UPPER KEYS -- Sabby is suffering from fragile bones and old age. But the 14-year-old golden retriever's owner isn't interested in surgery and is turning to alternative medicine.
Marcia Froehlig sits in her bayside Key Largo home holding her pet still as veterinarian Nancy Saxe begins placing needles into Sabby. It's animal acupuncture and Saxe calls it a growing field.
"People are turning to more holistic methods in treating their animals," she said.
She credits this change to people beginning to learn about more natural means to treat illnesses.
Saxe, who is also certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, said her treatment avoids irritating internal organs. That's something her clients consider when choosing whether or not to pursue surgery, she said. Acupuncture can also make more financial sense for people who can't afford expensive operations.
For the most part, Sabby sat still, grimacing only occasionally as about 10 needles were inserted throughout her coat. Panting heavily throughout the ordeal, it was something she was used to and knew treats were her reward.
Jill Hayes, a local pet photographer, brought her border collie, Babe, in to get treated for a back problem that causes the dog to limp. Hayes said her 14-year-old reacts well to the treatment.
"It's better than surgery," Hayes said.
Saxe, though, isn't anti-traditional medicine. When necessary, she can also take out the knife and perform minor surgeries. For more serious operations, she recommends local veterinarians.
Since she is mobile only, her service can be ideal for cat owners.
"Some people cannot get their cats in cat carriers," she said. Saxe also comes to homes to put down animals when it's easier for the owner.
Froehlig's 17-year-old Calico cat, Pickles, was unable to avoid the treatment. Noticeably uncomfortable, Pickles briefly escaped with needles still sticking in her. Froehlig says she also treats her pets with Chinese herbs as another means of therapy.
Saxe even treats birds with acupuncture when volunteering at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. Birds are treated with aquapressure therapy. Saxe said she inserts a needle into the bird that injects vitamin B12, and quickly removes the needle.
Saxe, who began practicing acupuncture in 1990, says she requires a one-hour examination and physical with each new patient before beginning treatment.
"I don't just show up and start sticking them with needles," she said.
Dr. Martha Edwards, a veterinarian at Island Hammock Pet Hospital, says she recommends acupuncture for some of her clients.
"It is very important that it is done properly," Edwards said. "If not done properly, it will fail and potentially cause harm to the patient."
Edwards said she likes to consult with her clients over the pros and cons before recommending acupuncture. She also said it's important to use a licensed veterinarian.
To reach Saxe at her office, those interested may call (561) 818-2598.