Siobhan’s alternative approach to care
Siobhan Menzies’ HolisticPet NI is a practice like no other in Northern Ireland. She’s been talking to Russell Campbell…
Siobhan Menzies recalls that when she first launched a business centred around holistic pain management for companion animals, there were some in the local veterinary community that probably considered her something of a “voodoo vet”.
That was 15 years ago, however, and today, her practice – HolisticPet NI – is an established referral service delivering a full range of complementary and pain relieving therapies, including acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, to patients of veterinary clinics around NI. It does this from its headquarters in Millisle and in seven other partner practices.
Originally from Coalisland, Siobhan graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 1990 and spent around 12 years in large and small animal general practice before she began to feel the need for change.
“It just struck me that there was a demand for better pain management,” she recalls. “At that time, all you really had was one or two licensed drugs for pain management in animals and people were always asking what else we could do for them.”
This ultimately led Siobhan to take-up the study of acupuncture in 2003 through the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists in Scotland. At this stage, she was still working in small animal practice in Bangor. She went on to study physiotherapy at the Royal Veterinary College and, on completion, decided to set up in business for herself.
The novel new service was well received and yielded such positive results that Siobhan decided to take things further and began studying physical rehabilitation with the University of Tennessee.
“One of the main reasons for leaving general practice was because it was difficult to get the time that we needed to properly help patients,” she said. “In a small practice it’s very busy and you have 10 or 15 minutes with a patient, but I would need 30 or 40 minutes with a patient to do things properly.”
Around that time, Siobhan had also just given birth to her third child and she found that working for herself gave her a greater degree of flexibility and work/life balance. She set-up her business at her home in MIllisle and took additional space in the village of Donaghadee.
“When I first started, I don’t think people knew what to make of it,” she says. “What I was doing was very unusual, but when vets started to see their patients coming back into them with their pain managed, that changed and my business survived and grew, which was very personally gratifying for me. To be honest, there was never any real, serious criticism, I think people just weren’t really that familiar with what we were doing.”
In 2007, Siobhan went ahead and established Northern Ireland’s first rehabilitation and pain management unit at Earlswood Veterinary Hospital in Belfast where an underwater treadmill for dogs was installed to provide advanced hydrotherapy services.
These days, clients are referred to HolisticPet NI by vet practices all over Northern Ireland and clinics are held in seven practices in the Belfast, Ballyclare, Newtownards, Holywood and Hillsborough areas.
“Clients who require additional pain management are referred to us and we can apply acupuncture, laser, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or myofascial release,” explains Siobhan. “Owners will also receive a full home treatment plan, including therapeutic exercises tailored specifically to their pet.”
Siobhan stresses the importance of the relationship between HolisticPet NI and the referring vets with whom a constant dialogue is maintained around the treatment that animals are receiving:
“That’s important because the whole area of animal physiotherapy is unregulated and unfortunately, anyone can do an online course and then set themselves up as a so-called expert,” she says. “Vets are responsible for the people that they refer their patients to, so if someone acts unprofessionally, that can come back on the referring vet.”
An emerging demand for complementary therapies such as herbal and homeopathic treatments to run alongside conventional treatments led earlier this year to the arrival in the practice of Dr Zoran Jankovic. Zoran graduated from the University of Belgrade in 1996 and has more than 20 years of clinical experience in small animal medicine and general surgery.
After obtaining a qualification from the Chi Institute of Europe in 2016, he has been practising traditional Chinese veterinary medicine for companion animals and horses with strong results.
Among the services he offers at HolisticPet NI are Chinese acupuncture, food therapy and herbology.
Also now on staff is Clare Diane Young of Paws for Splash, a canine hydrotherapist who is registered with the Canine Hydrotherapy Association.
Dr Elsa Izaguirre qualified from Leon University in Spain in 2011. She worked at home for a year, concentrating on small animal rehabilitation before moving to Belfast where Siobhan introduced her to acupuncture and pain management. She now works in the pain clinic at HolisticPet and maintains her conventional veterinary skills at a first opinion surgery. She is particularly interested in feline medicine, especially pain in geriatric cats.
Dr Esther Skelly-Smith, who joined HolisticPet last year, is a graduate of the University of Nottingham Veterinary School.
She is a published author of veterinary research and her work has been presented at an international congress. Since her return to Northern Ireland, she has worked as a vet while pursuing further professional development in acupuncture and chiropractic prior to joining Siobhan.
Well-known in local veterinary circles, Esther is a professional member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture and the Western Veterinary Acupuncture Group and is an internationally-accredited veterinary chiropractor.
Going forward, Siobhan says that she’s challenged by the number of unqualified people currently working in her field:
“This whole area is one that’s exploding at present and it’s very important that all those who go into practice are properly qualified to do so.”
Managing client expectation is something else that she’s focused on – her methods are not “a magic wand”, she cautions, and it’s important that complementary medicine and conventional treatment are used together.
As for the future, she hopes to be able to practise more sports medicine, caring for the likes of working dogs, obedience and agility dogs and greyhounds. It’s something she really enjoys, taking an animal whose owner has been told may never work again and getting it back on its feet.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from that,” she says.
And she adds:
“Interest in this area of veterinary medicine is growing so much and running a business was never something that I wanted to do. I just wanted to help people, you feel responsible when clients are ringing you up and telling you that their dog is in pain. You want to help and so you bring people on and things just grow from that.”
Find out more about HolisticPet NI at www.holisticpetni.com