Duluth vet adopts acupuncture to treat animalsGypsy, a 12-year-old Pyrenees-chow mix, nuzzles veterinarian Taryn Dentinger affectionately, showing nothing but appreciation for the 15 or so needles the veterinarian has just poked into her hide.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The patient walks into the treatment room on shaky legs.
She has some of the typical complaints of aging: a thyroid condition, a skin condition, and arthritis that makes walking up and down stairs and even sitting and lying down difficult.
“Do you want to sit again, Gypsy girl?” Dr. Taryn Dentinger says. “Good girl. Perfect.”
Gypsy, a 12-year-old Pyrenees-chow mix, nuzzles Dentinger affectionately, showing nothing but appreciation for the 15 or so needles the veterinarian has just poked into her hide.
In addition to being a veterinarian, Dentinger, 36, is a certified veterinary acupuncturist. Since being certified four years ago, Dentinger has treated horses in Grand Marais, horses and dogs and cats in Virginia and one goat. Although still licensed to practice general veterinary medicine, she works exclusively in acupuncture.
Regular veterinary work could be “off-putting” when the animal wasn’t willing to cooperate, Dentinger said in an interview. The veterinarian could develop almost an adversarial relationship with the animal.
“This is completely different,” Dentinger said. “For acupuncture to work, the animal has to be accepting of the therapy. The owner has to be totally on board and accepting of the therapy. I think of acupuncture as me sort of inciting healing by the animal’s own body. I’m not actually doing the healing. I’m telling the animal’s body how to heal itself.”
Gypsy doesn’t seem even to notice when pricked with the tiny, stainless-steel needles. That’s typical, Dentinger said. Dentinger isn’t licensed to provide acupuncture to humans, but she has stuck herself with the needles. The sting is less than that of a mosquito bite, she said.
Acupuncture isn’t a cure for Gypsy, said her owner, Steve Kaplan of Duluth. But it is having an effect.
“It’s definitely getting results,” Kaplan said. “It’s a temporary relief. It’s quality of life for the animal, and that’s what’s important to me.”
Gypsy’s exact age isn’t known. Like Kaplan’s other two dogs, she was adopted from Animal Allies, which got her as a stray. A retiree who lives alone and volunteers for Animal Allies, Kaplan said his dogs enrich his life. When their regular veterinarian, Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, recommended alternative therapies for Gypsy, Kaplan didn’t hesitate.
A session on Wednesday was the seventh acupuncture treatment for Gypsy. Dentinger treats her every other week; on the other week, she is treated with pool therapy offered by Marcia Swanson, a veterinary technician, at Harbor City Kennels on Jean Duluth Road. The dog’s ability to move improves after both kinds of treatment, Kaplan said, but starts to deteriorate as the time for the next treatment approaches.
Dentinger’s base rate is $120 for the first visit to the spartan office she shares with Dr. Claudia Cottrell, an animal chiropractor, in the Seaway Building on Garfield Avenue. Follow-up visits cost $90, with package rates available. Mileage fees are added for home visits.
The animals Dentinger treats tend to be either younger, performance animals that need short-term treatment for a specific problem, or geriatric patients like Gypsy that require ongoing treatment. Dentinger currently is treating about 20 animals, not enough for her to make a living. She supplements her income, in part, by teaching in the biology department at Lake Superior College.
But she loves what she’s doing now, Dentinger said. She didn’t love what she did after she graduated from veterinary school in 2002 and went to work for a practice near Green Bay.
“Turns out I really didn’t get along with the cows very well,” she said. “And I was in dairy country.”
She moved back to her hometown of Duluth, where she worked just with horses. She has two horses and two dogs of her own, and since 2004 has competed in endurance riding, in which she participates in 50-mile and 70-mile rides on horseback.
That’s how she learned about animal acupuncture. Her own horse developed a nerve issue in its neck. She could control it by using steroids, Dentinger said, but the sport doesn’t allow any drugs in the horses. Looking for an alternative, she discovered acupuncture. In the fall of 2007 she started the 120-hour training course with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Getting her license also required a three-hour written exam and 40 hours of internship, some of it spent with the only certified veterinary acupuncturist in North Dakota. She was certified in 2008, although she has only shared the Seaway Building office with Cottrell since September.
She can’t practice acupuncture on humans, but the theory is much the same.
“From the Chinese medicine standpoint I’m affecting ‘qi,’ and qi is the energy in the body,” Dentinger said. “From a Western medical standpoint, a more scientific standpoint, they’ve proven that you get increased blood flow anywhere that you put a needle in, which brings in all sorts of good things from the body.”
With acupuncture she treats injuries, skin ailments and respiratory conditions, kidney and liver diseases and nervous system disorders, among other things.
Gypsy doesn’t know about that, but she seems perfectly content to be in Dentinger’s office.
“She’s getting attention,” Kaplan says. “It doesn’t matter how.”
What does matter is Gypsy’s improvement.
“I can really see the results she’s getting,” Kaplan says.