Animal therapy measure debated Veterinarians seek say in acupuncture on pets

February 25, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A legislative debate in Annapolis over acupuncture treatments for animals has turned into a dogfight.

Veterinarians want to prohibit acupuncturists from working on animals unless they are approved by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. But acupuncturists say they don't need veterinary training to work on animals because they are in ** the business of healing -- not diagnosis.

Supporters and opponents of the bill -- which would prohibit a person licensed or otherwise authorized to practice a health occupation from practicing that health occupation on animals unless authorized to do so by the veterinary board -- aired their views at a hearing before the Environmental Matters Committee last week. If the committee recommends the bill, it will go on to the legislature.

Pet owner Marcie Baer says the bill will limit her choice in finding treatments for her dog, Phaedra.

"I spent about five to six thousand dollars on vets trying to get help for my dog when she was sick and after $200 worth of treatments from an acupuncturist, she was fine," says Baer, whose Labrador suffered from kidney infections as a puppy. "As a human, I have a choice of who I go to, so why shouldn't I have that choice for my pet?"

Unlike other cases where Western medicine has squared off against holistic treatments, both groups agree that acupuncture an ancient Chinese method in which bodily points are stimulated with needles to alter biochemical and physiological conditions -- is an effective treatment for animals. Animals are immune to any "placebo effect," the groups say, because they are unaware that the treatments are supposed to make them better.

The legislative debate was triggered by a quirk in state law.

A 1994 law that established the State Acupuncture Board authorized acupuncturists to treat "the body" -- not specifying the human body. It was challenged when acupuncturist Cyrie Barnes received a cease and desist order in 1994 from the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

Interpreting the law in 1994, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. sided with the acupuncturists in allowing them to practice on animals, without approval from the veterinarians' board.

Veterinarians sought legislation -- sponsored by Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil Democrat, and Del. Michael H. Weir, a Baltimore County Democrat -- after Curran's decision.

Dr. Carvel G. Tiekert, a Bel Air veterinarian and executive director of the American Veterinary Medical Association, supports the proposed legislation and said the issue revolves around who is best trained to treat the animals.

Tiekert, who has been running his animal clinic in Bel Air since 1967, became interested in holistic treatments after being treated for whiplash by a chiropractor after a car accident. In 1984, he became a certified animal acupuncturist.

Tiekert uses various alternative treatments including acupuncture, herbal treatments, magnetic and electrode therapy, and chiropractic care.

Standards sought

James Tibbs, president of the Veterinary Medical Association, says he and other veterinarians have met with acupuncturists a half-dozen times in recent months to try to devise standards agreeable to both groups.

"We felt that it was in the best interest of the animals to try and collaborate with the acupuncturists," said Tibbs, whose organization includes the dozen certified practicing veterinary acupuncturists in the state.

"We recommended a minimum standard of 300 hours of study of animal physiology and anatomy, but they wanted 60 hours. The acupuncturists have failed to realize that the primary care is the responsibility of the veterinarian," Tibbs said.

Tiekert says the whole debate resulted because legislators did not specify the human body in the 1994 law.

"What would happen if we took the word 'animal' out of the veterinary code? Would I be able to work on humans?" Tiekert said

But many acupuncturists are fighting the proposed legislation.

'Energy medicine'

"We don't diagnose the animals in medical terms; what we practice is energy medicine. It's a different field," says Maureen Walsh, a Crofton-based acupuncturist who has practiced for 20 years. She and Baer were among those who testified last week.

At the hearing, veterinarians said there are substantial differences between treating animals and treating humans. Acupuncturists, meanwhile, pointed out that no formal complaints have been filed against animal acupuncturists in Maryland.

Massage therapist Elliot Abhau hopes that despite the bill, holistic healers and those practicing Western medicine will find common ground.

"Part of my training is knowing what's in my scope of practice and when I need to refer a patient to a vet," said Abhau. "The most important thing is the treatment of the animals."

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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