Many dogs and cats dread trips to the vet, but Dr. Jeff Levy, aka “Dr. Jeff,” is an exception. That could be because Levy, a licensed vet and pet acupuncturist in NYC, eschews the typical clinic to provide his furry clients with house calls, sparing dogs and cats the stress of the typical office visit. Or maybe it’s because Levy, who also sings in a pet-focused band, provides acupuncture while serenading his dog and cat clients with a medley of handwritten songs.
“At times, I don’t think the dogs know I’m a veterinarian,” says Dr. Jeff, whose unconventional methods work so well that some pet patients, according to their owners, can eagerly sense when he’s in their building lobby. “So that’s an interesting phenomenon,” Levy says. “I don’t know if I’m that telepathic, but we sort of connect like that.”
Of course, Dr. Jeff’s practice — like everything else — has changed to accommodate the global pandemic. Instead of riding to clients’ apartments on the subway (where he used to jot down song lyrics), Dr. Jeff got a bicycle, which wasn’t too bad because Covid thinned out Manhattan’s traffic. Instead of meeting in clients’ apartments, Dr. Jeff masked up to provide acupuncture on rooftops, park benches, stoops, sidewalks, and porches around NYC.
Nor do Levy’s dog and cat clients seem to mind the new alfresco arrangement. “When it’s nice weather, he comes out on the porch, and we acupuncture,” Levy says, describing one 22-year-old cat patient, Muffin, who has discovered he loves getting acupuncture outside. “He sits out on the stoop, on the steps, like one of the neighbors, like the stoop on Sesame Street, and we can needle him in the street.”
But even despite these changing times — which led Dr. Jeff to joke he should rename his practice, NYC House Call Vet, to NYC Outdoor Vet, on Instagram — his clientele, which skews towards older dogs and cats, has remained consistent.
“The classic patient is an arthritic dog of a certain age, middle age or older, moving or walking slower, can’t get up and down as well,” says Levy, who uses acupuncture to help these animals with arthritis, mobility, and joint pain. Some patients might be too fragile to visit the animal hospital, or simply get too stressed.
Other pet patients suffer from diabetes, liver, and kidney disease, which precludes them from taking steroids and some medications. A number of clients – particularly cats, who are living longer than ever – are just getting senile, says Dr. Jeff, whose treatment can help ease those “senior moments” that plague us all as we age.
And while acupuncture provides relief for everything from arthritis and failing eyesight and bladder disorders and inflammatory bowel disease, this holistic approach also helps pets with separation anxiety and other mental health issues. “I’m presently seeing a dog that’s agoraphobic; he doesn’t want to go out,” Levy says. “The owners call me every once and a while when he’s going through an agoraphobic phase, and they tell me that the next day he gets normal.”
But it was the aches and pains of one particular dog, Dr. Jeff’s childhood pet Dachshund, that inspired the young veterinarian to consider pet acupuncture as a career. “I was still fairly young, but her life ended because of her bad back,” said Levy, who was attending veterinary school in the ‘90s, when acupuncture was emerging in the U.S. as an alternative treatment for chronic pain.
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Since then, the Brooklyn native has used acupuncture to help countless Dachshunds, Corgis, and Basset Hounds get relief for their chronic back issues. “I was going into acupuncture basically through my childhood memories of my own dog succumbing to an issue like a back problem that could have been helped by acupuncture,” said Levy, who was also drawn to this ancient practice after attending veterinary school in Mississippi, where he saw farmers, cattlemen, and other “practical folk” using needles to treat cattle for infertility and other ailments.
Today, acupuncture remains an attractive option for pet owners seeking a holistic, non-chemical alternative to Western medicine. “Acupuncture has a track record of thousands of years,” says Levy, who has studied with practitioners of this ancient practice in China and Japan. “It’s not medicinal and it’s not surgery, and a lot of people don’t want to do surgery on their pet,” he says. In some cases, this restorative, preventative approach can even help animals avoid surgery altogether.
“I find that very telling that I often get referrals from surgeons who would rather not operate,” Dr. Jeff said. “Let’s try acupuncture first, maybe we don’t have to operate, let’s try acupuncture on the bad back or the inflammatory bowel disease, give that a shot first,” he said, recalling those conversations. “Maybe we can do it in a less invasive way.”
Now pet acupuncturists are working across the U.S., but there’s only one practitioner we know of who routinely sings to his clients while providing treatment. Moreover, one of Dr. Jeff’s signature songs, 21st Century Pet, has recently been released as a music video on YouTube.
“One of the saving graces I’ve found in this whole pandemic experience is that people, including myself, realize just how important pets are in our lives,” says Levy, who began writing this song years ago, as tsunamis and blackouts swept through New York.
“We had all those things going on with guns and all the strife and mix in a little global warming, mix in some bird flu fears, and then along comes Covid,” said Levy, who realized Covid would be a good time to repackage the song, which he used to perform at charity fundraisers around NYC, into a music video online. Levy believes the music videos, which are currently available in English, Spanish, and animated versions on his YouTube channel, could also be used to help comfort kids.
“It’s about the important sense of warmth and balance that there may be scary things outside in the world,” Dr. Jeff said, “but there’s nothing like coming home opening up the door, and getting a meow or a wagging tail to make things all right.”
Listen to 21st Century Pet in the video below!