BROOKSVILLE — County fairs have first-aid tents. Ambulances are parked ready to go at football games. Likewise, the Florida Gulf Coast Clusters Winter Dog Shows feature a ringside veterinarian.
And not just any vet, but a Spring Hill animal doctor who specializes in both Western medicine and homeopathic approaches. Dr. Gerald Johnson of Silverthorn Animal Clinic in Spring Hill is one of a few vets in Florida with the dual certification.
It's the latter that has brought most of his four-legged clients to the tent under the large-lettered banner "SHOW VETERINARIAN."
A concerned Bonnie Ingram of South Florida and New Jersey stopped by last week to tell Johnson that her 6-year-old Irish setter had not shown well that morning.
"Her leg's still drifting out," Ingram lamented.
The dog handler encountered Johnson at the show two years ago when a problem with the setter's rear right leg became evident. Diagnosing pulled ligaments, the veterinarian applied chiropractic adjustments to ease and soothe the area of concern, and administered herbal remedies.
"We think she slipped on grass," Johnson said, adding that he sees a good deal of that at the show at Florida Classic Park, where owners and handlers exercise their charges daily around the 50 acres of turf, often slippery with early morning dew.
Arnica and symphytum, Johnson said, help tendons and bones to heal. Ingram has since used the Chinese herbals on other dogs with successful results.
Johnson pointed to a Rottweiler under a judge's eye, a show dog from Largo that's now a regular patient of his after an initial consultation at the annual competition a few years ago.
The dog was "tight," owner Kim Borowicz recalled. "Dr. J," as she calls Johnson, employed chiropractic adjustments to alleviate spinal subluxation — vertebrae out of line — in the pelvic area. The misalignment had precipitated tightened lumbar muscles.
Exiting the ring last week, Borowicz reported to the veterinarian: "She moved great today."
To a bystander, she added: "He's so great with the hands."
She noted that Johnson's use of acupuncture had healed another of her dogs that had incurred an injury.
"Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathic, when you have all those things to draw from, you have a wonderful vet," Ingram said.
Johnson said his homeopathic efforts are particularly in demand for show dogs, which frequently suffer from anxiety, just as a human can freeze up with stage fright.
"They come in for (chiropractic) massage, to relax," he said of the canine performers.
Under hands schooled to recognize and ease points of tension, the dogs often acknowledge the ministrations.
"They lean in to you," Johnson said, as if to say, " 'If you would just rub me.' "
After working out kinks, the vet said, "they feel better, they move better, they show better. They're much happier when they're out there."
Johnson said he finds his contributions "very rewarding."
Also at the show, he responds to the typical upset stomach, gastroenteritis, and a few broken bones, the result of dog fights, he said.
As Johnson's veterinary technician, Crystal Ward, finished administering a brucellosis vaccination to a cardigan Welsh corgi, she gestured to a waiting Weimaraner and called to her boss: "I have another chiropractic when you're ready."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.