Tonkinese Tales (Toby and Ziva)

Toby and Ziva Gail Williams' love of folk music inadvertently brought another kind of love into her life. A few years ago, while enjoying herself at a house concert in Silver Spring, Maryland, she saw "this beautiful dark brown cat going from lap to lap." When she asked, someone told her the cat was a Tonkinese - a breed that is a cross between a Siamese and a Burmese.

Smitten, Gail eventually got Tonkinese cats of her own. Today the retired federal government employee lives with Toby, a contemplative six-year-old, and feisty chatterbox Ziva, age three. At one point Gail ran into the woman who had hosted the house concert.

"I told her this story, and she said, oh, that cat was an Abyssinian," says Gail, laughing. "But I love the Tonkinese breed, so we're okay." In addition to their exotic short-hair coats, bright minds, and gregarious natures, however, Tonks have a tendency toward dental problems and allergies.

"And so I've been taking both of them to Greta since right after I got them," says Gail, not only for treatment during an acute illness, "but also as a preventative. I've found that acupuncture strengthens their immune systems and reduces the duration of something they might have and also keeps them healthier longer."

Dental Problems, Allergies

TobyIn addition to the acupuncture, says Gail, Greta's knowledge of natural remedies for pets "has made a huge difference." As a kitten, Toby had to have his lower teeth pulled when they became so loose he couldn't eat. Immediately after the surgery, at Greta's suggestion, Gail put Toby on a regimen of fish oil and grapefruit seed extract. She mixes them in a ratio of 6:1 oil to grapefruit seed extract and cleans his teeth daily with the mixture on a cotton swab.

"And except for that initial episode," says Gail, "Toby has never had any other dental problems. He's never even had to have his teeth cleaned - amazing for a six-year old. The veterinarian is absolutely stymied. I started Ziva on the same regimen, and she's never had an extraction and also hasn't ever needed her teeth cleaned. For cats, that's a big deal because you have to put them under general anesthesia, with its associated risks."

When the cats' allergies are acting up, says Gail, they "get a little crustiness in their eyes, like people do. They sneeze and sound more congested when they breathe or purr." Sometimes Gail will give the cats an antihistamine recommended by her veterinarian, but she finds more benefit from regular acupuncture treatments, "about every three months or so. It's all pretty amazing."

Acupuncture: a Cost-Effective Complement to Veterinary Care

Gails says that "by investing the time and the expense in acupuncture I'm actually saving on traditional vet bills. It's definitely a cost-effective approach and it enhances the quality of my cats' lives."

Gail began seeing Greta for acupuncture herself about ten years ago. When she learned that in addition to her license in people acupuncture, Greta had also received veterinary-approved certification in animal acupuncture, Gail started bringing her Siamese cat Sadie in at the same time.

"Sadie had a lot of health problems, especially urinary tract issues," remembers Gail. "And Greta used to work miracles. Sadie calmed down - she was just much less stressed out. There were times when she'd actually stopped eating and drinking, and the acupuncture got her to eat and drink again. There came a point where nothing else could be done, and then you have to make the difficult decision." Thanks to acupuncture, says Gail, "Sadie was with me a couple of years longer, and with a better quality of life, then would otherwise have been the case."

During and After Acupuncture: "The Cats Really Quiet Down"

Greta "has a way of connecting," says Gail. "I don't know if it's spiritual or what with the cats, but they really quiet down. They feel loved and taken care of."

Gail brings Toby and Ziva in the same carrier for their treatment sessions. "Whichever one feels more inclined" comes out first, she says - no one is ever forced. Greta examines the cats, "feeling their bodies, smelling their breath, looking into their eyes. She'll ask me why I'm bringing them today and what sorts of things I've been observing at home. And based upon what she's seeing and what I'm telling her, she'll insert some needles."

With few exceptions, says Gail, "the cats don't even notice the needles from a discomfort perspective. What I notice is that after the needles go in, they'll almost always take a deep breath and sigh. Often I hold them as Greta treats them, so I can feel it when their bodies relax...There is an almost immediate benefit."

This first round of needles "usually stay in for a little while," says Gail. After Greta removes them, she'll often quickly needle a few points in the cats' paws. "I think of them as little reset buttons," says Gail, laughing, "though I'm sure that's not what they're called." The paw points are a bit more sensitive, says Gail, and "the cats are usually a little startled by them, but it's over as soon as it's begun. Then they go back in their carrier. They're not screeching or complaining; they're just fine. It's a very relaxing experience for them."

Tangible Benefits: There's No Placebo Effect for Cats and Dogs

"Every pet that I have from now on will get acupuncture," says Gail firmly. "To me, there are tangible benefits. There's no such thing as a placebo effect with cats or dogs, so if you see a benefit, it's not because they're wishing for it, it's because there's an actual benefit."

Which is not to say there isn't a distinct Greta Effect.

"Greta is a wonderful listener," says Gail, "both to what's said, and even to the unspoken, whether it's unspoken by me or, obviously, by the pet. There's a connection she creates with the client and the pet that allows her to discern things that still just amaze me. She'll take the time to make sure I'm comfortable with the treatment, that I understand what's going on, and that I appreciate what, if any, follow-up activities I could do that would reduce the healing time.

"The cats just like going there," she says simply. "There's something energetic that they sense with Greta. I rely on her, and she's never disappointed us."