As a practicing veterinarian, I am concerned by the article, “Homeopathy for animals,” published in the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 2. It reports on the activities of Monroe resident Katheryn Walker as a “homeopathic practitioner for animals.” This article contains many inaccuracies; it is not at all clear whether the errors are attributable to Walker or to Wyatt Olson, who wrote the story.
The state of Maine protects the public and their animals by requiring that anyone who wants to treat animals has graduated from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and has scored well on state and national licensing examinations. These requirements apply to all persons wishing to treat animals, whether they practice traditional veterinary medicine or use so-called nontraditional appraoches such as chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncturre, massage therapy, and homeopathy. There are growing numbers of licensed veterinarians with training in various forms of alternative medicine who are practicing in our state. Most veterinarians call tell interested animals owners how to contact them.
According to the article, Walker found the typical route to becoming a veterinary practitioner to be “limiting and too specific.” I find this puzzling. In order to apply to veterinary college the pre-veterinary student must take a wide variety of courses including general courses such as math, Enlgish and fine arts as well as many sciences such as chemistry, physics and biology. No accrecited veterinary college considers a less well-rounded student to be a qualified applicant. Only thereafter does the future veterinary practitioner enter a veterinary school; here the coursework is more focused but certainly not limiting or specific. In order to graduate from veterinary college the student must complete courses inlcuding the anatomy, physiology, micribiology, biochemistry, and pathology of all common domestic animals and even some exotic species. Clinical courses then teach how to diagnose and treat diseaae medically, surgically, nutritionally, and, at some veterinary colleges, even through the use of alternative medicine techniques. There are also elective courses where the student is encouraged to pursue special interests. Thus the course of study, while rigorous, is not limited or limiting. Education beyond veterinary school is mandated for all practicing veterinarians, every year, in order to retain their license to practice. Courses in alternative approaches to medicine are an increasingly popular offering to those older veterinarians who were not able to obtain this training during their four years of veterinary school.
Interestingly, the article states that Walker took veternarian courses at the University of Maine. UMaine does not have a veterinary college, nor does it teach veterinary medicine. The reader can only assume she took pre-veterinary coursework at Maine before creating her own curriculum for her college degrees. Unfortunately, there is nothing in this training that qualifies her to practice any type of meidicine on animals in Maine. Goddard College, where she was “allowed to write her own curriculum,” is not a college of veterinary medicine. Further, she has not taken any of the examinations required by the Maine State Board of Veterinary Examiners to determine that she is competent to treat animals. If she is, in fact, treating animals, she is violating Maine state law.
Not only am I concerned about the credentials of Walker to be practicing veterinary medicine, I am also concerned about her redefinition of homeopathy. According to a Dorlund’s Medical dictionary, homeopathy is “a system of therapeutics, founded by Samuel Hahnemann, in which diseases are treated with drugs which are capable of producing, in a healthy person, symptoms like those of the disease to be treated, the drug being administered in minute doses.” With one exception the books on homeopathy which I have consulted do not, however, call these substances drugs; rather they use the term “remedies,” thus distancing themselves from the use of medicines as we know them.
The sole exception is a text from my own library titled, “Homeopathic Veterinary Practice,” published in 1873. I find it interesting that this venerable text freely uses the terms “drugs” and “medicines” while the modern practitioners of homeopathy go to great lengths to avoid using those two words. Walker appears to concur but goes farther, to define homeopathy as “the use of minute amounts of minerals that stimulate the immune system to self-heal.” While stimulation of the immune system to self-heal is indeed a basic principle of homeopathy, only some of the drugs used are minerals. Most are compounds derived from plants, some are from animal or human tissues, some are from the microorganisms that may actually be involved in the disease process, and a few are even derived from moeern medicines.
Of course, it is from these same natural sources that most modern medicines are also derived. Belladonna, described in the article as a mineral, is not. It is an organic compound derived from aplant; belladonna has been used medicinally from ancient times to the present. Any college student taking basic chemistry well know the difference betwween organic compounds and minerals. Walker’s education surely has taught her this too. The reader is left to wonder if this mistaken description is due to ignorance on her part or on that of the reporter, or is it yet another attempt to avoid that emotionally charged word medicine.
I do not doubt that alternative medical practices have much to offer to the field of veterinary medicine. I have not yet read Walker’s book, but I fook forward to doing so. As said above, I am concerned that she is practicing medicine without appropriate credentials. It is my fear that the animals that depend on us for their care will be the losers if the state law, which assures the public that a practitioner is competent, is disregarded. Walker does, however, offer good advice in her five rules for helping animals. I would, however, recommend changing the order of the stated rules. One of the first lessons taught in veterinary school is a simple but essential rule: First, do not harm. Walker’s rule No. 3 (“If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do anything”) should be rule No. 1.
John A. Benson of Bangor is vice president of the Maine Veterinary Medical Association.