Six-year-old Evian was cranky. He had been temperamental for weeks and was sore all over. His doctor, Jeff Monroe, diagnosed stress and fatigue. But instead of prescribing rest or a psychiatrist, the tall, dark-haired doctor with a soft cowboy drawl used acupuncture to treat Evian.
Monroe stuck inch-and-a-half long needles into several points along Evian's back and then injected a dark pink substance through the needles.Minutes later, Evian was calmer and less sensitive to touch.
Evian is a horse - a beautiful, dark brown thoroughbred who has retired from racing. And Monroe's office for the afternoon is a stall at Lynnleigh Farm in Sandy.
"You did not just see a miracle," Monroe says. "We didn't heal him, we helped him heal himself."
Acupuncture was practiced by the Egyptians as many as 10,000 years ago, says Dr. Glenn L. Earl, an acupuncturist for 20 years now practicing in Salt Lake City. The Chinese have been using it for about 5,000 years, he says.
Exactly how acupuncture was discovered is unknown, although Earl tells the story of a samurai warrior with a headache who treated it by poking his head with a chopstick. He suggests that acupuncture was found simply by "observation of human nature - they saw the relieving of pain through pressure."
A controlled form of acupuncture has long been used on humans to relieve things such as insomnia, arthritis, stress and fatigue and to help people lose weight.
The Chinese began veterinary acupuncture not long after they started using acupuncture on humans (about 2,000 to 3,000 B.C.). However, "equine veterinarians as a whole took a rather dim view of the role acupuncture could play in diagnosis and treatment of ailments," says Dr. Allen Schoen, of Veterinary Acupuncture and Alternative Therapies in Sherman, Conn.
This has changed in the last decade, Schoen says. Now, both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners consider equine acupuncture to be a "valid modality" of treatment.
"It's not looked upon as quackery anymore," says Dr. Kim Hen-ne-man, a licensed veterinary acupuncturist practicing in Park City and in seven states outside of Utah.
Although acupuncture is used to treat a variety of companion animals, including dogs, Monroe prefers to work on horses.
"Horses are very suited to acupuncture," Monroe says. `They're larger, which makes it easier to find depressions (used as acupuncture points). And they're more sensitive to the palpation (touching) exam. Small animals like dogs are petted too often - they're used to touch."
Henneman, Monroe and Dr. Eric Foster of Millcreek Veterinary Clinic are the only certified veterinary acupuncturists in Utah, although Foster says there are probably several others knowledgeable enough to practice acupuncture without being licensed.
Veterinary acupuncture is still viewed as "too alternative" by some hard-core traditionalist veterinarians and animal owners in many states in the West.
"I have a fair bit of skepticism," says Dr. John Farrer of South Valley Large Animal Clinic in South Jordan. "I think there are some things that can be done with acupuncture with regard to relief of pain, but there are a lot of lim-i-ta-tions."
Scientifically speaking, "It's not really understood," says Monroe, adding that "it is thought that needles stuck into various acupuncture points on an animal's body stimulate the endogenous release of cortisones (which are anti-inflammatory) and pain-relieving endorphins. These hormones then block pain signals to the brain."
In contrast to acupuncture on humans, which uses dry needles, veterinary acupuncturists usually perform "aquapuncture." A benign substance (Monroe uses liquid vitamin B-12) is injected in the horse. The needles are left in place for a moment and then removed. Vitamin B-12 continues to stimulate the "flow of energy" around the acupuncture point for 15-20 minutes.
Joe Magnuson, office manager at Willowcreek Pet Center is a believer.
Her 4-year-old German shepherd Schuyler had back problems and was going lame. Henneman performed acupuncture on Schul-yer.
"Normally, she's very ornery, but she just sat there during the acupuncture. She was licking everyone, saying `That feels good,' " Magnuson says. "Within twenty-four hours, she was able to jump up on the bed."
Pet owners who use acupuncture seem satisfied. Says Monroe, "Most people who are around horses say, `If it works, use it. If it doesn't, don't use it.' "
However, veterinary acupuncture continues to have its critics.
"The people that are certainly the hardest to convince (of its credibility) are other veterinarians," Monroe says.
"You just can't judge it before you see it. Medicine is about change - that is the way I was convinced."