Published on: 07 April 2016
Lance Wiedower, Memphis Daily News
Dr. Kathy Mitchener’s philosophy on treating animals is pretty simple. More than just treating an illness or pain, she believes in a holistic approach to medical care.
In 2004, she opened Angel Care Cancer Clinic for Animals, and in 2014 she added Angel Care Natural Healing and Acupuncture for Pets.
Both practices allow her to provide care to all animals dealing with cancer, as well as other ailments that need a natural healing approach.
Treating pets with cancer, she’s seen her share of sad days. Consoling someone who is facing the final days of a beloved dog’s life is never easy. But Mitchener has also seen plenty of rewarding days when she’s helped extend a geriatric patient’s life.
In both instances, though, she saw so many animals treated with chemotherapy and radiation that were already too weak to handle the poison of those treatments.
“As I treated patients I became disenchanted by the strategies we have for cancer care – poison, radiation to help these pets,” she said. “A friend suggested I add another tool to help patients that wouldn’t be quite so toxic. He said try acupuncture or alternative therapy.”
Mitchener took a course in acupuncture, and said it became clear to her that there is more to the full treatment than just medication. She integrated acupuncture into her treatment plans and in 2007 slowly began looking for a location to add a more focused clinic. She opened the Angel Care Natural Healing and Acupuncture for Pets clinic in Oakhaven in June 2014 where, in addition to acupuncture, various therapies and rehabilitation, underwater treadmill work, massages and strengthening work is offered to pets.
Her hope was to provide a facility where animals can be nurtured and healed in a calming environment. When the pets and owners feel better about the environment, the treatments will be more effective and holistic, she said.
Mitchener and her staff look at what a general practitioner puts a patient on and works with that. It might include incorporating medications into a program that contains core strengthening exercises.
Mitchener graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. A short stint in private practice was followed by a residency in oncology and internal medicine at the university.
That residency came when one of Mitchener’s mentors told her the university had some money to start a program in internal medicine and oncology.
“I didn’t decide oncology. It chose me,” Mitchener said. “My first thinking was if I can just do internal medicine I’ll stand the oncology. As I got into the program and started working with cancer patients, (I realized) this is where I belong. You’re fighting for the most precious beings against the most difficult disease there is with limited tools.
“It’s challenging, rewarding and devastating at times, but it’s just a really exciting place to be.”
She moved from Knoxville to Memphis after completing the program. At the time, the world of veterinary specialty medication was limited mostly to universities. Mitchener slowly began putting out feelers in the community to recruit cases to treat dogs and cats with cancer.
And in those early days, the work was more the diagnosis of cancer instead of managing the patient. It was what Mitchener said was end-of-life care. Chemotherapy in dogs and cats wasn’t as common as it is now.
“The big step for me was to realize we can kill cancer,” she said. “We can focus our energy on drawing out that horrible disease. But unless you support the body itself, it can’t cope with the disease, much less the treatment.”
Angel Care Natural Healing and Acupuncture for Pets is a natural healing center that sees cancer and arthritis patients, spinal and neurological cases and some pets whose owners just want them to be healthy and happy for as long as possible.
“We have non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, but unless you step outside of traditional treatment they don’t get better,” Mitchener said. “Dogs are four-legged, so if they work the front end to overcompensate for a back-end injury it can aggravate other arthritic conditions in the front. So we design a protocol that looks at the whole dog.”
And what about the people who question her use of acupuncture on animals?
“Don’t underestimate what potential there is to manage wellness outside of the traditional realm of medicine,” she said. “I have dogs that have come in looking like throw rugs. They were so weak they couldn’t stand. With a combination of nutrition, supplements, acupuncture and therapies like an underwater treadmill, we’ve been able to get them up and moving and extend time they have with families.”
Mitchener splits her time between the Angel Care Cancer Clinic For Animals clinic at 6923 Stage Road and the Natural Healing and Acupuncture center at 1017 Oakhaven Road.
Learn more about Kathy Mitchener's career with Angel Care Clinic and her continued relationship with Financial Federal Bank here.