A pioneer in veterinary medicine
What led you to become interested in homeopathy and practice as a homeopathic vet?
My parents were both vets so from about the age of five I spent all my time studying veterinary medicine with them, including unpacking medicines, setting them up and reading all of the product leaflets, as well as seeing new drugs come in and old ones disappear.
When I was ten years old we went to Germany to meet the German branch of our family. It turned out that my parents’ contemporaries were homeopathic doctors. I was infected by it at that time because it seemed so outrageously naughty. It didn’t seem to fit in with any paradigm I’d learned, yet it seemed to be very effective.
My mum started learning homeopathy in her and my father’s veterinary practice, and I began treating myself with homeopathic first aid–everyone was amazed at how I recovered from illnesses and injuries, particularly because I was an enthusiastic rugby player. At 18, I went to Cambridge University to study veterinary medicine and while I was there I began reading Boericke and Tyler [homeopathic books] as a hobby.
I thought I’d use homeopathy to a limited extent when I qualified as a vet, like my mum had. But when I moved to Burnley for a year before joining my parent’s practice, I thought, “I can’t be too outrageous with this” and I’d only select cases if the remedy I’d been reading about walked through the door and held up a flag and said, “I’m Sulphur”, or “I’m Calc carb” [Calcarea carbonica], for example. I’d also use homeopathy in cases that had gone nowhere with conventional input. The success I had was amazing, and I knew that I had to use more and more of it because it worked.
In 1986 I set up what we call the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre. There was so much demand that I had to open a dedicated premises. I also took over the running of my parents’ practice when they retired, but having the two was unsustainable, so I eventually focused on doing what I loved.
What medical conditions in animals do you believe respond particularly well to homeopathy?
In order for homeopathy to work there has to be a healing mechanism in the animal, so there are certain conditions we can rule out of expecting a cure. For example, if there’s been destruction of kidney tissue, the body has no mechanism that I know of for repairing that. But anything for which the body has a mechanism, we can hopefully help it. Homeopathy’s been absolutely spectacular in first aid, helping support surgical cases, and in treating acute and chronic diseases.
One of the many cases that stand out to me was when I was called to see a horse which had a really bad wound. Its leg was swollen and it wasn’t able to move. It had been given antibiotics again and again, it had been stitched and dressings applied, but nothing was working. When I was called out, the owner and vet attending were talking of shooting it. But after we stopped the antibiotics, the washing of the wound and used only homeopathy, the horse’s recovery was absolutely amazing. Cases like that go on all the time but they’re written off as anecdotal and meaningless, which is tragic.
You’re a leading figure in veterinary homeopathy, with 46 years of clinical practice. What drives your inspiration?
When I saw so much success with homeopathy, I had great enthusiasm for it and I had this misguided impression that the conventional world wanted to know about it, so my aim back then was to “normalise” homeopathy. I published books in response to demand, and became involved with innovations like forming the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS), establishing the Faculty of Homeopathy’s veterinary qualification–setting up courses and training standards, curriculum and examinations–as well as being the first veterinary dean of the Faculty. I even pioneered online examinations in veterinary homeopathy in Australia.
As a vet I have one duty that stands out above all and that is my patients’ welfare. That is the driving force. The more I can do to help a patient, the better. That’s why I’ve expanded my repertoire to include acupuncture, herbs, chiropractic, laser work and nutrition in my daily practice–all of which were done to keep improving what we can offer patients. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use drugs if I had to, but we find that with natural medicine we can do so much more than we can with drugs. Drugs are rarely necessary in my work.
Reducing the use of antibiotics in the agriculture sector recently came up in the House of Commons. Where do you stand on this?
I’m not against antibiotics per se, I think everything can be of use when and where it’s appropriate. If one can manage without antibiotics then I think that is the way we should be looking. We shouldn’t say we should never use antibiotics; we should say we should be looking at ways that we can manage without them in certain fields, thereby reducing their usage.
When you consider that I used to run the veterinary side of quite a lot of large, intensive dairy farms for years, virtually without the use of drugs and antibiotics, you have to wonder about the use of antibiotics in that situation. The farmers wouldn’t have paid me if I wasn ’t doing an effective job.
There’s been a lot of debate around homeopathic vets since the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) released its position statement about homeopathy. What are your thoughts on the situation?
The statement was published without consultation and I fail to see how there was anybody in the RCVS at the time who was professionally able to comment on the subject. They state there’s no evidence to support homeopathy and no science base, but they haven’t read the evidence we’ve offered them–or they’re ignoring it. It is wrong to say there is no evidence for homeopathy.
They also reject anecdotal evidence. I can accept that anecdote may be a lower form of evidence, but it is still very important–it’s an essential part of science. A summation of anecdotes is what forms a vet’s clinical experience and is required of every vet. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate Suspected Adverse Reaction Surveillance Scheme [which monitors side effects from drugs and other medicines] is all based on anecdote, and a report is made on the basis of it. So if anecdote is useless, why do we even bother to have a surveillance scheme for adverse reactions to drugs?
The RCVS statement is a direct attack on a veterinary surgeon’s right to prescribe for a patient’s welfare as he or she sees fit, based upon evidence and experience. Many clients have experienced the benefits of homeopathy in intractable cases and wish to use homeopathy as a gentle first-line treatment, without the risk of adverse effects, when they encounter disease again. This is not a welfare risk, as asserted by the RCVS, because clients and veterinary surgeons are not going to deny drugs should they prove necessary. If the RCVS statement were to be enforced, it would deny animals the chance of homeopathy as a first-line treatment.
How has the homeopathic veterinary community reacted to the statement?
Quite a lot of people have been frightened by it. I know at least one person who has had to give up the practice owing to the pressure that was applied as a result of the statement. Some people are being much more careful now in what they do, and there are many others who are thinking about taking the statement seriously. Sadly, the statement has also encouraged aggressive opposition to homeopathy among some mainstream veterinary surgeons.
When it was first published, I have to admit I felt outraged. It’s a slur on my professionalism, it discounts my experience, and appears to call my whole clinical expertise into question. But I personally believe I still have that one duty above all to ensure the welfare of my patients and I will do that in the best way I can. The RCVS is there to uphold the welfare of animals–it’s not there to tell me that I am not doing so when I clearly am.
How has the public reacted to the statement?
The public support has been massive. These people are so enthusiastic and devoted to homeopathy–and other systems of alternative medicine–and are absolutely infuriated about this. Many have had animals suffer side effects from drugs or conventional treatments that haven’t worked, and then they’ve gone to a homeopath who seems to have found a solution.
How do you think the situation with the RCVS should move forward?
We are in this difficult position of being told we are guilty and trying to argue our way out of it, which is not the way British justice works. What I would like to see is the RCVS suspend the statement while proper negotiations and consultations take place. I think the only way the BAHVS can become involved with proper talks and genuine dialogue is if that happens.
During a recent debate on the topic in the House of Commons, the Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice MP, said: “…It is not the role of the RCVS to make decisions on veterinary medicines or indeed veterinary treatments”. Do you see this as a positive step forward?
It has to count for something, doesn’t it? Everyone’s being very political and careful and ambiguous, but in my opinion that does state that the RCVS has acted out of its remit. The RCVS claims that it has a duty to animal welfare and therefore it’s absolutely in its remit, but in a different context, it has said it’s not its business to interfere in scientific debate. There’s an inconsistency going on. It would be constructive if the RCVS were to see homeopathy in action and many years ago I issued an open invitation for this to happen.
What are your hopes for veterinary homeopathy moving forward?
I’m hoping this is all going to settle down at some point, that the sense of balance is going to be achieved again, that homeopathy will take its place and veterinary surgeons will be interested in looking at it again. Most are committed to doing the best for their patients, and if they can see that there might be another therapeutic approach to add to their conventional veterinary skills, for the benefit of their patients, they might look to homeopathy as a possible treatment.
To find out more about Chris, visit the BAHVS website: www.bahvs.com
Read about the latest developments on the RCVS statement, Campaign for veterinary homeopathy gains space.