I had a lot of preconceived notions about it.
Here’s the big question: Is your pet a living creature you treat as an equal in terms of deserving a high standard of living or a possession you know will have to be replaced once the factory-set sequence of repairs no longer work? There’s definitely some gray area there when it comes to finances (we’re probably more willing to bankrupt ourselves to save a family member than we are to save the family dog), but so many decisions truly are that black and white. If Cindy Meehl‘s documentary The Dog Doc (about Marty Goldstein‘s integrative care services at Smith Ridge Veterinary Center) teaches anything, however, it’s that we should be allowed to make that choice. Because as things stand now, it appears the veterinary industry made it for us instead.
From volatile vaccination practices to a heavy reliance on medication, Goldstein is constantly telling us how his field’s archaic guidelines have handcuffed its doctors into treating pet care like an assembly line. When a dog presents a certain series of issues, they turn to an approved course of action regardless of breed, size, age, or blood work. If the dog gets better, they pat themselves on the back. If the dog gets worse, they shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing else that can be done. They went through their checklist, decided for the owner that additional treatment options cost more than the animal itself, and called it a day. But where that mindset makes sense for inanimate objects (think computers), a dog is alive. And it’s scared.
Dr. Marty has seen what many would call miracles in his forty-plus years of taking a holistic approach to animal care. He wouldn’t, but his customers would. Seeing a canine patient of his live for eight more years despite the four vets before him saying the dog had five weeks max isn’t an act of God, but compassionate science. He isn’t out here curing incurable diseases or promising the impossible. He’s simply treating the pet as any doctor would a human. He and his fellow doctors (Jennifer Lenarz-Salcedo, Jaqueline Ruskin, and Randie Shane each get the spotlight during the course of the film) conduct tests, discover everything they can about each specific case, and cater a treatment plan to it. Then they do it again as necessary.
Like one client says upon witnessing the drastic change underwent by her dog Mulligan despite congenital renal failure, “How is this not a widespread industry standard?” She can see the results with her own eyes and Goldstein’s explanation about why his actions work solidifies them as more than mere coincidence. The film doesn’t get into it since its goal is highlighting education and evolution that hits people on an emotional level, but the answer is most assuredly money. A lot of pet owners don’t want to worry about the food their dog should eat or learn what supplements can help provide him/her an added nutritional boost. Pharmaceutical companies are throwing around money and don’t want their bottom lines to suffer. Pets are more or less expendable.
So until the veterinarian society is willing to look at the animals they assist as more than computers to patch and/or replace, Goldstein’s methods will always be seen as “alternative” and dismissed as crazy. That’s why Meehl’s documentary proves a crucial piece to the puzzle beyond merely focusing on one man or one clinic with complete idolatry. She’s not afraid to include men and women who were skeptical of Goldstein’s ideas before seeing his effectiveness in person (Dr. Shane was one of them) because it shows the power of evidence above assumption. Meehl also isn’t afraid to show death. We need to mourn in order to remember that Dr. Marty isn’t a snake-oil salesman. He mitigates. He strengthens immune systems and quality of life to delay the inevitable.
What more can a doctor do? He tells the truth, lays out what it’s going to take, and leaves the decision (financially, morally, etc.) in the pet owner’s hands. Will his “radical” cryosurgery and vitamin-C infusion therapy cost money? Yes. Will they work? Probably. Will they get the patient back to one hundred percent? He’s hopeful. Where a conventional vet simply says “X” will or won’t work, Goldstein says “X” will put the animal on the road to recovery if recovery remains possible. It’s therefore not surprising that his patients are usually coming to him after second, third, and sometimes fourth opinions. Those who aren’t willing to go the extra mile on a pet will quit and euthanize. Those who are willing find a doctor who is too.
So pet lovers should be warned that tears are shed on-screen. Some of these dogs come to Smith Ridge in very poor shape and some don’t make it. But they do improve. They get to live a little longer because their owners found a doctor who treats them like an animal that possesses a soul and a willingness to fight for his/her life. It can be frustrating to think that the veterinarian vocation rejects complex pet nutrition as a crackpot theory since it so obviously isn’t, but seeing how bad our own nutrition often is says all we need to know to accept it as fact. After all, Goldstein’s ideas stem from his own personal health makeover. If you treat your body well it almost certainly will reciprocate.