Vav Simon
(Mhairi Simon)

DC AMC FRCC
Clinical Director

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Our Articles:

A Week at Work with a Chiropractor for Animals


I'm Vav Simon, a chiropractor living and working on the Isle of Wight. Some fifteen years ago, I got the opportunity to build my practice, so I started with a lot of explaining to do around the horse yards and dog associations. Things took off and now my week is divided into days where I am doing quite different things, usually around the Isle of Wight, but also around the South Coast on what we call 'the mainland'.

I got the chance to set up the Natural Therapy Centre for Animals in a farm on the outskirts of Ryde (which was apparently the inspiration for the Beatles song 'Ticket to Ride'). The idea was to provide a range of complementary therapies from one practice. I provide the chiropractic and massage work, with occasional muscle-stimulation and herbal remedies. I have visiting specialists for homeopathy, acupuncture, etc, etc.

My day begins early with breakfast followed quickly by a trip outside to let my chickens out and then listen to the answer-phone and collect record cards for the day's appointments. Every week I get 70 to 80 messages – the answer-phone really works for its keep! - and amongst those, there will usually be one owner in tears, telling me their dog has just died. Animal patients usually live shorter lives than humans, and I go on to my next appointment with a heavy heart, only to be greeted at the door by a 6-month old puppy full of the joys of life!

Horse Visiting Day

Mondays are horse days, visiting around the Island. Working with animals in their homes, chiropractic is a travelling profession. We are always on the move, with perhaps half-an-hour's driving between patients. I'm an outsidey sort of person so I enjoy it, and I get to see the real places on the brand new Isle of Wight version of Monopoly!

My first visit is to Ellie, a lovely little Welsh Section D mare who had been kicked in the vagina by another horse in the field. The injury had required internal stitches, and when that had healed, she was still moving with difficulty, clearly uncomfortable and unhappy.

When I treated her, I found misalignments in pelvis and lumbar vertebrae – not surprisingly. The way they were misaligned made me think that the kick had affected her pelvis and her stilted way of walking as a result had then pushed her lumbars out of alignment over the following months. Within a couple of days, she began to move more freely and her owner Sarah brought her back into work.

At the follow-up visit, I found Ellie much improved and starting in dressage lessons. Sarah said “Vav made such a difference – and to me as well, because she saw that I was out of alignment too and recommended me to a nearby chiropractic colleague.”

Five horses later, I get to my last horseyard. Everyone has offered me coffee, but rarely a toilet. In a horse yard, I can have a quick wee in the stables or in a quiet corner somewhere out of sight. Once I'd just got settled behind the stables when a double-decker bus drove slowly past on the other side of the hedge. I didn't look to see who was looking back!

Small Animal Day

Wilfred was a rescued cat – not injured as far as we know, but unwanted in his first home. As a youngster, he had had a head tremor for a short time. He settled in his new home with Jill, and managed hunting around the garden and over the fences well. But one day nine months later, she heard a great clattering as he fell off a six-foot fence – perhaps a claw had got stuck? He staggered in and the tremor began again, and he was scratching madly at his head, and tipping over onto his face and falling down.

Jill took him to the vet, and together they thought of trying chiropractic – she had previously brought dogs to me for treatment. I found two extremely severe misalignments, one at the top of his neck (the atlas) and the other at the eighth thoracic vertebra. This explained a lot – the atlas would give him vertigo and headache, and T8 would contribute to the head tremor and weakness at the front through the trapezius muscle attachment.

After treatment, Wilfred had a fairly severe reaction, scratching and shaking his head even more. But within five minutes, he was running around the room without hesitation, and jumping on and off the furniture. The tremor and scratching stopped and since then has been completely normal and settled. Jill said, “We had been preparing for the worst - we'd decided to put him down on the Friday. Vav came on the Thursday and he's been right as rain ever since, nearly four months now.”

Human Patients

I do my two-legged patients on Wednesdays in Newport – the capital town near the centre of the Island. I still do a human clinic – they are often animal owners who've said “Thank you for helping my pet, I wish you could do something for my back too!” - so I do.

It's my chance to work indoors, which is great when there is a storm blowing over the Needles. For once I get the chance to wear perfume to work – I don’t usually because animals can react badly to strong artificial smells.

Clean Ear Day

Thursdays is my dog clinic day. For my assessment, I usually start with a visual check, analysing their gait. But sometimes I can't get that information – for instance, with a hairy Old English Sheepdog or a dog so lame it can't walk.

Palpation is an intuitive skill – human senses can pick up more than machines. This is just as well because animals can't tell us where it hurts. Every patient is different, regardless of species: the causes are different, the results are different, so the treatment has to be 'tuned' to every individual.

With animals, chiropractic treatment is done entirely by hand, just as it is with humans. But we need to be willing stretch over a horses back or work with tiny movements for a guinea-pig. The differences between animals brings a need for a wide variety of skills to achieve the same results.

Today I saw Robbie, a 10 year-old Golden Retriever for the second time. At his first appointment, I found his pelvis was way out of alignment – an elderly gent, he'd slipped on the newly-tiled kitchen floor and ended up very weak at the back, with strange action in his right hindleg.

I adjusted his pelvis (and everything else that needed doing) and he seemed OK immediately after. This visit, I asked “was he stiff and sore after the treatment?” - because that is how it affects most patients. But, no, he had been fine. And now so energetic, free-moving and interested in everything – great!

The day always ends with me having the cleanest ears on the Island, after every dog has licked them as a thank you!

More Visits

Friday is a very mixed bunch, with several horses, a dog and a couple of sheep. It's a shame, but most farm animals are worth such a small margin that it becomes uneconomic to pursue health treatments very far. Much of the Isle of Wight is quite rural and there are many farmers quietly interested in complementary healthcare methods. Some are very caring and use these therapies – especially for their more valuable animals – bulls, best mothers, a favourite sheepdog, and so on. I treated a baby alpaca who couldn't stand – they are valuable for their specialist wool – successfully, which has lead on to treating others in the herd. I don't often treat sheep, which are difficult because my hands can disappear into the woollen coat.

Sometimes the problem has a cause that can be eliminated easily – such as a horse's saddle fitting badly, a dog's harness pulling sideways, or a pet's bed positioned so the draught goes up one side of their back. In these cases, when I visit the animal's home, I can often spot these sorts of causes, and that allows owners to take action to prevent recurrence.

Near Newport is Carisbrooke Castle, where King Charles the First was imprisoned for a while. The castle has its own well, and in the days before electric pumps, they had a donkey walking in a huge wooden wheel to pull up the water bucket. These days they still have several donkeys for tourist demonstrations, and they were concerned when one fell badly in the wheel. I worked through the treatment OK, but I was quite puzzled at how his problems came about so I didn't know what advice to give. Then I was told the detail that made the difference: these donkeys spend their working lives walking uphill, inside the wheel – a very artificial environment. So I suggested that time off should include turnout in a flat field to counteract this where possible.

Pet Preferences

Chiropractic can help with a much wider range of problems than most people expect. Horses who are lame, rearing, bucking, refusing fences, dogs who are banana-shaped or roached-up, cats who are hunched, are easier to identify. But a puzzling loss of performance or sudden behaviour problems can also stem from tiny misalignments. Because it is so cost-effective – chiropractors do not need large clinics, expensive equipment or sedation drugs – it is a very popular treatment.

But working with animals is not very glamorous – up to my hocks in mud, up to my bum in nettles, up to my ears in dog saliva... But they do remember when they next see me, and they don't get bashful or coy – they give me a lot of instant love as a thank you. They are so straightforward emotionally that it warms my heart and makes me look forward to my next encounter in the mud!