AcupunctureMixing traditional and alternative medicine provides the best possible treatment at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital


One day Richard Bullock’s best friend, a lab mix named Buddy Bear, collapsed and would not get up. Buddy’s veterinarian found cancer and removed his spleen and one lobe of his liver. Post-surgery, Buddy was listless and not eating, so Bullock took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Haley Leeper ran tests and discovered that Buddy had pneumonia and pancreatitis. He was treated and his condition improved, however the ordeal left him with some neurological issues so he had trouble standing and walking. Dr. Leeper prescribed acupuncture in his spine and rear end, and assigned fourth-year student Mallory Powers to help Buddy use a walker to get moving. “Mallory was so wonderful,” says Bullock. “She worked with him every single day, and she called us with updates. It was so exciting to see him get better every day.” Once he could stand, Dr. Leeper prescribed hydrotherapy on the underwater treadmill, and Buddy went home soon after, with advice to continue his acupuncture treatments.  “Now he walks on his own and is doing great,” says Bullock. “I swear by acupuncture; our other dog was so old, he could hardly walk, and acupuncture helped him too.”

Integrating Alternative Medicine

Veterinary medicine has made extraordinary advances in the past fifty years. Animals can now receive many of the same high-tech diagnostic and treatment options as humans. From specialty surgery, to a broad range of safe and effective pharmaceuticals, these options have provided animals with longer, healthier lives. Now, similar to human medicine, there is a growing interest in adding alternative therapy options. Some veterinarians are now using therapies like acupuncture, chiropractics, and E-stim in conjunction with more traditional medicine.

OSU Is Leading The Way

At the VTH, alternative therapies are available in many forms, and nowhere is this more visible than in the small animal rehabilitation unit.

Typically, in any given week, all year long, the hospital performs eight or ten orthopedic surgeries, most of them for dogs with broken bones or back issues. Nearly all of these cases are referred to rehabilitation post-surgery. Depending on the type of injury, age and lifestyle of the animal, and other factors, doctors prescribe a rehab program that may include massage, exercise therapy, ultrasound, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and more. In fact, patients at the VTH seem to have more post-op rehab options than many humans. Have you ever heard of a friend or relative who regularly used an underwater treadmill following knee surgery?

Rehab Offers Many Options

The underwater treadmill room in the hospital is a busy place, handling lots of dogs with arthritis, as well as post-surgery dogs and cats. Underwater treadmills provide weight-bearing reduction while the warm water and exercise facilitates muscle relaxation and tendon stretch; they are used primarily to improve muscle strength and limb function. They also improve range of motion in compromised joints. The dogs like the water, the attention, and the treats.

Dogs also enjoy exercise therapy. Just like in humans, core strength is important in animals: it helps take pressure off the four limbs. “We use treats to make them repeat sitting and standing,” says rehab technician David Meyer. “It’s equivalent to a human lunge; it strengthens the abdominal muscles. We also do a lot of balance work on the inflatable balls and wobble boards – different ones for different functions.”

Another therapy: Cold lasers that dilate blood vessels and bring more oxygen to injured areas. “Laser therapy also creates fibroplasts which are the cornerstone of healing,” says Meyer. The rehab unit uses cold laser therapy in many patients, but it is especially beneficial for back patients.  “It used to be that six months after surgery, your dog’s condition was the best it would be for the rest of his life: if he was walking, great; if he was stumbling, or in a cart, that was it,” says Meyer. “Now we see, with laser therapy, hydrotherapy and physical therapy, most dogs recover and are back to walking within three months.”

Acupuncture For All Kinds Of Animals

Dr. Jacob Mecham has used acupuncture successfully on alpacas, sheep, dogs, cats, horses, a turkey vulture, and even a chicken. “The chicken couldn’t walk,” says Mecham. “I did one acupuncture treatment and by the next day, he was extending his legs, and by day three he was walking.”

Dr. Mecham is the OSU mobile equine veterinarian and is certified in acupuncture. He uses it primarily for pain control, or quality of life issues. “It is not a magic bullet that fixes everything,” he says. “In the past, you either did western medicine or eastern medicine, but now we integrate them to get the best possible outcome for the patient. Western medicine has so many great tools for diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture adds another tool.”

What does he say to skeptics?  “Try it. It works.”

Dr. Mecham is also certified in veterinary chiropractics, which he most often uses for horses with symptoms that appear to be pain-related.  For example, Dr. Mecham recently treated a horse who was having trouble chewing. The owner thought he had a broken tooth. “When he came to the hospital, the students fed him a treat. The horse tried to get it positioned in his mouth so he could chew it, but ended up spitting most of it out,” says Mecham. “I had just done a dental on that horse, so I thought a tooth problem was unlikely. I felt his neck and found the first vertebrae out of alignment. I did one adjustment, gave him another treat, and he chewed fine. The students were blown away,” he laughs.

Students Advocate For Integrated Medicine

The Integrative Medicine Club at OSU is a group of students whose goal is to raise awareness of alternatives to traditional medicine. “We provide a lot of lunch talks,” says member Danielle Daw (Class of 2018). “We have brought in people to talk about Chinese medicine and holistic medicine. We had a raw food panel.” The raw food topic, in particular, pulled in a large audience, not all students.

“I took a little liberty with the club this year,” says member Lauren Clarke (Class of 2017). “I organized a raw food panel even though I knew it was a controversial topic.” The raw food panel included Dr. Craig Ruaux, a VTH specialist in gastrointestinal health, and Dr. Keith Weingard, a Portland veterinarian who is very interested in animal nutrition. “They brought up a lot of points that vet students, and the veterinarians in the audience, hadn’t thought about before,” says Clarke. “It was a really good talk because the whole audience was involved. There were lots of skeptics asking pointed questions, and people even approached me afterwards.”

For the first time this year, the club provided acupuncture demonstrations at their Pet Day booth. “A lot of people came to those,” says Clarke. “They had lots of questions about alternative medicine.”

The Integrative Medicine Club has also had an impact on Daw’s future as a veterinarian. “I wanted to do surgery for a long time, but this year I’ve changed to internal medicine,” she says. “The club definitely had an influence, thinking about the whole animal, bettering the animal’s health instead of just focusing on the disease process.”

Both Clarke and Daw will soon be attending classes in Florida to obtain a certification in acupuncture. “People in the veterinary field seem to be surprised that we offer acupuncture at the VTH,” says Daw. “I think as it becomes more accepted in human medicine, it will do the same in veterinary medicine.

The team who keeps the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine farm running (L to R): Kasey Pedder, Peter McPartlin, Ashley Silkett-Butler, and Kim Veldman.
The team who keeps the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine farm running (L to R): Kasey Pedder, Peter McPartlin, Ashley Silkett-Butler, and Kim Veldman.

On an average day, the large animal hospital houses 25-30 animals. Those animals receive stellar medical treatment from doctors and veterinary technicians, plus an extra dose of attentive care from fourth-year veterinary students. But who provides for their basic needs?

That is where Peter McPartlin comes in. As farm manager, he oversees a team of animal attendants and student workers who not only care for hospital animals, but also for the teaching herd.  “We have five llamas and alpacas here, and roughly 15 horses, and two cows,” he says. “There are 30 llamas over at RAIL [the field on Campus Way]. We have a lot of pasture for them there. The RAIL folks check them every day. If they have any problems, we pick them up and bring them here.”

A typical day for McPartlin and his team begins at 6 a.m. with the first hospital feeding. Then they clean and disinfect stalls. A couple of hours later, they can turn their attention to the teaching herd and farm chores. Afterwards, they go back to the hospital for the afternoon feeding.

Between hospital patients and herd animals, the college goes through about 72 tons of hay per year, and about 20,000 pounds of feed or grain.

Horses are, by far, the highest maintenance animals in the teaching herd. “You have a big animal that walks on four little legs, and when they are outside in a herd, they act like a group of teenagers,” says McPartlin. “They are always fooling around.”  Sometimes, that creates more work for the farm manager.

“Last month, a mare named Pearl was in a separate paddock with her best friend,” says McPartlin. “I put them there to eat down some grass. She decided that she didn’t like being there, and jumped the fence to be with the other horses.” The fence is four feet high, and Pearl is not a youngster, so she hit the fence and got a big knot on her leg. “I spent one morning fixing the fence she ruined,” says McPartlin.

The horses also get extra care for their feet, from a farrier who comes once a month, and for their teeth, from Dr. Mecham, the herd veterinarian.

In addition to animal care, McPartlin is responsible for keeping the basic operation running. He does everything from repair hoses in the hospital to changing the oil in the tractor. His team even keeps the hospital parking lot tidy.

McPartlin supervises three, full-time animal attendants and about eight, part-time student workers. “The animal attendants are my right hand; I could not do this without them,” says McPartlin. “The student workers are also a valuable part of what we do.”

Some of the student workers come from farms, and have been around large animals before. Others are animal lovers, but need more training to work with the herd. “They maybe had dogs that they loved, and they are thinking about being a veterinarian,” says McPartlin, “but I need to make sure they are comfortable working with large animals before I turn them loose in a stall. They have to be able to read an animal, and understand how it will react under certain conditions, so no one gets hurt.”

One of the things McPartlin likes best about his job is interacting with the fourth-year students on rotation in the hospital. “I walk around the hospital quite a bit, so they stop me and ask for help with the practical aspects of what they are doing. I like to show them what works best.”

His advice often deals with the nuts-and-bolts of hospital issues, sometimes literally. “We have a commercial washer that gets messed up when people leave stuff in their coveralls. I’ve always got screws in mine.  I try to remind everyone to turn their pockets inside-out before they stuff them in the laundry,” he says.

Another challenge for the washing machines is the amount of stall debris clinging to everything. “The leg wraps from the horses get full of sawdust, which clogs things up,” says McPartlin. “I saw a student in the hall yesterday shaking one off, so I stopped and said ‘Great job. That is exactly what we should be doing’.”

That kind of positive interaction with people is something that McPartlin consciously strives to achieve. He sees it as part of the OSU mission to create an environment for people to grow.

“As our society has gotten busier, we don’t always watch our words, or are not as kind as we should be,” he says. “I think when you are working with young people, it is especially important. My team and I try to ‘lay out the red carpet’ for their learning.” McPartlin also extends that courtesy to his staff and coworkers. ”Each of us has to take the responsibility to create a positive environment.”

Ron and Marlene Izatt stopped by the college to have lunch with veterinary students.
Ron and Marlene Izatt stopped by the college to have lunch with veterinary students Erika Wakabayashi, Melanie Peel, Jessica Rigling, and Laurel Anderson.

A veterinary college is chock full of people who love animals. From highly skilled surgeons in the hospital, to investigators in the laboratories, to students who volunteer at shelters, they all work hard to provide the best possible lives for animals. Outside the college, but integrally connected, is another group of animal lovers: those who work as partners by learning about college goals, and providing the missing pieces needed to reach new heights of excellence.

Ron and Marlene Izatt are that kind of animal lover. At home on their acreage in southeast Washington, they have two dogs and a horse, but in the past, they have had as many as four horses, four dogs, and four cats. It seems to depend on what their neighbors are up to.

“The neighbor’s dog brought Miss Poppy home when she was about six months old,” says Marlene. “She ran with that dog for a month or two, but because she wasn’t potty-trained, they left her outside in the dead of winter. You can’t do that with a Chihuahua, so another neighbor took her home, and I offered to potty-train her.”  One thing led to another, and Miss Poppy ended up a member of the Izatt family. Lucky dog.

Their other dog, Jackson, was dropped off at a farm nearby. “They get a lot of dogs dropped off out there, so they were going to shoot him,” says Marlene. “I went and got him and was bringing him home, driving 60 miles per hour down the highway, and the poor dog apparently thought I was going to drop him off again so he climbed into my lap . . . and he is a big dog!” Marlene took Jackson to a rescue group, but she felt so terrible, imagining him in a car headed somewhere else, she called the group and asked to adopt him. “They had already shipped Jackson to a shelter in Portland, and had him on a website for adoption, so I drove down and got him, and he’s been ours ever since.”

The Izatts also drove way out of their way to get their horse: about 300 miles to the Steens Mountains in southeast Oregon. There the Bureau of Land Management is desperately in need of adoptive families for their 40,000 wild mustangs. “I really try to get people to go there and get horses from them, because they are such awesome animals,” says Marlene.

Now the Izatts are showing their love of animals by supporting veterinary students.

Ron Izatt is an OSU alumnus, but he and Marlene were more familiar with the hospital at Washington State University, where they had received excellent care for their dog. They had been discussing ways to help support the WSU hospital, when a chance meeting with OSU Dean of Pharmacy, Mark Zabriskie, steered them in another direction. “He said, ‘But you are an OSU alumni; wouldn’t you like to help us?’” says Ron. Zabriskie gave them a quick update on the accomplishments of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and encouraged them to investigate further.

“I went on the internet to look up OSU Vet Med and I was really impressed,” says Ron. After several conversations with Development Director Kelley Marchbanks, the Izatts made a decision: as part of their estate planning, they have committed funds to establish the Ronald and Marlene Izatt Veterinary Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide a full-ride, expenses-paid, fourth year for an exceptional veterinary student. This estate gift will have a big impact on the future, but the Izatts also wanted to help now, so they provided additional funds to support a scholarship this year.

Why did they choose scholarship funding? “Vet students have a tremendous debt, and don’t earn as much as medical doctors,” says Ron. In fact, the average debt for a graduating veterinary student in the U.S. is $150,000, and the average starting salary is $68,000. The OSU College of Veterinary Medicine works hard to provide scholarship relief for their students. In 2016, every student in the college who applied for scholarships, received some level of support. That could not have been done without friends like Ron and Marlene Izatt.