No need for pet owners to be on pins and needles

Pressing her point for therapy

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006

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David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
Karin Serejski, a holistic healer who uses acupuncture as well as reiki, a healing therapy, works with Rusty, a 15-year-old golden retriever, during a Saturday session in her Silver Spring home.

Click here to enlarge this photo
David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
Silver Spring resident Karin Serejski performs holistic medicine on Rusty, a 15-year-old golden retriever, during a Saturday session at her home. Serejski gets referrals from traditional veterinarians.

When Popeye, a large, loud-mouthed parrot, came to Karin Serejski, he was aggressive, struggling and trying to bite her. She needed someone to restrain him while she tried to insert an acupuncture needle into his body to treat his aggression.

‘‘I thought, ‘There’s no way I’ll be able to do this,’” said Serejski, 39, who practices holistic medicine.

But she eventually managed and once she did, Popeye quieted.

‘‘He hopped onto my shoulder and leaned his head against mine,” she said.

The acupuncture provided Popeye some relief and Serejski, owner of Silver Spring’s Holistic Pets and People, wasn’t surprised. Holistic medicine, she said, is a viable way to treat physical and emotional conditions in animals and an option many pet owners seek before attempting courses of heavy medicine or surgery.

Talking points

On the human body, there are 356 acupuncture points on the body and 112 on the ear.

Animals who are brought to her already have been seen by a veterinarian, Serejski said. Maryland law requires animals brought to acupuncturists be seen by a veterinarian no more than 14 days prior to their acupuncture visit.

Some veterinarians will recommend dogs see an acupuncturist before pursuing strong medicines or surgery. It costs about the same a session for a human would — $65 to $85 a visit.

And it’s something many veterinarians believe really helps animals, said Dr. Gregory Burbelo, who practices at Ambassador Animal Hospital in Silver Spring. Burbelo said he’ll often refer clients to someone who can do acupuncture or perform other types of holistic medicine.

However, he said, it’s not for everyone. People have to be open-minded and understand what holistic medicine is.

‘‘The pet is an extension of themselves,” he said. ‘‘A lot of people think they want the traditional method of medicine to cover up the symptoms. With holistic medicine, you’re asking the body to heal itself. And sometimes the body gets more ill before it gets better.”

But, he said, ‘‘the stuff works.”

People bring dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and ferrets to Serejski, and she also makes house calls to visit horses, as well as to animals who are in too much pain to leave their homes.

‘‘I love animals,” Serejski said. ‘‘I grew up in Africa and I think my passion for animals started then.”

And Serejski treats the animals the same way she would humans with her acupuncture or also with healing touch therapy known as reiki, since she’s also certified to treat humans.

‘‘People and animals have very similar ailments,” said Serejski, a registered reiki master who has a master’s degree in traditional acupuncture and a certification in animal acupuncture.

‘‘Animals are like sponges. Very often, they’ll take on what ailments their owners have. They take on the stress.”

When she treats them, animals will lie down on an Oriental rug in a small room in Serejski’s home, a water dish by the door and owner by their side. With relaxing music in the background, Serejski will insert thin copper and stainless steel needles into the animal’s skin to treat ailments like arthritis, or— like Popeye — emotional issues. The needles, Serejski says, release neurotransmitters.

When she performs reiki, she places her hands over the body’s major chakras, or energy centers. The heat from her hands, she says, can activate or deactivate certain ailments. When she’s done, she’ll treat animals to a massage.

‘‘It helps them so that they feel better,” she said. ‘‘By working holistically, you can even add years of life. If they’re old, you can work to improve quality of life.”

Rockville resident Karen Kullgren took her yellow Labrador retriever Molly to Serejski to treat arthritis and hip dysplasia for more than a year before she died at a little more than 15 years old. Hip dysplasia causes the muscles at the hips to relax, allowing bones to grind against each other.

‘‘I used to joke that my dog was getting better medical care than I was,” Kullgren said. ‘‘I could tell how it felt to her. She was used to having the work done, the acupuncture, the massage. ... You should have seen the look in her eyes. It was like I imagine I look when I’m getting a massage.”

When Molly didn’t get her treatments, she would stumble and her legs would be unsteady, Kullgren said. But when she visited Serejski weekly, her steps were steady and strong.

And, Kullgren added, ‘‘[Molly] seemed to have a complete trust in the process. ... I just think it’s important to be open to it.”

Gaithersburg resident Jane Gabbett’s 11-year-old Bouvier des Flandres, Shammy, has been receiving acupuncture and reiki for nearly three years. And Shammy, Gabbett said, has also benefited. She’s treated his pancreatic attacks and also helped his hip dysplasia and unsteady legs.

‘‘He’ll lay right down and wait for her,” she said. ‘‘He loves it.”

And Gabbett said she sees improvement in Shammy after his acupuncture sessions. ‘‘He’ll run with her to the front door,” she said. ‘‘When he’s in pain, he’ll usually stick closely to me. He’s a mama’s boy.”

When animals are sick or in pain, their owners often become desperate, since many pets are considered members of the family, Serejski said.

‘‘They’re so fragile,” she said. ‘‘They’re such gentle beings. All my caretakers are crazy about their animals. All that suffering is hard on them.”

But it helps the owners to sit with their animals while they receive treatment, because in addition to watching a visible change in their pet, be it a sparkle in their eyes or a newfound spring in their step, they also have the opportunity to sit, relax and reflect, usually for 20 to 30 minutes.

‘‘It was amazing,” Kullgren said. ‘‘When I was in that room, it felt like it was healing for me, too.”

Most animals will lie quietly while they’re being treated; some even fall asleep. However, Serejski said, young pets are often less patient than older ones. But as they return for their sessions — animals are usually treated once a week for seven to eight weeks — they come to realize that what they’re doing is good for them.

‘‘They’ll go right to the room, plop on the floor next to me and I’ll go right to it,” Serejski said. ‘‘They’re not in touch with being in pain. They’re like, ‘Take it away already, I want to go play.’”