When Paul Shanyfelt walked into Chicago's Family Pet Animal Hospital carrying Bernie, his 200-pound Saint Bernard, with his nephew, vet Barbara Royal knew the situation was grim. A neck injury had worsened and the dog couldn't use his legs. Bernie was too old for surgery, so Royal tried acupuncture. After a year of therapy (sessions cost $50 each), Bernie walked on all fours into her office. "Receptionists were in tears," Royal says.
Increasingly, vets are using acupuncture to help animals cope with pain. "It parallels the growing interest in acupuncture for people," says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Doctors have discovered what ancient Chinese "horse priests" knew 2,500 years ago, that stimulating certain points on the body can dramatically reduce pain and inflammation, and increase circulation. In less than a decade, Royal's patient list has tripled. Chris Cahill, an equine vet in Lexington, Ky., who used acupuncture on a recent Kentucky Derby winner, says he's too busy to take new clients. "I don't know any major trainer who doesn't use acupuncture." And while traditionalists consider acupuncture an art form, Dr. Narda Robinson, director of Colorado State University's acupuncture course, is spearheading a movement to create a national certification program.
Meanwhile, Royal's most famous patient--Jewel, an arthritic camel at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo--is running for the first time in years. The camel's hardly grateful: the better her legs feel, the more she kicks her doctor.