By Karen Derr
Dr. Robin Robinett’s patients get excited just at the sound of her name. At least that’s what she’s been told by several of her canine patients’ owners. They don’t get shots at her clinic, but they might get other kinds of needles. Acupuncture is just one of several Chinese-medicine treatments offered at Dr. Robinett’s Veterinary Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Clinic, located in southeast Houston. Her wife, Jerri O’Donohoe-Robinett, joined the practice as its manager in 2009, one year after it opened. The couple has been together for 14 years, and they were married two years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Dr. Robinett was certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association just seven years after it was founded in 1989—back when chiropractic for horses and other animals was not widely done by veterinarians. Like the organization’s founder, Dr. Sharon Willoughby, Robinett was a lifelong horse lover and rider who wanted to offer the benefits of chiropractic to horses. “There are so many lay people like farriers and trainers who are doing rehabilitation on horses, and they aren’t trained,” says Robinett. “I see a real problem with that. If they don’t know what they are doing, they can do a lot of harm.” She used to ride hunter jumpers and did dressage, and she says getting back into jumping is something she looks forward to, perhaps with a horse she has rehabilitated.
While horses make up about 25 to 30 percent of the clinic’s patients, Robinett says the rest are mostly dogs with injuries or who need agility therapy. “Since I’ve been doing chiropractic for 20 years, I get a lot of older dogs coming in, and I get a lot of referrals from other vets. These kinds of therapies have been driven by the public. Dog and horse owners use them for themselves, so they want them for their pets, too.”
Besides pets, she also has treated the goats from the petting area of the Houston Zoo, and every year she is asked to work on steers that are competing at the rodeo. She treats many dogs that have cancer with Chinese herbs and food therapy. She says these therapies greatly enhance the effectiveness of chemo administered by the dogs’ regular vet, and they have also been known to work on their own when chemo is not an option. She explains, “Owners are going to get a lot more time with their pets, and it’s going to be quality time.”
Dr. Robinett says she no longer administers any traditional Western medical treatments such as shots, surgery, or flea treatments. Besides acupuncture, acupressure, and chiropractic, her clinic offers Chinese herbal and nutritional therapies. Dr. Robinett explains, “Chinese medicine includes herbal therapy, tui na, qi gong, and food therapy. Different foods and teas are healing. In the summertime, when it’s so hot outside, you get a lot of dogs with excess heat and yin deficiency. And when dogs get older, they may have chi deficiency and maybe their bark isn’t very loud any more.” Dr. Robinett says she feeds watermelon and cantaloupe to both dogs and horses in the summer—especially dogs with excess panting. She recommends avoiding chicken or lamb for pets with excess heat.
Because of her use of acupuncture for animals (which she studied at the Chi Institute in Florida under Dr. Xie), she rarely has to sedate an animal to treat it. For animals who don’t take needles well, she uses an acupuncture laser. The use of the lasers or the acupuncture needles releases endorphins, which Robinett says are our bodies’ natural painkillers.
Robinett thinks it’s a mistake that some acupuncturists are moving away from the theories of Chinese medicine. “With acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I’m not really treating a disease as such. I’m treating the pattern of what I’m seeing. I look at tongue color, at which meridians of the body the symptoms are in, and also at the pulse quality at different points. Put all these things together, and you have a pattern.” Robinett explains that Chinese medicine is based more on common sense and results than on science. However, she says, “Recent studies, which have tried to disprove the existence of meridians in the body, have actually proven that the body does have electrical differences in different parts. Newer studies with technologies like scanning MRIs have proven that acupuncture points actually have bundles of micro-blood vessels, and acupuncture increases blood flow.”
Another innovative treatment used in rehabilitating both dogs and horses at the clinic is underwater treadmills. Aquapaws for dogs, and the larger Aquapacer for horses, use water to provide a low-impact workout. Robinett says the dogs love coming for the underwater treadmill therapy. Walking or trotting underwater builds up muscle and endurance faster than swimming, since the animal’s legs are partially weight-bearing. This allows for shorter rehabilitation times. The underwater treadmill workouts can be tailored to each animal’s needs by adjusting the water level, speed, and workout time.
Although the Veterinary Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Clinic is located within the Houston city limits, a trip to the clinic is a bit like a trip to the country, with small horse properties and a feed store nearby. She and Jerri hope to expand the clinic’s equine practice in the future, which will require expansion of their barns and buildings. Since the clinic is located on a total of five acres, there is room for expansion while still leaving space for a pasture.
Commenting on the need to work long hours with her spouse, she says, “We work well together, because things I’m not good at, she’s good at.” Jerri was a safety engineer before she began working at the clinic full-time.
Dr. Robinett says the biggest difference in her practice is the relationship she gets to have with her patients. “I don’t do any kind of routine medicine, because I don’t have time to. Plus, the animals come here and they are relaxed. They enjoy coming here. I don’t want them worrying that they are going to get a shot.”
Dr. Robinett is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA), American Association of Equine Veterinarians (AAEP), American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA), Harris County Veterinary Medical Association (HVCMA), American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians (AARV), and the Texas Equine Veterinary Association (TEVA). The Veterinary Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Clinic is located at 4604 Fuqua Street in Houston. Learn more about their treatments and services at vetchiroandrehab.com or by calling 713.991.9500.
Karen Derr is a Houston-based Realtor and the founder of Karen Derr Realtors which sells both town and country properties. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.