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"I uphold the Hippocratic oath of 'first do no harm,' but I also like to run the risk of getting patients better."

chatter of veterinary assistants and visitors, resembling the hullabaloo of a New York diner during breakfast rush, engulfs Arleen Shkapich. People and their pets from Centennial to Broomfield to Bailey pack the waiting area, some come bearing gifts of donuts, bagels and fresh tomatoes for the attentive staff of 10.

Shkapich, of Lakewood, rises from her seat at Aspen Park Veterinary Hospital and ushers her handsome Boxer, Toby, past a man holding a quivering Whippet.

Shkapich passes an aquarium where a turtle with a broken shell—a life-threatening injury—is recovering nicely. An airline stewardess found the turtle on a highway in Saint Louis and had it flown to Dr. H. C. Gurney's office in Conifer for a second chance at life. She remembered "Doc" from a television segment she saw about him on the Knowledge Channel. Doc filled the fractures of the reptile's army-green armor with rivulets of epoxy and the turtle, now stabilized, is none the wiser for it.

Woman and dog enter examining room A and stand face to face with a gray-haired man in medical attire whose friendly, intelligent eyes are framed by gold-rimmed glasses and whose quick wit amuses them. Toby was there for an acupuncture treatment and had already received hugs and kisses from Doc's attendants.

"Hello Speed," Doc said. Some days it's Fido or even Dead Dog, a joke between Doc and Shkapich who both know the 11-and-a-half year-old, could have died six years ago of a type of pancreatic tumor if the two hadn't met. By the time Shkapich had found Doc, at the recommendation of a friend, Toby had suffered several different setbacks with his health and Shkapich had spent thousands of dollars to try and save him. For example, when he was just a pup his immune system was damaged from being dipped by a breeder in insecticide along with his littermates to rid them of mange.

"He really is an incredible man, an incredible vet. His knowledge is awesome," Shkapich explained. "I think God sent Doc to earth to help animals—to make them well."

Doc's holistic approach to medicine is uncommon.

He has spent the last 40 years researching the best ways to heal his patients incorporating both western and eastern techniques. In recent years, he has traveled to several countries exchanging information with other complementary human medical practitioners who are advanced in their fields. And it's not unusual for doctors who treat animal and human patients to stop in and brainstorm with him.

Besides being a veterinary surgeon he is an acupuncturist, immunologist, cancer researcher (with medically related patents) homeopathic doctor and a practitioner of bioenergetics.

Doc's examining areas are lined with an eclectic array of books and plastic skeletal body parts, which he uses to educate pet owners, and containers of herbal remedies and rows of vitamins. Around the corner are x-ray machines, and other necessary diagnostic equipment for swift laboratory assessments.

He studied neurolinquistics, how the mind and language affect behavior, to better communicate with human caregivers because humans play a vital role in the healing process of their pets.

Hope permeates his clinic. Timelines for life-threatening illnesses are never taken for granted, and the possibility of miracles never left out of the equation.

"I uphold the Hippocratic oath of 'first do no harm,' but I also like to run the risk of getting patients better." Doc smiled about the few extra words he has added to the pledge.

Shkapich, who works in the financial department of Qwest, remembers the day a couple from California was seated in Doc's waiting room. When they left, they told the receptionist they would be back in a month.

"I thought, 'good God, I think I am in the right place'—people come from everywhere!" she said. "I am not saying everybody gets along with him at first meeting, but the majority do. Doc has given so many animals, who probably would have had a bleak future, a better quality of life and longer life."

She should know. Her family has had a several Boxers over the years
and Toby has outlived all of them.

"You just keeping thinking 'Doc, don't retire—you can't retire.'"

Doc has been inquisitive since the day he was born. He left home at 16 when his parents tried to "stomp the curiosity out of him." They were uncertain what to do with a son who preferred to be alone and would rather climb trees and commune with nature than socialize with children his own age.

He became a cowboy in Jackson Hole Wyo. riding horses and
herding cattle for $3 a day. His efforts to further his education over the next few years were slow and tedious taking college courses whenever he could afford them. Eventually he joined the army during the Korean War out of patriotism. His plans to return to Wyoming some day and become a ranch manager were tossed when he was assigned to the Medical Corp. where he developed an appetite for medical research.

After he left the army, for a brief interlude, he was involved in space research at Georgetown University where he and two other scientists invented a life detection system for space travel. (The patented system wasn't used until two decades later when it went to Mars on the Viking Lander in 1976, and returned information about the existence of life on the red planet).

Then Doc resumed his medical studies and research at Ohio State University and Battelle Memorial Institute before completing his veterinary degree at Colorado State University in 1964.

After graduation, he returned to Wyo. and opened a clinic eventually growing the practice to the second largest in the state. During that time, his popularity grew enabling him to squeeze in a little politics as an elected member of the Wyoming State legislature. A black and white photograph of those days hangs above an electronic scale in his clinic where dogs are weighed. It's of a younger, thinner Doc rubbing shoulders with Governor Ronald Reagan some 35 years ago when they were speakers at a political conference. Afterwards they became friends. When Reagan died Doc moved the photo from his home, to his office, to honor the man he describes as honest and straightforward—an image Doc endeavors to emulate.

He opted for a quieter, simpler life in Colorado in 1973 when he started his practice in Conifer. But his desire to discover safe and beneficial therapies for his ailing pet patients has only increased.

"When a patient's options are limited out of skepticism, ignorance prejudice and inexperience by medical, surgical or alternative health care practitioners—the only loser is the patient."

Doc cites the poem of a favorite philosopher, the late Kahlil Gibran who once wrote, "work is love made visible" to explain his 24-hour-a-day passion to increase his patient's options. He rises most mornings around 3 a.m. to continue his medical research. Some nights he doesn't leave the office until 7 or 8 p.m. finishing exams with late visitors. He paces himself like a European stopping for siestas at specified times of the day to maximize his energy.

"Some people sleep too much and get bedsores," he said. "I run no risk of that."

Doc believes veterinary practitioners have been reluctant to embrace complementary methods because of skepticism on both sides of the issue that has damaged public perception. A few nonprofessionals have made false claims and given the field a bad name. While some conventional doctors who base their research on archaic forms of scientific testing fail to take into consideration the unique properties of herbal and homeopathic remedies or the hands-on benefits of acupuncture and other 3,000-year old healing techniques. Or for that matter the value of prayer, as verified in peer reviewed medical journals.

But times are changing.

When Doc began using acupuncture on animals in the 1960s he was one of very few in the United States exploring the ancient practice. Now, when he scans the phone book for the Front Range, there are more than 40 veterinarians offering it. And in recent years his alma mater has included it in the curriculum.

"A few years ago the New England Journal of Medicine noted that complementary medicine was becoming a burgeoning multi-billion dollar business and it chided the MDs that were missing the boat," he said. "That is why people travel long distances to my practice."

Doc's wife Jan can attest to the value of complementary medicine.
Sixteen years ago her Miniature Schnauzer Duffy suffered a herniated disk. Though she did not know Doc at the time, she had seen him give a presentation about acupuncture at an animal shelter. She asked her primary veterinarian about the techniques for her ailing pooch, she remembers. Surgery was the only option he told her—alternatives were "voodoo."

The surgery left the dog paralyzed, and Jan was crushed. With no other options she called Doc's office and he agreed to see the Schnauzer.

"I've made a terrible mistake," Jan told Doc.

"Things happen for a reason," Doc told Jan.

The couple was married about seven months later. Under Doc's care, Duffy learned to walk again and lived to the age of 17.

Jan is a fiction writer, has degrees in speech and language pathology and assists Doc in molecular biology work. She spends many hours a week glued to microscopes isolating data for her husband's medical research and diagnostics—chronic diseases that failed to respond to traditional treatments.

The journey has not been easy for a man who has lived his life in a constant state of curiosity. Hanging in his office is a framed piece of calligraphy art, given to him by a friend, with a quote by Albert Einstein that sums up the difficult moments.

"Great Spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."


Easing onto a stool in examining room B, Doc stands beside two staff members calming an ornery orange Persian named Gizmo. To the gabby owner, Doc commands, "Sit, heal, and don't move—you're making your cat nervous."

In an uncanny sort of way, many pet owners who pop into the clinic resemble their furry friends. Like the redheaded woman who limps through the door with a bad hip, carrying an 11-year-old red-colored Chihuahua who has recently stopped walking. There's the woman with Epstein Barr who has a Chow-Labrador mix with an auto-immune disorder and the fidgety man sporting a black T-shirt complete with skull and bones who brings in his black German Shepherd mix with wild restless eyes. A hard knot on her left jaw, the result of a tooth abscess, had returned after the man lost the first batch of medication behind the television set. Could Doc try to keep this visit as cheap as possible the man asked, claiming it cost his right arm the last time? The guy escapes for $40.

With a pet owner from Boulder, Doc launches into an explanation of solar flares—if they are active there are more heart attacks and strokes, if they are inactive, more epileptic seizures.

He stops in the middle of the exam and marvels at how he can check a heart beat and answer a patient's questions at the same time, given his age, which he wouldn't divulge.

The stories of Doc's demise are greatly exaggerated; a woman the next stall over says out loud. She rescues old dogs on the verge of euthanasia from shelters and veterinary clinics managing to keep them alive and happy a few more years. That day, her 14-year-old basset, Nepenthe, named after an herb meaning "forgets all sorrow" was in for a check up.

Doc knows all about second chances.

He's survived two disastrous auto accidents—genuine near-death experiences, as he describes them. Heaven rejected him, he tells people, because he has more work to do here.

















































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