She’s not a voodoo doctor. She’s not a hippie. She’s a holistic veterinarian.
By JENNIFER BHARGAVA
Special to The Star
For more than a decade, Linda Faris has healed and comforted dogs, cats and other animals with unconventional treatments, such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, homeopathy, Chinese food therapy and massage. The treatments are used for everything from arthritis to cancer.
Every week, clients from all over the Kansas City area fill her two offices — one at the Mission Road Animal Clinic in Prairie Village and the other at the Animal Clinic of BoardWalk Square in Kansas City, North. Sometimes, clients even come from as far as Nebraska or Colorado.
“In the Midwest people are hesitant to change, so what I do might seem strange,” she said. “But I don’t try to fix the world and educate everybody about what I do. I’m simply here for the people who want me.”
And as the years go by, more people are seeking her services. In a world increasingly becoming organic savvy, turning to natural medicine has been a natural transition — even when it comes to those four-legged friends.
“What she’s doing is thousands of years old, but it looks like 22nd century solutions,” said Ryan Kegley, a client of Faris. “People are discovering that Western medicine is not always successful. It’s scary to leap into the unknown, but I think more people should take the chance.”
Kegley, of Kansas City, decided to give holistic veterinary treatment a try when he found out his West Highland Terrier’s worsening illness was going to require permanent medication.
Faris transitioned his dog off the drugs and put him on a Chinese herb and supplement diet. Five years later, both pet and owner couldn’t be happier.
“These days, I don’t even bother going to a traditional vet — I go straight to Dr. Faris,” Kegley said. “I would also like to get myself to that point one day, where I can stop going to a traditional doctor and just take natural herbs.”
His success story and others like it are the reason Faris quit being a traditional vet and immersed herself into holistic practice full-time.
“As a conventional vet, I was disappointed with my ability to truly change the course for my patients,” she said. “It was frustrating that the only options offered to me were surgery or drugs, and those were never enough. I feel more like a healer now than a drug pusher or knife wielder. Knowing that I’m actually helping these animals makes me want to keep getting up in the morning.”
Holistic practices have become a growing trend even among conventional vets in the Kansas City area.
“There are times in Western medicine when I just throw up my hands because absolutely nothing is working, so I’m thrilled Eastern medicine offers other options,” said Susan Vodraska, a veterinarian at the Rockhill Pet Clinic.
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t vaccinate their pets, because that’s absolutely necessary. But as Western medicine opens up to these other options, like acupuncture and herbs, I think the lines between Eastern and Western medicine will be blurred, which will be for the better.”
She started offering alternative treatments last year, and while her number of clients is growing, she notices there is still skepticism and confusion surrounding the idea.
“There’s mysticism behind Eastern medicine, which might be a drawback to people with strong religious beliefs,” she said. “So I try to explain these procedures in a way that is more clinical and less spiritual.”
Religious reservations almost prevented veterinarian John Rowe from pursuing acupuncture. Now, his infusion of Eastern and Western medicine has become part of his Kansas City clinic’s mantra.
“I’m Christian, so I was hesitant to pursue acupuncture because I thought it was steeped in Buddhism or Hinduism or something,” said Rowe, the owner of Aid Animal Hospital.
“I quickly learned that although it stems from culture, it is an actual science. I was blown away to realize that it actually works for everything — it can reduce how much insulin diabetics need, it is great for pain management, and it gives the immune system a significant boost.”
When he first ventured into the practice almost a decade ago, Rowe began seeing cases where it would have been a no-brainer to euthanize, but acupuncture and laser therapy allowed pets to survive. He sees the use of Eastern treatment as not just the future of veterinary medicine, but all medicine.
But, like its Western counterpart, it doesn’t always work, he warned.
“There will always be a case I can’t manage perfectly and I’ll always be seeking the answers,” she said. “There are literally an infinite number of sick dogs and cats and I’ll never be able to help them all.”
But even so, many of her clients are just comforted by knowing there are options beyond surgery and pills.
“I think more people these days are starting to be aware of how much chemicals go into their body,” said Rochelle Wollman of Kansas City, a client of Faris. “I’ve been slowly converting to alternative medicine myself, so I was ecstatic when I learned about holistic vet practices. My dogs are like my kids and it’s very important to me that they have the same type of medical treatment I would.”