Maggie is lying on a towel-draped examining table with about a dozen inch-long needles sticking out of her spine, legs and the space between her floppy ears. Does she whimper? Hardly. In fact, it looks as if she's falling asleep.
"You put them in so quickly," says Dr. William Farber, "they don't even know they're going in."
The 14-year-old collie-shepherd mix visits Farber at the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital twice a week for acupuncture and chiropractic adjustment. The 20-minute treatments, her owner says, relieve Maggie's joint pain and allow her to sit up under her own power. Other patients get acupuncture for ailments ranging from incontinence to asthma.
Farber earned his veterinary degree from Colorado State University in 1969, studied acupuncture and chiropractic (on humans) in the 1980s and is now among more than 200 vets nationwide who use alternative therapies on all kinds of pets, according to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Assn. "I see a lot of rats," says the vet, whose personal brood includes horses, geese, exotic birds, chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs and a potbellied pig. "I'm kind of known in West L.A. as the rat doctor."
He also makes barn calls to perform chiropractic thrusts on the spines of injured horses. "It doesn't require that you be huge," says Farber, who is not. "I usually get up on a couple bales of hay." Flying hooves are
always a concern, but the vet says his scariest moment involved a 10-foot python that escaped its handlers during treatment and wrapped around his torso. "It took five people to pull it off," he says.
Most pet owners are open to the idea of nonconventional techniques, which start about $30 per treatment, Farber says, though he recalls one man would have been better off waiting outside during his dog's acupuncture session. "I saw him get pale, then his eyes rolled back and he slid down the wall."