Above: Veterinarian Mitzi Schepps gets a hug from her mensch of a dog, Mordechai.
When Mitzi Schepps decided to become a veterinarian, she never imagined she would specialize in pet acupuncture.
After a decade of practicing traditional Western medicine, the Temple Kol Emeth member decided to take some time off to raise her children. When it was time to go back into veterinary medicine, a lot had changed in the field. She had a choice between relearning what she had known and learning something completely different.
“The holistic alternative approaches were intriguing to me,” she said. “I went back to school and got certified in rehab medicine. There was a waiting list to get into the acupuncture institute, and I got trained in that and never looked back.”
Acupuncture is not the typical field of choice for a Western vet, but she had experience with its success. Her own dog was old and in pain and had been receiving acupuncture.
“I have a very scientific background and question and judge everything, so when it was first suggested to me to try something alternative, I was skeptical,” she said. However, after three or four treatments — the number Schepps estimates most animals need to start showing results — her dog made an astounding recovery. “She lived until she was 17 years old, and I know it was the acupuncture that helped.”
Now she enjoys making the same difference in the lives of other dogs and cats by making house calls with her business, Wellness Waggin’ Acupuncture.
Acupuncture can be used for a variety of conditions, but Schepps primarily uses it for pain management. Many of her pet patients have chronic conditions such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, and others have acute injuries like a sprain or strained muscle. “I see a lot of geriatric animals that are just slowing down. You may not know the cause,” she said. “Throughout the exam I can pinpoint where the problem is just based on where the tenderness is.”
In acupuncture, the different acupoints correspond to different organs in the body, Schepps said. “It gets very intricate.”
Going back to school for pet acupuncture was no easier task than Western veterinary medicine, Schepps said. She went through six months of coursework, then two internships and three case studies. “You can’t just do a two-hour online class for acupuncture.”
The traditional Eastern treatment has been used for centuries for a variety of illnesses and is gaining steam as an alternative treatment in the United States, especially in places like California.
“I would say most of my patients — it’s usually an end-of-the-road treatment. I’m the last resort. They do it not really expecting much and get really surprising results,” Schepps said.
The procedure involves needles, but she said they don’t hurt the animals. More often than not, the dogs fall asleep. “It’s very relaxing, kind of like when you get a massage.”
She by no means counts Western medicine out, as that was her initial training, and she thinks it is excellent. Instead, she supports Western and alternative medicines being used in tandem for better effectiveness.
Still, while she does work with her prior training and recommends different vets for treatments like rehab, she now primarily focuses on acupuncture.
“I just had a case: a little Boston terrier that ran behind a couch and got paralyzed from the neck down. The vet said to put it down, that it would never walk again,” Schepps said. “I actually have a video of it walking after a few treatments. Those are the kind of cases that get the juices flowing. If I can give an animal back its quality of life, that means the world to me.”