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Pet Health Center of La Jolla makes acupuncture part of pet pain therapy

Apple Pie the cat.jpg
Apple Pie the cat receives acupuncture for an arthritic left hip. The needle on top of her head is called the “calming point,” which Dr. Tori Countner says helps animals relax.
(La Jolla Light)

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When they’re in pain, dogs and cats can benefit from acupuncture, laser therapy and therapeutic massage as much as their humans.

“Most people don’t realize that,” said Dr. John Morizi, owner of Pet Health Center of La Jolla, who recently hired a practitioner in the alternative sciences named Dr. Tori Countner. The two vets perform complementarily; he handles the surgeries, she the rehabilitations afterward.

“We collaborate on cases,” she said. “If he does a surgery to repair a knee, I would come in and do acupuncture in the weeks after.”

Countner, who graduated from Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, got certified in acupuncture to help pets manage pain, appetite and neurological issues while operating her own mobile practice in Los Angeles.

“I went into people’s homes because of big golden retrievers and Labradors who are so arthritic, their owners can’t get them in the car,” she said.

With that, doors opened to combining Western and alternative medicines in an integrative approach “to try and prevent long-term illnesses and to get ahead of things like arthritis and disc problems before they snowball out of control,” she said.

For example, Countner treated a French bulldog that is ataxic (the medical term for wobbly). On the third session, he lifted his hind leg to urinate.

“That was a really big deal,” Countner said, “because he wasn’t steady enough when I first started seeing him.”

Morizi has been healing La Jolla’s cats and dogs for 31 years. He’s the founder of the Animal Hospital of La Jolla, a popular practice until it had to leave its Draper Avenue digs when the building was sold in 2015.

After temporarily practicing in Kearny Mesa with a former partner, Morizi opened Pet Health Center of La Jolla the following year, with a room built specifically for a veterinarian like Countner.

“Her addition is invigorating,” Morizi said, “because this brings in new young blood to the practice, but also, she’s doing stuff that I always wanted to have somebody here to do.”

Actually, it was Countner who found Morizi.

“I was amazed,” he said. “I got this email out of nowhere. Tori had just gotten married and was looking for a place to practice, and her husband is from La Jolla, so she was looking down here.”

His response: “Yes!”

Morizi knew his calling since elementary school, when his best friend was the son of the most popular vet in suburban Pelham, N.Y.

“That put a bug in my ear,” said Morizi, who went on to graduate from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Morizi also had a dog, Coco, an American eskimo mix, who figured largely in that decision. She traveled everywhere with him — sometimes even to elementary school.

“She’d wait outside,” Morizi said. “If the kids went out at recess, she’d run inside and go to every classroom until she found me.”

Morizi said working with animals is “just something I’ve always loved doing, and I still love doing it.”

The Pet Health Center of La Jolla, 1135 Torrey Pines Road, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. For more information, call (858) 945-4565.

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