In a cramped cubicle of a room Tuesday, 2-year-old Rose lay on a table doing her best impression of a pincushion as tiny needles capped in orange were stuck into her skin.
For the past three months, Rose's acupuncturist, Sandy Laurel River, has been treating Rose for unexplained seizures, nausea and general anxiety. She's had needles - about the width of a whisker - stuck in her head, her back, her hindquarters and even her mouth.
And it's apparently working. Perhaps more surprising, though, is that Rose is a dog.
"She's eating better, and we haven't heard her have seizures anymore," said Barbara Schmidt, Rose's owner. "And she's more relaxed when we ride her in the car."
Rose, a Petit Bassett Griffon Vendeen of French origins, is one of about 10.5 million pets in the United States (of 350 million total) who have undergone acupuncture as a means to alleviate ailments - including arthritis, skin troubles and aggression, according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
It's a growing trend in sync with surging interest in human acupuncture, said Craig Smith, a staff consultant for the American Veterinary Medical Association. "People feel that if it's good enough for me, it's good enough for my pet," Smith said.
Smith, who was part of a committee that studied alternative veterinary medicine for the association. said the group does not officially endorse or reject animal acupuncture. There isn't enough data for those kinds of conclusions, but the group is certainly open to the idea that it might work, he said. It just needs to see the evidence.
River - who has practiced on humans as well as horses, cows, cats, dogs, ferrets, a turkey and a toad - said she sees the evidence all the time. She treats 10 to 15 animals a week, most referred by veterinarians, at Columbia Animal Hospital. She said she has seen limps disappear, mobility improve and seizures, like Rose's, stop - all because of the supposed manipulation of energy through acupuncture.
"There's an old adage," River said. "Where there's no free flow, there is pain. Where there is free flow, there is no pain."
Acupuncture is based on the ancient concept of chi, which basically says every living thing has a life force - an energy - flowing through it that when blocked can cause disorders, but when freed can work minor miracles. Acupuncture needles, in Rose's case a half-inch to an inch long, are inserted into one of 300 identified points along a body (human or animal) in an attempt to maintain balanced flow or unblock stopped flow.
River got her training at Tai Sophia Institute, a school of Oriental medicine that is newly relocated from Columbia to a 12-acre campus in North Laurel. The school, which got its start as an acupuncture clinic in 1975, offer master's degree courses in acupuncture, botanical healing and applied healing arts in addition to clinical treatments.
It also offers the only animal acupuncture in Maryland that meets the necessary certification requirements of the Maryland Board of Acupuncture, a division of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Acupuncturist Noreen Javornik is one of the certification course's instructors. She has an animal practice in North Laurel and said many people unfamiliar with acupuncture consider it for their pets only after having tried most everything else.
"For a person to take their animal for acupuncture," she said, "they have to be the sort who's willing to go that extra step."
Rose's owner, Schmidt, a resident of Clarksville, was.
Though she had never had experience with acupuncture, she had experience with seizures. Her daughter, who died in May of last year, had cerebral palsy and suffered frequent seizures.
Schmidt said she did not like doping up her daughter with seizure medication, and she did not want to do it again with her dog.
"There had to be an alternative," she said. So when her vet suggested acupuncture, she went for it. And though sessions cost $50 each ($45 with her senior citizen discount), Schmidt said she is going to stick with them as long as they work.
Maryland has about 40 certified animal acupuncturists. They trained at Tai Sophia, one of about 40 schools nationwide offering such training. Most courses are housed in schools similar to Tai Sophia, though some are in veterinary schools, including Tufts University.
On Saturday, Tai Sophia will have a Festival for the Healing Arts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., during which a certified animal acupuncturist will give a demonstration.
The festival also will showcase the institute's other offerings through miniclasses on subjects such as pilates, yoga, acupuncture, herbs and feng shui.
Tai Sophia Institute is at 7750 Montpelier Road in North Laurel. Admission to the festival is free. Information: 410- 888-9048 or www.tai.edu.