Creature comforts

Animal chiropractic clinic faces marketing challenge
By Ron DeRuyter

November 4, 1998

Chiropractor Jennifer Heick give her malamute, Meesha, a hip treatment in a room at her Waterloo clinic.

Jennifer Heick's chiropractic patients are as likely to wag their tails as say thank-you after visiting her clinic.

The owner of Waterloo North Chiropractic treats a lot of people every week. But she also treats dogs, cats and horses.

"There also is a ferret or two in there," she says.

Heick is one of five Ontario chiropractors who have been certified in animal chiropractic by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. It was her human patients who got her started in the specialty.

"They would say: 'You can fix me. Can you fix my dog?' "

Heick says it simply made sense that she could.

"If I can make humans better, why can't I do it with animals . . . The theory is the same for both . . . You have to make sure the spinal column and the rest of the bones are lined up properly."

Heick launched her animal practice in August last year after completing a 150-hour course at Options for Animals, a private college in Illinois. Among other things, it helped her identify clues as to what is bothering animal patients.

"They can't tell you what is sore, so how do you figure it out?"

Heick says her animal practice is growing -- she treats animals on Tuesdays and Saturdays in a separate room at her Weber Street North clinic -- but getting the word out is a big challenge. Her Yellow Pages ad refers to her animal practice, but there is no separate listing for animal chiropractic.

Many pet owners "have no idea it is a possibility," she says. "If they don't even know it is out there to ask for, how will they ever know where to start?"

When Heick, who can only treat animals that are under the care of a veterinarian, launched the animal practice, she did demonstrations for other chiropractors, and sent letters to veterinarians, pet grooming businesses, pet stores and tack shops.

But she is not sure whether the information is reaching their customers.

"It depends how receptive to chiropractic the store owners are. Will the information even get past them?"

While Heick has the strong support of other chiropractors, she isn't sure about veterinarians.

Leslie Collins, course administrator at Options for Animals, says the tension that exists between medical doctors and chiropractors also exists between veterinarians and chiropractors.

"Many of the veterinarians we get in the course already offer alternative therapies," she says. "Some veterinarians come because they want to disprove it. They, of course, are our biggest fans now."

Heick, who has been a practising chiropractor for five years, is confident word of mouth will eventually solve her marketing problem. She notes that when she treats one horse in a barn, she can count on calls from the owners of other horses in the barn.

"Some of it is just time, which is true of most businesses when they start," she said.

Most of her animal patients are owned by people who visit a chiropractor themselves. But that's not always the case.

"We have people who have never been to a chiropractor who bring their dogs in. I think that is amazing."

So who does Heick prefer treating -- people or pets?

"I like them equally well. They are just different. The human patients can talk to you. The animals can kiss you, which they sometimes do."

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998