Talk to the animals

Veterinarian Norman Ralston favors acupuncture, herbs, and homeopathy instead of traditional animal medicine. He says pets speak to him through a channeler, and he lets them prescribe their own treatment. It's no wonder state regulators are keeping a clos

"Currently we have no plans of addressing holistic medicine in our curriculum," says Dr. Bruce Simpson, rather sharply. The professor of veterinary medicine at A&M is chairman of the college's curriculum committee. "I suppose the closest thing would be course work in animal behavior and nutrition." Simpson is not familiar with Ralston, nor his struggle for greater acceptance by the state's veterinary community. The profession's main concern, he says, is always that a vet do an animal no harm.

On March 3, 1992, Elaine Foster took Tippy, her 5-year-old cockapoo, to Ralston's clinic. Although the dog had been recently spayed, Foster thought Tippy might be pregnant, according to a complaint affidavit she later filed with the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

Ralston, according to the affidavit, diagnosed Tippy's condition as "pseudocyesis"--false pregnancy--and prescribed a homeopathic herbal remedy called bryonia. Board records do not disclose Tippy's fate, and Foster could not be reached for comment. But Foster's complaint stated that Ralston did not tell her he was prescribing herbal treatment for the dog. Foster told the board's investigator she thought Ralston was dispensing conventional medicine. Ralston was subsequently reprimanded by the board on January 20, 1994, for violations of the Texas Veterinary Licensing Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The vet entered into a settlement with the board, agreeing to post several signs notifying clients of his alternative methods. He also agreed to explain his methods to each client and to obtain signed consent forms before undertaking any alternative treatments.

But three years later, Ralston was before the board again. Two complaints were filed against him in 1994--both charging that Ralston did not obtain specific written consent before treating animals with homeopathic remedies. On March 26, 1994, Lisa Huckaby brought Scooter, her female cat, to Ralston along with Scooter's kittens, who had crusty eyes and were sneezing. Ralston and an assistant performed their "contact reflexology" exam on the kittens, according to the licensing board's records. The vet dispensed an herbal remedy, chamomilla, for the kittens' eyes. Huckaby later told an investigator she was not informed that Ralston practiced alternative medicine, nor did she sign off on the treatment he prescribed.

One month later, Joy Cisco took her 13-year-old cat, Daisy, to the LBJ Animal Clinic. Ralston diagnosed the cat with borderline diabetes, and gave Cisco several natural remedies, including iris flower essence and cell salts.

Cisco, who could not be reached for comment, told a veterinary board investigator that Ralston did not inform her that he practiced alternative medicine and was treating her cat with herbal remedies. She says she did not sign a consent form.

It is Cisco's case that agitates Ralston, even today. "I told her the cat was developing diabetes and that most vets would prescribe insulin. And I told her how miserable that would make both her and the cat. I said, 'You will have to catch that cat every day and give her a shot. Pretty soon, she'll hate you, and you'll hate her because of it.' "

Ralston says he told Cisco they could avoid that trouble by trying a holistic approach--that the homeopathic route might keep the diabetes at bay. Cisco, Ralston says, agreed to the treatment, but gave up before it had a chance to work and took Daisy to another vet, who prescribed insulin.

"I asked that little lady to sign a statement, but she refused to sign it," Ralston says, adding that she agreed verbally to the treatment. "I've been in this business for 52 years, and this whole flap is over that one little consent form. All this over one little kitty. I mean, God almighty."

Nevertheless, Ralston, by his own admission, did break the conditions of his earlier negotiated settlement with the board. He has been ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and will have his license suspended for 30 days. But that is not necessarily the end of the case. Ralston can challenge the board in civil court, but hasn't decided if he will. The dates for Ralston's suspension have not been set.

"Every time I do anything on this, a lawyer wants $200," Ralston says. "I finally started representing myself, but it takes too much time. I don't know what I'll do next."

Dr. James Gomez, a Brownsville veterinarian and president of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, did not return telephone calls from the Dallas Observer.

But Gomez appeared to have little patience with Ralston during the June 12 board meeting in Austin at which Ralston was sanctioned. After the board's vote, Ralston asked Gomez if he might enter into the record a newspaper clipping and letters of support from clients.

Staring down at Ralston from the head of the board's conference table, Gomez said simply, "the board has spoken."

Felner Trespeses simply cannot believe what people feed their dogs and cats. Table scraps, fat-laden treats, over-processed canned meat. The mere thought of the American dog's diet sends a shudder straight through him.

Trespeses came to Philadelphia from his native Philippines several years ago. He married a Filipino-American woman and eventually found his way to Texas, where he now works as a veterinary technician for Dr. Norman Ralston. He is the surrogate, the channeler. He speaks for the animals.

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