There's a special place in our hearts for our very first dog.
For Maryland resident Lora Katz, that special first dog was Flo.
"My parents didn't want to take care of a dog," says Lora. "So when I became an adult and moved away, I got myself a standard poodle puppy. I was in the Air Force at the time, living in Georgia. I wanted a dog I could run with, ride a bike with, do things with."
Flo was "smart and full of life," says Lora. "Happy to meet everybody." Flo was also very patient with her first-time owner. "I have to admit that back in those days there was a style of training where you jerked on their collar to get them to obey," says Lora of the obedience training they took together. "But she put up with me. I learned, she learned. We did a lot of exploring together, and it was a lot of fun."
By the time Lora left the Air Force and returned to her home state of Maryland, she'd adopted another, younger standard poodle named Sassy and had become an inaugural subscriber of The Whole Dog Journal, a holistic canine health care magazine. Flo, now age 11, was still active and spirited, but she'd started to hesitate before jumping in the car.
"At first, I think she's just being stubborn," recalls Lora. But reading about chiropractic, acupuncture, and other alternative approaches to canine health care "helped me realize more of the big picture - things you need to think about with an aging dog," such as treating pain that can occur with arthritis.
About that time, Lora met Greta McVey at the Greenbelt (Maryland) Pet Expo. "And I thought, wow, here's someone nearby who'll actually do animal acupuncture," says Lora. "And I can afford it!"
Flo's first acupuncture treatment
Lora brought both of her dogs to Flo's first acupuncture session. "The dogs were all curious, not apprehensive at all," says Lora. Before long "Flo is laying on the comfy [treatment] mat and she's sniffing Greta. And the next thing I know, Flo's got needles sticking in her. I didn't even see it happen. And Flo's the same way, like, oh, okay, whatever. Flo never resisted. It was always amazing how she would just allow Greta to do it.
"Greta really is a kind of dog whisperer," says Lora. "She really knows the pace at which to do things. You go to the vet and they hold your dog down while they take blood or whatever. That's not how it works with Greta. Flo lays down when she wants to, Flo gets ready for the treatment. Greta doesn't force that at all - and then the needles go in."
During subsequent sessions Lora noticed that at some point, Flo always yawned. "Without fail," says Lora. "And that convinced me that something real was happening. Flo's actions spoke volumes."
When Lora asked Greta how she knew when the treatment was over, "Greta said, 'Flo lets me know.' And so then I started to notice, yeah, Flo would get a little restless, there'd be a little cue, and then Greta would start taking the needles out. The two of them knew what was going to happen."
Supporting Flo through her senior years
Lora thinks Flo's acupuncture sessions were about "more than pain management for her arthritis. Greta was really treating Flo's whole life. She knew Flo as a personality. She called Flo a metal, a winter. And she would treat Flo accordingly, because those aspects of Flo's being had certain strengths and were associated with certain organ systems. Greta was proactive in treating Flo's respiratory system, for example, knowing that was a vulnerable area for Flo during a certain time of the year."
Over the next six years, young and brassy Sassy received a couple of acupuncture treatments, but otherwise the focus was on helping Flo remain healthy and active through her senior years.
In the car on the way to their appointments, Flo would perk up as they entered Greta's neighborhood and "Sassy always starts to bark," says Lora. "I know I'm not doing anything hurtful when my dogs know where they're going and they're excited when they get there. Dog's don't lie."
End of life: Flo gets in touch with her ancestors
With Greta's support once or twice a month, Lora's beloved Flo lived to be 17 years old. "And she was ambulatory up to the second-to-last day before she passed," says Lora.
At one of their last sessions, says Lora, "I noticed Greta was going to put a needle in between Flo's eyes, which Flo didn't mind at all, but it was unusual. I asked about it, and Greta said, 'I'm getting Flo in touch with her ancestors.' And I realized, wow, this is really between her and Flo. She was helping Flo prepare, probably for things that even Flo didn't realize she was getting close to."
Lora says she learned from Greta how to pay attention to telling details about Flo's well-being, such as the smell of her breath and coat, and temperature differences across her body. And that helped both Lora and Flo at the end.
"Everyone was worried about me when Flo passed, but I was ready for it," says Lora. "I could tell when Flo was ready. I just knew. The day she couldn't stand anymore I didn't get upset about it. I just brought her in and lay down on the floor with her. Sassy was in the room with us, of course. I realized Flo's breathing had slowed down. I fell asleep and Sassy woke me up, her collar jangling. And I realized Flo wasn't breathing any more. It was really beautiful. We were done, and Flo had called the shots. No drama, no panic. I would wish that for anyone I know."
During Flo's last days, Lora spoke by phone with Greta a number of times. Greta's sympathy and practical suggestions for how to make Flo more comfortable were "definitely good to have," says Lora. "Someone who was involved yet professional at the same time, who had been through this before."
Lora says Flo "taught me so much, when I think back on it. Just how to be calm, how to be observant. How to not take things in such a big dramatic way. I think I was doing something for her [with the acupuncture] that, if she could have asked me for it, she would have. If you don't own a dog, you probably can't relate to that. I think it just supported her to be the best she could be to the end of her life."