Wednesday, February 9, 2011

East meets pets

Valley veterinarian melds medicine traditions


Dr. Heidi Woog performs acupuncture on 9-year-old Dutch.Two years ago, the Lab had inoperable paralysis in his back legs but now has restored motion, a recovery attributed to maintenance visits every six to eight weeks at the East Meets West Wellness Center near Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

It's the lucky pet that meets a veterinarian only in old age. Even after a healthy life full of adventure, end-of-life scenarios between pets and their humans are never easy. For most people, choosing a vet is as personal a decision as picking a primary care physician for themselves.

The Wood River Valley has myriad choices for high-quality veterinary medical care. One of the newer faces on the scene is Dr. Heidi Woog, who combines traditional veterinary medicine and individually prescribed diets with the time-proven healing powers of Eastern remedies that include acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

Woog manages the East Meets West Wellness Center, adjacent to the more traditional Sun Valley Animal Center, south of Ketchum. The space resembles a massage room or a yoga studio, at least in atmosphere and comfort. It has a warm feel with areas for chiropractics, cranial sacral therapy and other manual treatment. Woog also uses the topnotch equipment at her disposal at the Sun Valley Animal Center, which offers the services of several experienced veterinarians.

"The modalities that I choose to assess wellness are in addition to primary veterinary care," Woog explains, between suturing a dog that had been hit by a car and treating another dog with cancer at the Sun Valley Animal Center. "We all bounce back and forth. My focus is integrating conventional Western veterinary medicine with traditional Chinese veterinary medicine. But it's good to know there is an orthopedic surgeon around when you need one. It's a team effort."

Woog says she feels fortunate to be able to work with a medical team that is supportive of her efforts to integrate treatment. It's more than a professional philosophy—it's an ideological embrace that she shares with her husband, Dr. Thomas Archie, a family physician who is also a board-certified medical acupuncturist and the director of integrative medicine at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

The horsewoman from Kremmling, Colo., is used to having her ideas challenged, if not outright discouraged. She says she knew in the seventh grade that she wanted to be a vet, but despite having proved her mettle growing up in a ranching community, she was encouraged away from that life.

"Due to scholarships and aptitude, I was encouraged in engineering," she recalls. "But I did not care for it, so I walked away after pre-registration and did not pursue higher education for a time."

She moved instead to Vail, where while skiing, riding and working in barns, she was re-energized to choose a career.

"I would find myself cleaning stalls or medicating horses and doing math problems in my head to keep myself mentally stimulated," she says.

Boredom and the nagging sense of needing to "make something" of herself propelled her to make the sincere turn to vet work.

"Coming from a small town, it's is not just your parents, but your teachers and community that hold these hopes for you," Woog says. "I'm glad for those expectations from others, even if they did not fit at 18, because I'm sure it's all part of what made me turn the corner at 24 and jump into the seven years of schooling, including the financial, emotional and mental commitment it took to become a veterinarian."

Woog continued to work in Vail during holidays from veterinary school at Colorado State University. It was there that she dove into acupuncture while studying under osteopath and vet Dr. Narda Robinson.

She first experimented with acupuncture on her dog Shadow, who she says was minimally ambulatory before the needle treatment, and hiking like a puppy after treatment, right up until his death at a ripe old age.

"He taught me a lot," she says wistfully. "He was my shadow."

In addition to her studies in chiropractics and acupuncture at CSU, she is certified through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and as an advanced Chinese veterinary herbalist from the Chi Institute in Florida. Woog completed a fellowship in small-animal nutrition at the University of California, Davis, where she pursued holistic diet work focusing on home-prepared foods.

"Most animals on home-prepared diets have unbalanced diets," Woog says. "I had a curiosity about balancing of diets."

In November, she will present a paper about a case study in which she used traditional Chinese veterinary medicine to heal a dog's brain hemorrhage.

Woog praises the Sun Valley Animal Center for continuing to expand its thinking about care to include alternative treatments.

"I'm very lucky to have a career and position where I can make a difference for myself, my family and the community around me," she says.

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