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Active Cultures: fixing Flicka's vibes

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The Healing Oasis Veterinary Hospital in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, just north of Kenosha, seems more like a spa for the idle rich than a vet's office. Dr. Pedro Rivera, his wife, Michelle, and veterinarian Shawn Mulvihill treat animals with a combination of chiropractic work, massage therapy, homeopathic medicines, and flower remedies.

"There are some things we can't cure, but we can certainly make life better than it would be with only conventional drugs," says Michelle, a veterinary technician who's trained in the use of Chinese herbs, color therapy, and feng shui. "We get the same result, if not better, with no side effects."

At the hospital, candles burn in the exam rooms, and the vets are careful not to offend their nonhuman patients, examining them on the floor and asking their permission before touching them.

Most first consultations last about an hour. "We ask a lot of questions," says Michelle, who notes that many pets' chronic problems arise from their stress-filled lives. Even the decor can be suspect. "We try to change the living environment. A lot of times we may have to change the color or location of the collar, leash, bed, water bowl, and bedding."

Animals don't see colors like humans do, but Michelle claims that each hue elicits a specific emotional response as pets "sense the vibrations and energy a color gives off." Lest you make plans to redecorate around the concept that blue will stop Fido's little accidents, "there's no generic color that works the same on all animals. For example, if an animal is a fire element, a red collar and leash will make it more fiery."

Despite the New Agey methods, Michelle insists she and her husband (whom she refers to as "Dr. Rivera") are not old hippies. "We don't go around burning sage, although we do sage smudging." They met in 1992, when he was a vet in Indiana and she worked for a pharmaceutical company. The couple became interested in homeopathic cures because Rivera felt he was needlessly putting animals to sleep. They ended up in Sturtevant by chance--or by fate. "We literally threw a dart at a map and ended up here," she says. "We didn't know where it was, but figured we had to honor our destiny."

Their first customers were locals and passersby curious about the bright orange-and-yellow sign with the big yin-yang symbol. "By the third day people were coming in who were disgusted with whatever treatments their pets were going through," says Michelle. "We got a lot of real last-chance people."

In these enlightened times, pet owners from Chicago, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula schlepp their cats, dogs, birds, horses, and exotic pets to Sturtevant for treatment. Most already have a conventional vet, but they'll still come to the Healing Oasis for help with persistent aches and illnesses, and to make sure that Sheba stays grounded. That's fine with the Riveras.

"Holistic medicine is really good for arthritis, lethargy, and behavior problems," says Michelle. "But it's not what we'd choose for an animal hit by a car or when something acute happens. We're holistic, not ballistic."

Pedro Rivera will discuss holistic approaches to veterinary care at 7:30 this Tuesday at Walsh Homeopathics, 2116 1/2 Central in Evanston. It's free, but seating is limited. Call 847-864-1600. --Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Michelle and Pedro Rivera with son Daniel/ horse photos by Nathan Mandell.

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