Veterinarian A Believer in Alternative Treatments

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Gracie, a spirited Welsh pony, stood still except for one thing: She was yawning. A lot.

Her owner, Jacob Anaya, wasn't concerned. He's used to seeing this reaction when Gracie has a couple dozen acupuncture needles lining her spine, as was the case during this moment. Rather than being an indication of distress or fatigue, the yawns were signs of endorphins being released and pain disappearing.

Jay Janssen, the veterinarian treating Gracie, ran a hand along her side, often speaking to her. Whenever he bent down to look at her legs or moved toward her hips, the pony would make an effort to touch him with her nose. She leaned into him when he found a spot that needed a manual adjustment. Their connection was obvious and profound.

"These guys have taught me so much," he said. "It's about them, not me. I just have to listen."

Nontraditional journey
For Janssen, 59, this communion with animals is something that's been evident his entire life. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, watching and helping his dad care for the family's livestock.

Janssen joined the U.S. Army in 1971 — "My (draft) number was 38, so I would have gotten called anyway" — and after serving two years, he returned to civilian life. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Minnesota State University and got his degree in veterinary medicine from Iowa State University.

In 1990, he returned to active duty as an officer in the Army's Veterinary Corps, working on projects that served all branches of the military. About 700 veterinarians serve on active duty and in the reserves today, according to the Army's medical department.

"Most of the time I wasn't seeing patients," he said. "We did inspections for the Army worldwide. Anything to do with public health, food safety or animal diseases, we did it. Our veterinarians out there know a lot that no one else knows (how to do). I never got bored with it."

He spent eight years in the veterinary corps, but something he'd seen during his schooling in the early 1980s began pulling him toward a different type of animal healing. One of Janssen's instructors studied acupuncture and began using it, primarily on draft horses. The animals were brought to him by farmers, some of whom would travel 200 miles for a treatment. Thanks to his family history, Janssen recognized how significant that was.

"You can't fool a farmer," he said. "Either it works or it doesn't. They're not going to put their horse in harm's way because this is their life. They were getting results."

By the late 1990s, courses in complementary treatments — acupuncture and chiropractic — were being offered at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. Dr. Narda Robinson, an osteopath who also is a veterinarian, started the program. She is the founder and director of the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians program, director of CSU's Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, and a professor of complementary and alternative medicine.

In a 2007 article for CSU, Robinson noted that since more than 40 percent of the American public uses alternative medicine for themselves, "many veterinary clients are likely to be using one or more (complementary and alternative veterinary medicine) approaches for their animals."

By 1997, Janssen was stationed at Fort Carson. He decided to use his own money, on his own time, to take Robinson's courses. When he left the Army, alternative treatments became an ever-larger part of his practice, until he decided to work solely as a holistic veterinarian.

(Another Pueblo veterinarian, Tiffany Barr, offers acupuncture services as part of her practice at Mesa Veterinary Clinic.)

Addition, not rejection
Janssen emphasizes that his decision was not a rejection of allopathic, or traditional, treatment.

"I believe in this, but I also believe in clinical practice. It gave me some of the best fundamentals I could have," he said. "I think you need to have allopathic training to do this well."
Some see alternative treatments, as, well, wacky, even if there is scientific evidence of their effectiveness. Janssen, of course, has a different view.

"They don't understand it, so they say it can't work," he said. "I'm a pretty conservative guy. To me, this is the most conservative thing you can do. You're allowing the body to heal itself."

Robinson always has emphasized that CSU's training must be evidence-based. She does not endorse applied kinesiology, for example, due to a lack of scientific studies that prove its effectiveness. (Janssen is a proponent of the treatment, which he studied and learned about from the late David Walther, a Pueblo chiropractor who was a pioneer in that field.)

"Not all alternative and complementary medicine works well, and not all of what's currently being used in humans and animals is safe. Our agenda is to be objective and base recommendations for alternative medicine on science and research," she said in a 2006 CSU article.

On the go
Today Janssen's car is his office. His practice is mobile so he travels wherever he's needed, which brings us back to Gracie, who lives in Pueblo.

Hers is a miraculous case, according to Anaya and his wife, Kelly. Last year, the pony suffered a back injury — the Anayas still don't know how it happened — and got progressively worse. She needed Jacob's help merely to stand up and was in constant pain. The traditional options were exhausted, so the Anayas' veterinarian in Canon City, Lisa Eskridge, recommended Janssen.

"I wish I had videotape," said Kelly. "It's beyond my comprehension. Unless you saw it, I think it would be hard to believe."
Gracie wasn't cured with one treatment, but she did show some immediate improvement and continued to progress with each visit. Now she trots around, playing with the Anayas' other horses and showing no effects of her injury. Janssen comes every few months for a maintenance visit.

"She knew he was going to help her, I think," said Kelly. "There's real good communication between those two. It was like they were having a conversation."
Not many cases are this dramatic. To Jacob, however, Gracie illustrates the importance of treatment alternatives.

"I would have been mad and heartbroken if we'd have had to put her down just because we didn't try another option," he said. "There are so many people out there who need this. They have so much money invested in their animals, but the first thought (when something happens) is to put them down."
Not only did Gracie yawn, she fell asleep standing up during Janssen's most recent treatment. She looked, for lack of a more accurate description, blissed out.

"She's going back into balance," Janssen explained. “(The body) is all connected and everything has to circulate. It's so cool."

No matter what issue he's treating, Janssen is adamant about sharing his knowledge with the people who live with the animal. He's always talking as he works, explaining what he's doing and why, and demonstrating what can be done between visits to help the animal's progress.

"It's important for people to be involved in the treatment of their animals," said Janssen. "I don't claim to be a healer. My job is to show you — to empower people. The animal already knows."

Janssen said he's encouraged that more local veterinarians are now open to complementary treatments. Ideally, he would like to be part of a comprehensive veterinary practice that uses traditional and alternative medicine to assist patients.

"We should make sure the animal has every option available," he said.

Author: Amy Matthew

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