RIVERVIEW – Kenneth Helling was anxious to show off photographs of Elma at various stages of her life. Elma the puppy, a few days after being adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Elma playing with a ball Helling hung at the end of a rope extended from the ceiling so she could bat at it with her front paws. And Elma- well, just being Elma, lying quietly on the floor.
Elma’s full name is Elma Louise and she’s a 15-year old pit bull-lab mix that has been a large part of Helling’s life since she was 9 weeks old.
“I lived alone with my four dogs, and then the two males, Corky and Jay, died,” he said. “They both had cancer.”
“Corky used to sit in my lap. He’s the reason I was able to quit smoking. He hated cigarette smoke. He left the room every time I lit a cigarette,” Helling said. “I’d smoked for 35 years and I never could quit for myself. But I managed to quit for Corky.”
Helling said he is grateful to this day that he was able to quit.
Corky died in March. Then Elma got sick. Her arthritis got so bad she could hardly stand up.
“We go to Boyette Animal Hospital, and Doctor Michelle (Ferrera) was giving her pain medication. She didn’t like it, so I’d wrap it up in cheese. She caught on though and started eating the cheese and spitting out the pill.”
Then Ferrera recommended acupuncture treatments for Elma’s condition. Helling said he trusted her judgment completely.
“She had given my dogs all kinds of care — even dental work when Jay had an abscessed tooth. If she said it could help, I would try. She (Elma) was so bad I thought I’d have to put her down,” Helling said. “She was in a lot of pain, I could see it. I couldn’t stand seeing her like that.”
But after the first acupuncture treatment with Dr. Kimberly Tyson at Four Paws veterinary clinic on Balm-Riverview Road in Riverview, Elma showed improvement.
“I couldn’t believe it, she was better the very first day!” Helling said.
The treatment works differently on everyone, and on every animal, explained Dr. Tyson. “Elma has responded very favorably. She started with a treatment every week, and gradually worked into longer periods.”
Now her treatments are three months apart.
Dr. Tyson said nowadays students in veterinary school may take elective classes in some Eastern techniques, including acupuncture, alongside their mandatory classes. But when she was in school those classes were not available. She had to take her training separately.
Tyson received her training from Dr. Huisheng Chi at the Reddick Institute of Florida about five years ago. Now Tyson is what she describes as an “integrative doctor,” in that she mixes Eastern and holistic medicine with traditional Western techniques and medicine.
The vet of 18 years has been practicing in this area since 1997. She said she became interested in learning how to apply the Chinese modality as she saw benefits in herself and other people who were treated using it.
“Acupuncture is relatively new to public awareness in this country,” she said. “But the Chinese have used it since 3,000 B.C.”
The treatment in animals in China was mostly on horses, which are very important to their culture and have been used in fighting in their wars.
“Here we use it as an adjunct to Western treatment, not as the whole form of treatment,” she added.
The most common conditions for which acupuncture is used in pets are orthopedic pain, arthritis and skin allergies, she said. Of these, skins allergies are the hardest to treat.
“Acupuncture is based on the anatomy, on affecting the neurological passages of the body,” she said. It releases the blocked life-flow, or Chi, at specific points. “Dogs are four-footed, so their meridians are in different places than humans, although basically, it’s the same thing. There are 12 (meridians) in the body.”
Ideally, animals should not be sedated so they can get the full benefit of the treatments, which are said to be very relaxing.
Elma lies on the floor and Helling and veterinary assistant Ladonna Isibue steady her as Dr. Tyson inserts each needle. Elma doesn’t seem to notice most of them.
“Most dogs don’t like their feet touched,” Tyson explains as Elma jerks a paw back. During most of the insertions though, she doesn’t act like she notices. At times, she even appears to enjoy it. The treatment takes about 40 minutes and involves about 90 needles. Then the electro acupuncture unit is attached and turned on. The machine causes the affect from the needles to reach deeper into the tissues and triggers natural endorphin release.
The treatments are $85 each and at some point herbs may be added to assist if necessary, Tyson said.
Now Elma can play with Myrna, Helling’s other dog, a fox hound he has had for 13 years, that he rescued along with Jay from the woods in Ruskin near where he lives.
“The (acupuncture) treatments have given Elma her life back,” said Helling. “Elma and I are both very grateful.”