Making her point about animal care

February 21, 1999

Call her the dog whisperer. Betty Kipphut is kneeling beside a black standard poodle named Jake, clutching a handful of shiny, 1-inch-long needles. "Goooood dog," she murmurs as she inserts the needles into his skin, one by one, until he resembles a canine porcupine. Jake's response to this indignity? He licks her.

Jake, like Kipphut's other clients (a third are animals; the rest are humans), has come to her Clarksville office for relief. The 8-year-old poodle is suffering from lymphoma as well as side effects of chemotherapy. His owner, Sue Berman, swears by the $40-a-session acupuncture treatments: "He hasn't vomited once. Compared to other dogs who have gone through chemo, he's doing extremely well."

To those who might scoff at such a treatment as being so much hocus-pocus, Kipphut points out that animals don't know acupuncture is supposed to make them feel better. In the canine world, there is no such thing as the placebo effect.

For Kipphut, who grew up on a farm and worked as an elephant keeper at the Baltimore Zoo before opening her acupuncture office in 1991, including animals in her practice seemed natural. She treats cats and horses as well as dogs. She is, in fact, certified as an animal acupuncturist -- Maryland is the first state to offer such certification.

Each treatment lasts about half an hour, and includes time for owners to ask questions and share concerns. Berman spent much of the visit discussing Jake's symptoms -- among them, a high temperature and listlessness -- and Kipphut responded by adjusting the treatment to address those problems.

"I think she treats me, too," Jake's owner confessed.

-- Sarah Pekkanen

Pub Date: 02/21/99

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