by Linda L. Esterson, photography by Bill Ryan
Last summer, Mr. Peterson, an 14-year-old American Bulldog mix, was diagnosed with sarcoma on his front leg. His veterinarian recommended amputation. But his owner, Megan Forshey, felt it unfair to change his gait, which relied heavily on his front paws. His back paws, too, were comprised as a result of the tumor and that caused a curvature in his back.
“Health issues were throwing everything out of whack,” she explains.
The Eldersburg resident visited an animal holistic center in Gaithersburg to try to help her beloved pet. There, she met Inez Donmoyer, owner of Unicorn Dreams Wholistic Touch in Westminster/Melrose, who presented a pet massage workshop.
Donmoyer came to see Mr. Peterson at home in August, and the first time she touched him, he “melted to the floor,” Forshey noted. He relaxed so completely that he passed gas. Donmoyer loosened the knots and tension in his muscles, using massage and Reiki therapy, which helped his gait. She also rubbed essential oils on what she calls his “bump of excellence.”
Initially, Donmoyer treated Mr. Peterson twice a month; now the sessions are monthly.
“There’s a noticeable difference,” Forshey says. “I really think with the cancer he was diagnosed with, if I had done nothing, he wouldn’t be alive and kicking now… Inez’s treatment has extended his life.”
Donmoyer has provided animal massage and Reiki therapy services since 2011, after looking beyond the answers she was getting from practitioners caring for her own horses and dogs.
“I wanted to give back – they give us so much,” she says, referencing their unconditional love. “I wanted to return that love in a way that is rewarding and helps them.”
Donmoyer says animals take on the ailments of their human owners and end up with issues themselves, like the cats that lies on his owner’s headachy skull and develops similar concerns. She’s observed a human with a leg problem who then has to help his dog who tears his ACL and an off-balanced human riding a horse who becomes off-balanced himself.
Unicorn Dreams and Wholistic Touch aims to treat the whole animal holistically – hence the company name’s spelling. Donmoyer shares her energy with a hurting animal to lessen its pain and make the injury more bearable. That energy comes from massage and Reiki therapy but also cold laser therapy and aromatherapy. She’s a certified equine massage therapist, small animal massage therapist, canine massage therapist, and a Reiki master teacher. In 2016, she became a registered massage practitioner for humans, but she prefers the furry patients, notably horses, dogs and cats, although she has treated goats, guinea pigs and rabbits.
Sessions average 45 minutes to an hour, but initially the animal may only tolerate 20 to 30 minutes. Horses may need a little longer due to their size.
Donmoyer treats Dixie, a senior cat with mobility issues, with energy work, cold laser and massage therapy. After introducing herself to give the animal an idea of her intent and energy, she puts her hands on Dixie, who could sense she was “coming from a place of love to help.”
“That way, she can understand I’m not going to force myself on her,” she says. “Animals understand body language and they get an idea of how I communicate with them.”
She rubs her hand down the length of the cat’s body. The animal reads her intent and relaxes. She may hit an area of discomfort for a moment, and then leaves it, only to return again to relieve the animal.
Donmoyers holistic therapy practice is just one of several specialty services available in the area for animals. Area animals also experience relief from Jan Novak, owner of Ark Acupuncture in Westminster, who cares for animals primarily in her Silver Run office but she makes house calls for older pets and larger animals like horses.
Novak first passes her hands over the animal to get a feel for what organs are having difficulty functioning or what area is experiencing pain following an injury. Normally two or three series’ of needles suffice. The animals – even those as high strung as an Australian shepherd — sense she’s trying to help and relax after the first needle is inserted. Sessions last 5-20 minutes to provide relief.
A 9-year-old German shepherd was paralyzed and deemed too old for surgery. After eight or nine treatments, Novak got him up and walking again.
“That was kind of a miracle, I thought,” Novak says. “That animal was really hurting. He lived three more years. It was quite a miracle.”
She also released the back of a horse that was “all tied up. You could see the tension in his mouth.” Needles in his back, thigh and hamstring released his back. The horse rounded over and touched the ground.
Another instance found a dog with a tail that had a bend in it, preventing it from wagging. Energy work and needling got it wagging again. Novak also sees patients for skin problems, behavior concerns and issues resulting from Lyme disease.
Carroll County is also home to the Veterinary Neurology & Rehabilitation Center, located just down the street from Ark Acupuncture on the grounds of Misty Creek Farm. Ronald Schueler, DVM, DACVIM, a board certified neurologist and neurosurgeon, performs back and brain surgeries and provides rehabilitation and therapy services for animals recovering from surgeries as well as seizures, strokes, brain, nerve and spinal trauma, spinal fractures, birth defects, nerve diseases and other conditions.
Schueler was around animals throughout his childhood, as his father was a veterinary pathologist and practiced general veterinary medicine for a while. After working for him, he enrolled in veterinary school and became interested in back surgery because he “liked the response of dogs if (the surgery is) done correctly and (being) fortunate enough to have them heal on their own.”
Schueler explains that his practice centers on optimizing conditions for healing, whether it means removing extruded disc material or using an epidural or laser for pain management.
Because his practice operates 100 percent from referrals, he may only see a patient once or twice in its lifetime. Some come from as far as Tennessee but most live within a 50 mile radius, in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Schueler is also affiliated with the Animal Emergency Hospital with locations in Bel Air and Fresno, California.
He works with other pet specialists in cardiology, dermatology, oncology and ophthalmology in the Baltimore/Washington area to help make the best medical decision for his patients.
“I take care of dogs and cats the way I want to be taken care of,” he says.
Usually, there are just three patients recovering post-surgery at the center.
“The goal is to get them home,” he says. “Just like us, who wants to be in a hospital? Everybody eats better, sleeps better and heals better at home.”
The practice also provides extensive therapy services for neurology surgery patients and those referred from other veterinarians. There’s an indoor heated pool and therapeutic equipment like lasers, tens units, neuromuscular stimulation, Cavaletti rails and balancing equipment.
After therapy, it can take weeks or months for patients to walk again. Stretching sessions followed by 15-20 minute pool sessions help to speed up the process.
“The buoyancy of the water allows them to kick and move their legs freely,” says Jessica Miller, RVT, CCRP, licensed therapist who goes in the pool with the animals and provides therapy services. “We are trying to aid them in their recovery. We promote healing, promote recovery, promote comfort and overall increase their fitness or strength.”
Each patient is provided an individualized treatment plan, and some come for therapy a few times a week for months at a time.
“It’s very rewarding to see the progress,” Miller says. “And the owners are really happy to see it, too.”
RBK Pet Resort & Spa, in Baltimore County just beyond Hampstead, provides rehabilitation services for animals as well with a pool that was retrofitted for dogs to swim against the current. This hydro-rejuvenation enables them to build muscle and repair the body without weight bearing and bone compression from running on solid ground, says Jason Molesworth, vice president.
The hydro exercise program helps animals recovering post-surgery, or from an injury or arthritis. RBK also offers stretching, massage, rubdowns and muscle-building programs with the jog-a-dog treadmill and other therapeutic equipment.
“Having a non-weight bearing environment is beyond beneficial when dealing with rehabilitation situations,” Molesworth says. “We have it for horses and people so it’s only natural to want to have for our furry best friend or family member.”