Herbal, aroma remedies soothe pooches' ills

Glen Burnie woman sells her homemade products worldwide

March 12, 2006|By ELISSA PETRUZZI | ELISSA PETRUZZI,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Mundo, just a year old, wasn't getting better, and Sevi Kay didn't know what to do.

Mundo's skin was so irritated she had wounds from scratching herself, and the doctor's treatments weren't working.

That's when the Glen Burnie woman decided to see what she could do for her beloved German shepherd puppy.

"She started healing, she got better, she gained more weight," after applying Kay's homemade remedy.

Mundo's coat became so shiny a neighbor noticed and asked Kay what she was using. That's when Mundo Botanica, Kay's canine herbal products company, was born.

Eight years later, Kay admits, "I've been working for my dog." She has grown her company through customers with sensitive dogs, and those who prize her herbal remedies and aromatherapy treatments.

She serves 450 wholesale accounts and 25 custom lines and has done sales in Japan and Singapore, among other places. She conducts Internet sales through her Web site: cybercanine.com.

Kay developed a canine line, including a lavender mist for skin ailments and a citrus spray that gives a dog's coat a pleasing aroma. She makes Liquid Calm, a massage oil of neroli and chamomile to help make a dog more mellow. Drops of the oils are applied to the dog's coat and neck, or placed on tissue paper next to its bed.

As it turns out, using aromas to calm dogs is not such an unusual idea.

The Humane Society of Harford County atomizes its own version of lavender and chamomile into the air to help relax dogs boarding at the shelter, which Executive Director Tammy Zaluzney calls "one of the most stressful places" for an animal.

"In the human world, there's reasons they use [lavender] in bedrooms and pillows," she says.

The shelter also uses another herbal concoction to help calm new residents.

Zaluzney is also looking for an effective aromatherapy for her feline residents, though Kay warns that the essential oils cannot be metabolized by cats or birds.

"It's just like giving your dog chocolate," Kay explains.

Cats at the Montgomery County Humane Society listen to mellow jazz to stay calm and happy, but the dogs miss out on aromatherapy because the executive director is "extremely allergic," according to Ashley Owen, director of humane education and public relations at the shelter.

"Whether or not they have an effect is difficult to know," says Zaluzney of her herbal remedies. "Definitely the motto kind of is: If it doesn't harm, and it doesn't hurt, then why not?"

She says if the dogs are calmer, they feel better, have fewer digestive problems, can be more adoptable and even respond better to training.

A dog trainer for more than 40 years and owner of Applewoods Dog Training in Laurel, Margot Woods isn't buying it.

"Well, I suppose anything is possible, but I can't imagine what on earth you would do with training," Woods says. She has had students who tried various natural remedies and reported back negatively.

"It's one of those things that works well for people ... and if it can help the person, it will therefore help the dog," Woods says of a possible aromatherapy benefit.

Peter Eyre, veterinary pharmacologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, agrees that the effects of certain smells might work more on a psychological level, benefiting humans and not animals. He points out that people get good feelings from the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread. "Is that psychological, or is it an effect?" he asked.

He did note that aromas can have some physiological effect.

"There's no question that animals and people respond to smells," Eyre says. "It's a fascinating area."

Kay takes criticism in stride: "I'm not for everyone -- I'm for some people."

There is research evidence of the positive effect of smells.

A small 2005 human study published in the science journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported, "Aromatherapy massage is a valuable relaxation technique for reducing anxiety and stress, and beneficial to the immune system."

Kay is self-taught by trial and error and the Internet, and calls herself a "formulator," not a chemist.

"You don't have to be a certified chef to make cookies," she says.

Many customers were so satisfied with the results of her canine line that they started using the products themselves. That spawned a human line that will soon include makeup and men's products.

But there are things that Kay has found she can't handle with her herbal remedies. Mundo was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and doctors had to remove her swollen spleen. Kay drew the line at chemotherapy, however.

Instead Kay put Mundo on a daily regimen of organic vitamins, to supplement her already established people-food diet.

"The vet tells you ... `These are table scraps.' I take offense to someone calling my food scraps," she says. "Whatever we eat, pretty much they eat."

More than a year later, Mundo is going on long walks and sleeping on cotton sheets on her futon (she prefers cotton fabrics, Kay says). She'll turn 11 in June, and Kay is ready to celebrate: "We're going to have a birthday party for her."

Elissa Petruzzi is a reporter for the Capital News Service.

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