Jeffrey Levy, a Manhattan-based DVM and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, is one of only a handful of veterinarians who makes house calls in New York City. And, as the lead singer and founder of Pet Rox, an animalcentric band, he’s also one of the more unusual. A specialist in canine rehabilitation, Dr. Jeff (as he likes to be called) offers both conventional and alternative medical treatments, including acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Reiki. Plus, he can sing.
Bark: We’ve noticed a rising trend in the number of house-call veterinary services available in the United States. Why did you choose to specialize in this approach rather than a more traditional office setting?
Jeffrey Levy: I am drawn to the special way I can practice my medical craft. The animals and their people are relaxed, and I get to observe all the nuances that constitute the special relationship that exists between the pets, their people and the household environment. This allows me to glean the insights I need to truly be a holistic practitioner.
BK: What kind of canine patients do you typically see?
JL: My most frequent calls are for elderly or debilitated animals who cannot leave their homes. For example, I might see a dog with an orthopedic problem who has trouble walking. Sometimes I get calls for post-operative animals who are being cage-rested, or an elderly dog who is too fragile to travel.
BK: I should point out here for our readers that travel in New York City is never easy; a lot of people walk their dogs to the vet or hire a car service. Many taxi drivers will not even stop if they see that you have a dog with you. So it can be challenging. And expensive.
JL: Exactly. That’s why I also get a lot of calls to visit households with multiple pets. The idea of schlepping the whole herd off to the animal hospital—well, it’s time-consuming and costly. It’s so much easier for the owners if my assistant and I come to them and treat all the animals in one visit.
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BK: How do you get to your house calls?
JL: I take the subway. I see as many as 12 patients in a day throughout the city and can get to them a lot quicker by taking the A-Train rather than a cab. There’s a lot of walking involved as well.
BK: What’s in your medical bag?
JL: I spend a considerable amount of time on the phone with my clients beforehand to discuss their needs. I’ll also have medical records from the referring vet. This gives me a clearer sense of what to bring, which might range from a package of acupuncture needles to medical equipment (to draw blood, for example), depending on what the case requires. There are days when I carry three medical bags for different needs.
I should point out that some things are not appropriate for house calls: Broken bones require an X-ray machine. A breathing problem might necessitate an oxygen cage. This is why I spend time on phone consultations.
BK: I understand that you also work with a lot of cancer patients.
JL: While I don’t treat cancer per se, there are many things I can do to facilitate well-being. For instance, acupuncture can make an animal more comfortable by stimulating points that help release endorphins or improve appetite.
This leads to another category of patients: nervous or aggressive pets. They’re not going to enjoy trips to the vet’s office; they’re much more cooperative and comfortable on their own turf. Another advantage of seeing an animal at home is that it’s a more healing environment. With acupuncture patients, I get a much better sense of what we call in Chinese medicine their “constitution.” That helps with TCM diagnoses.
Home visits also help me develop a relationship with the animals. Dogs especially like routine, so I try to keep my appointments consistent in terms of days and times. I also remain consistent with treatment location. A dog might have a special bed or blanket that we use just for acupuncture treatments. Pretty soon, when I walk in the door, the dog will walk over to that bed and lie down. Ultimately, I let the dogs choose their environment. If they want to get upside down on the couch to receive their acupuncture treatment, I’ll get upside down on the couch with them. They know what to do. Most of them fall asleep as soon as I put the needles in.
BK: I’ve witnessed that myself. My dog receives regular acupuncture treatments for arthritis and takes Chinese herbs to help heal an ACL injury. While I can’t say she loves the needles, she seems to know it’s good for her. She falls asleep within minutes.
JL: Acupuncture is really good for arthritis. A lot of my clients choose acupuncture because they don’t want to add medication to the mix, which can tax the kidneys and the liver. Acupuncture provides a non-invasive, non-chemical means to treat arthritis and manage pain.
BK: How do you suggest your clients prepare for a home visit?
JL: Preparing for a visit is easy. All you need to do is select a secure area where your pet will be comfortable and is less likely to play hide-and-seek under a bed or behind a couch. You also need to provide enough light for the exam.
BK: I understand that you’re involved with a band called Pet Rox, a familyfriendly musical group dedicated to animal welfare. Tell us about that.
JL: I founded the band about 15 years ago as a charity effort to help animals in need. All of our songs are about animal issues, and they’re meant to appeal to both children and adults. It started out as a joke, but now we’re playing at benefits such as the American Cancer Society’s “Bark for Life” celebration, the ASPCA’s 140th anniversary celebration, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo. Recently, we raised more than $1,000 for the Humane Society.
BK: Who else is in the band?
JL: It’s a rotating group, but everyone is from the animal-welfare community. We’ve had behaviorists, pet psychics, sea-lion trainers, dog walkers, cat rescuers—and vets, of course.
BK: You’re the force behind “Just Sniffing Around,” a Pet Rox CD. Do any animals sing on it?
JL: No, but the cover features a very special pooch. Rumor has it he’s an adoption success story.