggar, executive secretary of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., says only about 350 veterinarians in the United States are certified to practice acupunture. Seven of them are in Connecticut.

The society was formed in 1974 to establish high standards for the practice and offers the only accredited certification program for veterinary acupuncturists.

"In addition to over 100 classroom hours of study," says Donna Watkins, administrative assistant for the organization,"candidates must pass an exam on a dog and a horse and then submit detailed case studies."

Dr. Wayne Lubin, owner of Danbury Animal Hospital, doesn't practice acupuncture himself, but says, "I certainly have no qualms about it for certain problems, such as arthritic conditions.

One of the main tenets of veterinary medicine is to do no harm to the animal," he says. "And acupuncture certainly does nothing to hurt an animal."