The sheepdogs are older than they were before. They’ll be 9 at the end of April, which is getting close to 65 in human years. Duffy’s mellowed with age and Mike’s gotten more assertive, though they’re still clear about who’s boss. Their groomer Marcy complains that the dogs are hard to comb out because they have difficulty standing for long periods and Mike, in particular, has arthritis pain in his hindquarters and gets snippy. When I ask her if she thinks I should take Mike to the vet, she says that would be a waste of time and money. Marcy favors alternative medicine. For years she’s sent us e-mails about the dangers of commercial dog food, the poisons contained in vaccines, why herbs are better than antibiotics, why vets are mistrained, etc. On several occasions she’s recommended a doctor in Kentucky for Mike and Duffy who’s a dog chiropractor. We haven’t taken her advice because we’re happy with our more conventional vet, but at the dogs’ last grooming Marcy had more trouble than usual and said she would definitely take Mike to see Dr. Hatfield if he were her dog. She gave me the chiropractor’s phone number in rural Kentucky. Worried, I made an appointment.
On the morning of our expedition, I got a call from my friend Norris who is a native Kentuckian. I told him where we were going, and Norris reminded me of the movie “Deliverance” (in which some naive city-dwellers take a canoe trip into the wilds of rural Georgia, only to be preyed upon by deranged killers). Norris cautioned me that I should be prepared for the worst, and, while he was joking around as he usually does, I had a slight tinge of anxiety as I crossed the Ohio River. Dr. Hatfield’s office was thirty miles away, located on a gravel road off the highway in an isolated country setting. As I drove up the driveway, there was a large sign that referred to things like sacred auras and healing touches. I wondered what I was getting into, and I seriously considered turning around and leaving. I’d say I’m a bipolar opposite to a sacred healing touch person. However, I had driven thirty miles, so I gritted my teeth and went in.
There was a statue of St. Francis, patron saint of the animals, on the front porch and a Tree of Life and lots of potted plants in the waiting room. Not tasteful but homey. One client was waiting there with a German Shepherd with two broken front legs. Mike wanted to say hello, but the man said his dog doesn’t like other dogs. After a while Dr. Hatfield came out, and we exchanged introductions. Then he said, “And who is this?” I introduced Mike to him and thought to myself, “Here’s a vet who greets dogs as if they’re human beings.” That seemed good. Marcy had told me that Dr. Hatfield is mainly a cow doctor, and, according to the Internet, he has a reputation as the best cow chiropractor in the region. I think he probably treats dogs on the side because the cow business doesn’t keep him fully occupied. He asked a few questions about Mike, then said he’d be ready in five minutes. He had a gentle, down to earth manner.
When we went in, Mrs. Hatfield was there too, and they lifted Mike up on a carpeted platform. After numerous background questions, Dr. Hatfield began feeling Mike’s entire body, pressing here and there, checking him out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was doing chiropractic “adjustments” in the course of his examination. He noted almost immediately that Mike’s right pelvis was out of alignment, and that was a source of numerous other problems – weaknesses in both his front knees, swollen muscles in his shoulders (from pulling with his front legs to compensate for his weak back legs), pain throughout his back and rear legs, etc. Husband and wife were very gentle with Mike, and I was surprised at how calm Mike was in return. Dr. Hatfield told me everything he was discovering as he went along. I’d never had a vet be so thorough and informative about details of a dog’s condition. He said Mike had a lot of interrelated problems that needed to be addressed. At the end of it, he said he’d gotten Mike’s pelvis back into place, and he hoped he would be walking less painfully. He gave me a follow-up exercise regimen, and I made future appointments for four and eight weeks later. I seemed to be turning into a chiropractic practitioner without knowing exactly what was in store.
Mike appeared to be o.k. that evening, and I went to sleep pleased that I’d taken him for treatment. Either I dreamed it or perhaps it really happened, but at 4 a.m. I experienced Mike pawing at the side of the bed, and, when I got out of bed to help him in, it felt like his back legs were collapsing under him. Mike went right to sleep, but I lay there in a cold sweat, imagining that his chiropractic adjustments had popped out and that he was crippled. I debated in my mind whether I should call our regular vet in the morning or rush Mike back to Dr. Hatfield, but concluded that we’d probably have to have Mike put down in either case. When I finally woke up at 7 a.m., Duffy jumped out of bed, but Mike just lay there on his side. When he finally started to get up, I held my breath, but he seemed to be moving around all right. I was relieved when he ambled down the stairs.
Now I watch Mike with a careful eye. Sometimes he seems a little better, sometimes he seems his normal self, but he rarely seems worse. I’m sort of eager to get him back to Dr. Hatfield to see how he’s doing. I talked to a friend who takes her border collie to a chiropractor. She’s been pleased with the results, but she’s had to go back seven or eight times. I didn’t think I’d ever be a convert to sacred healing touches. I suppose this means that old dogs can learn new tricks after all.
*Pseudonyms used in this story