It’s been nearly a decade since director Cindy Meehl made her debut feature “Buck,” a stirring documentary on the real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman and his unconventional way of training horses with respect and compassion. Now with the equally emotional “The Dog Doc,” currently available to rent on Amazon Video, she turns her intimate lens onto another maverick with a distinctive consideration and love for animals. He is Dr. Marty Goldstein, a pioneer of integrative veterinary medicine who has been combining conventional practices with alternative treatments—like vitamins, supplements and health-oriented dietary modifications—for over four decades, at South Salem, NY’s Smith Ridge Veterinary Center. Vivacious, passionate and dressed with a unique flair, Dr. Marty leads the way as Meehl takes the viewer behind the scenes of Smith Ridge, portraying pets (well, mostly adorable dogs with seemingly untreatable conditions), their guardians and an ecosystem of support as both animals and humans heal in ways unexpected and miraculous.
Joining me on the phone last week, Dr. Marty unpacked the beginnings of “The Dog Doc,” his misgivings about certain widespread and conventional veterinary practices that disregard common sense as well as valuable insights about pets vs. the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. (His words will put many dog and cat parents at ease.)
Can you tell us how Smith Ridge is affected by this ongoing crisis?
Since I handed my practice over to my associate that I have very well-trained, I'm doing most of my work from home; so the impact on me personally has been minimal. At [Smith Ridge], [work] has slowed down. I spoke to some other veterinarians and you know, animals are being passed in from the parking lot, while people wait in the parking lot. It definitely has impacted almost every aspect of life.
I've been looking online, on the CDC site and reading up on the effect of Coronavirus on dogs, whether they can carry the virus, whether they can pass it on. It appears there is no evidence of that. Still, I feel like a lot of misinformation is spreading around these days and people are worried about the wrong things. So what would you say to put pet parents at ease?
Yeah, you worded it correctly. We've been dealing with Coronavirus in veterinary medicine for years and it's mostly been a gastrointestinal disease, almost never fatal in dogs and in cats. I know that this virus supposedly started in the animal kingdom, especially [with] a bat, but then it actually mutated and spread to people.
There was a virus in cats called Feline Enteric Coronavirus, and that's the one that causes diarrhea and things like that. That virus had mutated into a disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis and that is the most deadly disease I've seen in my almost 50-year career. If a cat gets this FIP, then there's almost no treatment and they're going to die within a very short period of time. So it's the mutation of the virus that makes it novel, that causes the problem.
[Here’s the situation with] the dogs and cats now. Even though they did find the virus in a couple of elderly dogs, in the lining of the inside of the nose, they just think it's a contamination from a person sneezing on them. So they are not considered to be infectious or considered to be in harm at all by this virus.
One thing very interesting with this; one of the documented successful therapies in Shanghai is intravenous vitamin C [featured in the film]. I have research [from Orthomolecular.org] and the Government that vitamin C is effective in treating the outbreak. And this morning, The New York Post [published] an article that doctors have been using Vitamin C therapy in hospitals in New York City with success. And as you saw in the documentary, I've treated tens of thousands of animals with intravenous vitamin C already and it's finally but too slowly catching on. If I got infected by the Coronavirus, I'd be on intravenous vitamin C in a second. We usually use vitamin C on almost all our patients, so when they do surgery or any kind of procedure, we've always put vitamin C in the intravenous bag. What's interesting is the vitamin C doses that they're using to treat the people that are responding to it. [It’s] so far below what they should be using. They've never used this before, so they are in fear. They're giving 1500 milligrams three times a day to a human. We give 40 to 60 grams to a dog, a day, and we've never had a side effect.
The pharmaceutical industry does have an influence on medical practices in this country. And the ethics are questionable.
Oh you're a 100% right. The profession of veterinary medicine is subsidized by the drug companies and the food companies, and neither of them really promote health. You saw the section on pet food [in the film]. It goes back to the cereal industry. The number one ingredient in some of the biggest selling pet foods of all time is corn and you know, dogs and cats in nature don't eat corn. Maybe they'll find a cob here or there, but to make these foods 50 to 60% processed cereal rye products ... that's why I witnessed the incident of cancer, at least quadruple within my career.
I have been feeding my dog, Audrey, Merrick brand grain-free dry food for several years now, with number one ingredient always being chicken or other type of real meat. But just watching the documentary, I am starting to think beyond the number one ingredient.
One aversion I have to dry food, even if the ingredients are very good, it's baked to very high temperatures, and then it goes through a process called extrusion to get it into the little pieces, and that destroys so much nutritional value. And that unfortunately to meet the FDA, or what's called AAFCO regulations, the pet food industry has to put all of these vitamins and minerals back in, and they put them in synthetic forms. Synthetic vitamins are just not healthy for the body.
It sounds like the director, Cindy Meehl, has brought you her dogs in the past, and that's how your relationship with her started.
Because I was the first publicly holistic veterinarian in the United States, way back in the '70s, I got so much criticism and ridicule. The reason it's taken so long for me to be accepted is, they never really listened to me. They ridiculed what I said. But then I made so many non-responsive patients better that even veterinarians, when they saw that the animal that they felt was going to die, or they knew was going to die better, they started to develop a reach.
Almost 30 years ago, Cindy had a Shar-Pei named CoCo that you see at the end of the documentary, and CoCo had very, very high fever. It's a syndrome that Shar-Peis get. And every time that the fever spikes or exceed 106, CoCo would go on antibiotics and steroids. Unfortunately inflammation is the way the body heals. And this happened so many times that CoCo was deemed to be hopeless and terminal. Cindy was in a pet store, a holistic pet store, almost in tears knowing CoCo was going to die, and someone came over and said, "Did you call Marty Goldstein?"
So she called my practice, like many around the country were doing. I was backed up for weeks, and she left a message. I called her back Friday night at 11 at night. And right there she knew I was different because she said, "what doctor that you don't even know would call you that late at night?" and I simply said to her on the phone, "Don't you realize that CoCo's fever is trying to do something and you're not allowing it, you keep on suppressing the drugs?" And it made so much sense [to her]. So on a Saturday she brought CoCo to me. We stopped the suppressive effects of the drugs. We went on remedies and supplements and dietary change. And the fever worked its way through and CoCo suddenly became this extremely healthy dog and lived for years. So that's how it happened with Cindy.
She filmed in your practice for over two years, around animals, their owners (or their parents, as I would like to call them) and around staff while they were at work. How was that process, gaining the trust of everyone and making sure the shoot isn’t intrusive?
There were advantages and disadvantages on both sides. For her side and the film crew, they became emotionally attached. (And yeah, I do not use the word owner. I do use the word parent.)
I'm glad we agree on that.
Yeah. And I still use the word guardian, too. In my new book, we use the phrase "pet parents" at least a hundred times. So, what happened is, they became very emotionally attached to not only the patients like Waffles, but the parents. You see a lot of crying going on in the film, that was happening with the whole Cedar Creek [Productions], Cindy's staff, too. From our point of view, even though we'd become used to cameras coming in because of the popularity I gained, it was never for two and a half years in a row, almost every day. So we had the behind-the-scenes and the delays of setting up, getting mic’ed, having the cameras there. And a lot of these pet parents, they were not concerned with cameras, their pet was dying. So it was a little invasive, but there was so much understanding between the doctors, Cindy's staff and almost all the people that this was an important thing to do.
Did you have any kind of say in what stories ended up in the finished film? I'm wondering if that was a collaborative process between you and Cindy.
The editor that she's hired, Steve Heffner, did a genius job. One of the problems we had was [not knowing the outcome of any patient while they filmed.] I've had so many miracle cases over my career. When I speak at vet schools, I put up these documented cases and it just blows their mind. But Cindy would not really film anything that already existed. She didn't want to go back and have the people come in with my successful cases. So she would start filming a case like Waffles, and you don't know the outcome. And so there was a concern about that.
But then the editor did one of the most brilliant jobs ever in taking what he did and putting that film together, because it really drove home the point. Mulligan and the dog with the bone tumor, the pit bull … those were quite miraculous cases. But hardly any of the cats came out well on film, so that's why it was called “The Dog Doc,” not “The Animal Doc” or “The Cat Doc.”
I was actually wondering about that, as much as I’m a dog person.
When people ask, "What about cats?," I just jokingly say, "Oh that's the sequel!"
Absolutely. There’s got to be a cat doc after this.
We have cats, we have dogs, we have chickens. You saw it in the film. We now have rats too. We do have two pet rats right now in the house.
I have to say, I love your dress sense. You're into fun, colorful sweaters and dog-print shirts. Your wardrobe has an eccentric quality, but also an uplifting, optimistic edge that you exhibit to the world.
And you saw my pin collection, too.
I did, of course. And I loved it, I wish I had it.
It's an absolutely amazing collection. I have some pins that were made for me by artists, probably worth thousands of dollars. As for the clothes, I do have a very good wardrobe of classical, sophisticated suits and jackets and nice shirts. And I have an amazing animal tie collection, too. But you know, I'll tell you one thing, and this is very important. The last book I wrote was called, The Nature of Animal Healing, and nature had two meanings. The nature in which the body heals and also the nature as the healer. Not the doctor. You heal a cut, the doctor doesn't heal your cut.
The title of my next book that I just presented to St. Martin's Press is called The Spirit Of Animal Healing and spirit also has two meanings. The spirit in which the body heals, but also the spiritual connection between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom, the human-animal bond.
And it goes way beyond physical reality. We know that animals can detect earthquakes, they get can detect seizures, bladder cancer way before we can, as sophisticated as we become. So there is this extra physical plane between them. So when I wear stuff like this in the spirit of play, let's call it, it's sensed by those animals. I can't tell you how many times we have heard people in our practice at Smith Ridge say, "She loves coming here, but she freaks out going to all the other veterinary hospitals. She starts to wag her tail when we pull into the driveway. Where we go into the other ones, she hides under the seat." So they sense this spirit of play, and those clothes that I wear (about which Mulligan's mother said, "he's 25 years too old for the clothes he wears"), are all part of the therapy. Believe it or not.
I believe it. And that’s sort of why I asked the question because it really looked like a decision on your part, the clothes you chose specifically.
I've seen cancers skyrocket, and this film addresses some of those root causes. It’s not that vaccines are bad, but over-vaccination is bad. The adjuvants and chemicals they put in the vaccine, that don't need to be in there are bad, and the pet food too. There was a real big reason, besides enjoyment, for this documentary to come out right now. Those animals for the human race is a level of unconditional love. And when that level turns into cancer, we have a problem, the human race does. Do you remember when your last polio shot was? I always ask that to people or chicken pox or measles. Animals, only animals in United States that are owned by pet parents, get all their puppy or kitten vaccines every three years. And many still get it, because it's a business-driven industry. But we get them as children and then it stops for life. There's scientific documentation that the puppy and kitten vaccines’ immunity lasts a minimum of seven to 15 years, which is their lifetime. So why isn't proper science being applied to this at the veterinary schools? It just takes common sense, we just need the veterinarians to ponder it.