Veterinary convention testifies to America's love affair with pets From acupuncture to pillowed coffins, it's all there for Fido

July 27, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

The 135th annual convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association might sound about as thrilling as a four-day symposium on proper crochet techniques.

But at the margins of this gathering, which has brought more than 6,000 vets and product exhibitors from across the country to the Baltimore Convention Center this week, there are flecks of charm that betray just how deep -- and seemingly bizarre -- the American love affair with pets has become.

Displays for self-cleaning litter boxes and the world's simplest tick remover. A contest for best animal hospital design. And doggie coffins that come decked out with frilly lace and satin pillows.

"People love their pets like family," said Jeff Beatty, who markets the ornate animal coffins -- available in solid bronze and copper -- for EMB Casket. The company started out making burial boxes for people, but ventured into the pet market after dozens of customers started asking about them.

"If you love your pet that way, then the plastic body bag you get from the vet won't do. These coffins are the way to make sure your pet went out in a very dignified way," Beatty said.

There is high-tech fare on display, too, such as new-fangled heart monitors, X-ray machines and radiography machines that allow for quicker, more accurate diagnosis of pets' ills. One vendor selling an endoscopy machine had his wares set up so the vets could try it out on themselves. Several were spotted throughout the day poking around in their ears with the instruments.

When the assembled vets aren't looking over merchandise, they will be attending classes they need to retain certification and sitting in on symposiums on everything from "nutraceuticals and food fadism" to "the future of third party payment in veterinary medicine."

One of the highlights yesterdaywas the presentation of Allen Schoen, a vet and author who takes an alternative approach to his work. He's a holistic healer for pets, and he uses herbs and acupuncture on pets the way doctors do on people. The 20-year practitioner swears by his methods, which he describes as "4,000 years new," and which he says have worked on animals as varied as camels, birds and dogs.

He says he finds pet owners more than willing to give alternative medicine a try. "It's like anything else, in that it's only logical to look at all the possible modalities when you're treating a pet," Schoen said. "People really love their animals, so why wouldn't they consider something that might really help their pet?"

Schoen said there are some 600 certified pet acupuncturists in the country, and many other vets who practice other holistic methods. Later this year, he will go to China and Taiwan to teach vets there about his approach.

"That's sort of a full-circle thing, since this kind of medicine started there 4,000 years ago," Schoen said.

Beatty, the pet coffin marketer, said it's ultimately the love of animals that keeps people like him in business.

"Every vet who has come by here today has said they have at least one client who this would be perfect for," Beatty said. "We're meeting people's emotional needs with their pets, and as long as we do that, we'll make some sales."

The conference runs through Wednesday.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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