Purchase photos

An ancient tradition





RUSSELL - Common sense says music sooths the savage beast, but science often prescribes acupuncture for ailing domestic animals.

After a lifetime spent as a cutting horse that separates animals from herds, Peach hobbles around because of arthritis in her joints. The 22-year-old mare shifts her weight to compensate, and her back ripples with muscle spasms when she's stroked.

Peach has been put out to pasture, but Russell Veterinary Service & Reproduction Lab LLC helps her still contribute. The horse's embryos are frozen and transplanted in surrogate mothers because her bloodline can be traced back five to six generations, said Dane Anspaugh, associate veterinarian.

Acupuncture eases Peach's pain. The Eastern medicine might not be common in western Kansas, but the clinic has 10 to 15 cases a month, said John Thouvenelle, veterinarian and owner of the clinic. Sixty percent of its acupuncture patients are dogs -- Dachsunds are a common breed -- and horses also are treated.

The ancient tradition dictates needles should be stuck in the animal for 20 minutes each, but technology has sped up the process. A machine can send a small electric charge through a needle for 7 seconds, and the procedure takes 20 minutes.

Thouvenelle first studied acupuncture as a sophomore in veterinary school at Kansas State University. He decided to offer it as a service because it has proven to be a viable treatment plan, he said.

"I think we are getting some energy into the muscles, getting them to relax and taking the pain out of them," Thouvenelle said.

Acupuncture's philosophy believes the therapy opens meridians in the body and allows energy to flow. It is comparable to the idea of released endorphins and the feeling of a "runner's high."

"Chi is the life force that goes through the body," Thouvenelle said. "They say acupuncture is to adjust and make the life force go through correctly. ... Any disruption of Chi is disease."

The procedure can be combined with traditional medicine for a dynamic care plan, or it can be an "adjunct treatment."

"When you start acupuncture, you get stuff that's not fixable," Thouvenelle said. "They already tried everything else. Acupuncture is not a panacea; it's not going to fix everything in the world."

The clinic's clients have different motivations for pursuing acupuncture.

"A lot of people do this because the valuable breeding stock, some people do it because they love the horse," he said.

Despite acupuncture's prickly nature, the animals do not seem to mind the poking and prodding.

"A lot of times when you treat a horse, even an apprehensive horse, they'll start licking their lips. Some will go to sleep," he said.