June 25, 2018
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Veterinarian blends alternative, conventional medicine at Palermo practice

By Lynn Ascrizzi Special to the BDN, Special to the BDN

Ever since she was a child, Dr. Pamela Page, D.V.M., knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“I decided since the sixth grade. I think it was from reading James Herriot’s books,” she said, referring to best-sellers such as, “All Creatures Great and Small,” penned by the renowned veterinarian who practiced in rural Yorkshire, England.

“Anyone wanting to be a vet should start early. I got a job in high school assisting a veterinarian.” said Page, who grew up in Brookfield, Wis., and earned her degree in veterinary medicine in 1994 at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Today, she runs her small-animal practice, Holistic Veterinary Services, three days a week from a small clinic set up in a barn at Pagett Farm in Palermo. The USDA-inspected organic farm enterprise is owned and operated by Page and her husband, Donald Barrett, 55.

They, and their 5-year-old son, Aedan Barrett, live on the farm in a 100-year-old house along Route 3, on 63 acres of rolling fields and woods reminiscent of the English countryside.

In addition to using conventional veterinary medicine, Page’s rural practice includes the use of acupuncture, herbal therapies — such as Chinese herbs — and natural supplements such as antioxidants and glucosamine-chondroitin for joint pain. Her integrated practice reflects a growing trend among Maine vets to blend “holistic” or complementary modalities with conventional treatments.

Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique used in China for 3,000 years, said Page, a certified veterinary acupuncturist who received her training in 2002 at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Traditional acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to trigger a desired healing effect, she said. Modern acupuncturists, however, use a variety of needles — solid, hypodermic, electrified and even low-power lasers — to stimulate acupuncture points on the body that connect with the patient’s vital energy or “qi” (pronounced chee), she said.

Recently, at her home clinic, Page demonstrated an acupuncture treatment on a small, border collie mix named Yodo.

That day, she chose electrostimulation acupuncture, a method that uses a low microcurrent. Probes are placed on the acupuncture points, she said, as she juggled the dog and long blue plastic wires connecting the probes.

Yodo, however, seemed far more interested in a cat prowling about the clinic than being fussed over on the treatment table.

“She’s my ‘clinic cat,’” Page said of the marbled, orange-and-black feline named Samantha. Later, the cat got her chance to be an animal celebrity on the table.

Electrostimulation acupuncture is virtually painless, Page noted.

“Acupuncture points can be measured by a volt meter. It’s a way we can substantiate the existence of acupuncture points,” she said.

For most of her acupuncture sessions, however, she uses needles. During a treatment session, an animal often relaxes and may even get drowsy, she said.

“Most animals seem to enjoy it. With really sensitive animals, instead of needles, I’ll use a laser light [photoelectric stimulation]. In some weak, cold or deficient animals, I use a moxibustion method to produce heat to stimulate those points,” she said.

Page’s initial acupuncture session takes about one hour, during which time she asks clients about the animal’s health history, to get an entire picture.

“I do a traditional Chinese pulse evaluation, look at the animal’s tongue and feel all over for active acupuncture points. I also feel for areas that are radiating heat or that are excessively cooler than surrounding areas,” she said.

These characteristics, which also include “dry and moist” and “hard and soft,” help give insights into an animal’s condition, she said.

“A ‘cold’ animal wants warming foods, not a raw diet. Nutrition is so important. You can assist the energetics of the body with nutrition,” she said.

Page also uses conventional treatments, such as antibiotics, if warranted.

“We treat each animal on a case-by-case basis with the goal to maximize the animal’s health,” she said.

Page has had some dramatic successes using acupuncture with her animal patients, she said.

Her first case was a 6-year-old male Shih Tzu paralyzed from a prolapsed disk pressing on its spinal cord. The owner had tried medications on the animal prescribed by another vet and didn’t want to do surgery, she said.

Page applied needles at acupuncture points that corresponded to the dog’s injury.

“After the first treatment, the dog stood up. With subsequent treatments, the dog gained full mobility. Then, he received maintenance treatments. The dog had one mild relapse a year later. He responded superbly to a few more treatments and remained symptom-free for the rest of his life,” she said.

She also treated a mixed-breed dog that had a life-threatening anemia, in which its own immune system was attacking its red blood cells and destroying them, Page said.

“This dog had gone to out-of-state specialists and was on dozens of drugs. She wasn’t responding. I did acupuncture on her and put her on Chinese herbal supplements,” Page said. “She responded incredibly, and her blood returned to normal. It was very dramatic. We were very happy we could help her out.”

Page noted that, unlike human patients, animals have no idea what kind of treatments they are receiving, or why.

“For something that dramatic, obviously, there was no placebo effect,” she said.

She also has seen good results using acupuncture and herbs in treating arthritic dogs or animals suffering from a variety of chronic illnesses such as vomiting or liver disease adrenal, she said.

According to information from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society: “[A]cupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasm and release hormones, such as endorphins (one of the body’s pain-control chemicals) and cortisol, a natural steroid.”

IVAS is a nonprofit organization that seeks to establish uniformly high standards of veterinary acupuncture.

“Acupuncture works very well for many conditions,” Page added. “Many animals show significant improvement. Some individual animals are more responsive than others. In some cases, I refer clients to veterinarians who do chiropractic or homeopathy, or other treatments which I don’t perform.”

Holistic practices in Maine

Page calls her practice “holistic” because it incorporates conventional and complementary medicine.

Complementary systems practiced by some veterinarians include chiropractic, osteopathy (skeletal manipulation), homeopathy, herbology, nutrition and kinesiology (manual muscle testing to determine a dysfunction), according to information from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

“The term holistic has different meanings for different people,” Page said. “Some people associate holistic with the use of homeopathy or herbs. To me it means using all options to treat … each animal as an individual and use all the appropriate tools and additional modalities that complement conventional medicine.”

Page is not alone in her holistic approach. A growing number of veterinarians in Maine are integrating allied health systems, such as acupuncture, into their practices, according to the Maine Veterinary Medical Association.

For the past four years, there has been a small but significant rise in the number of MVMA veterinarians who list complementary treatments as specialties, according to MVMA executive director William A. Bell of Portland.

“In 2006, the association had 14 members [out of 400] who chose to list ‘acupuncture’ as a specialty. In 2010, that number rose to 18,” Bell said.

Members listing “herbal medicine” as a specialization have increased from two to seven, those listing “holistic medicine” have risen from one to two, and listings for “homeopathy” have gone from one to three, he said.

Practitioners listing “veterinary chiropractic” as a specialty have remained at seven over the past four years, he added.

“There is clearly a modest trend taking place,” Bell said. “But having these specialties does not mean that a veterinarian eschews traditional medicine.”

Dr. John Benson, who practices at Broadway Veterinary Clinic in Bangor, is an example of this trend, Bell said.

“In many ways, he [Benson] is a traditional practitioner and is a member of Maine’s Board of Veterinary Medicine. At the same time, he also offers his patients chiropractic and herbal medicine for use as appropriate,” he said.

Benson has been certified in chiropractic medicine for more than 10 years.

“I do more chiropractic than herbal. It’s another tool you can reach for, as are many of the complementary modalities. It doesn’t always work, but it can work dramatically at times, and it can work when nothing else can work,” he said.

The term holistic is often misused, Benson noted.

“Holistic, in my way of thinking, incorporates traditional [conventional] medicine, as well,” he said. “Holistic medicine is basically treating the patient as an individual and treating the whole patient.”

Dr. Lee J. Hertzog, D.V.M., of Full Circle Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Belfast, also uses acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, Page said.

National data regarding the number of veterinarians who include complementary treatments in their practices are not available at this time, according to a representative from the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

For more information about Pagett Farm, visit pagettfarm.com.

Lynn Ascrizzi is a freelance writer and lives in Freedom.

Home on the farm

Between helping to raise 5-year-old Aedan and working at her growing veterinary practice, Dr. Pamela Page says that she keeps fairly busy. She also practices veterinary medicine one day a week at Companion Animal Clinic in Augusta, and does veterinary relief work as an independent contractor throughout the state.

In addition, she and Barrett put a lot of creative energy into their nonmechanized, niche-agricultural business, Pagett Farm.

“Its name is a combination of our last names,” Page noted.

At home on the farm, they sell nitrite-free sausages, bacon and other cuts made from their heritage breed of pigs called Large Black. They also raise pastured, organic chicken, turkeys and geese for meat, and offer eggs and maple syrup.

“We try to be as sustainable and as environmentally responsible as possible,” Page said of their land. Also a wildlife refuge, the farmland is host to breeding bluebirds, swallows and woodcocks. Every effort is made to conserve water and electricity, she said.

Produce is sold from their farm and on Saturday morning, they participate in Unity Market Day in Unity, which is now open for the season.

But the highlight of their farm experience may be the seasonal “tent-and-breakfast” experience that offers guests a comfortable camping experience in a screened-in, spacious platform tent set up in a secluded spot shielded by trees with a view of a natural farm pond.

The tenting adventure comes with a soft bed and a propane fireplace, and guests are offered a hearty breakfast dished up from Pagett’s farm-raised produce.

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