Urban Strategist
Calm canine: Acupuncturist Bridget Halligan, with Angus, West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital.

Heather Peikes
Board-certified dermatologist
Veterinary Internal Medicine and Allergy Specialists
207 East 84th Street (212-988-4650)
New kid on the block Heather Peikes is giving her veterinary neighbors plenty to talk about. She began practicing as Manhattan's only board-certified dermatologist four months ago, at a new 24-hour hospital that's the animal-care equivalent of Weill Cornell's pricey Greenberg Pavilion. vima Specialists may cost a little more than other veterinary clinics, but clients benefit from three internal-medicine specialists, state-of-the-art equipment, and hour-and-a-half appointments.

Though general practitioners often treat dermatology and allergy problems (which make up 20 percent of all vet cases), Peikes is adamant about the value of her tiny specialty field.

"The problems I see can be very severe, to the point where the animal is just one big scabby mess."

Some owners don't realize their pets even have a dermatological problem. "I had an owner tell me their dog was very nervous -- he bit his nails all day long," says Peikes. " 'He's not nervous!' I said. 'He has a yeast infection on the skin around his nails!' "

Skin problems also tend to develop as symptoms of internal ailments, which she can not only diagnose but team up with the hospital's internists to treat.

Karen Helton-Rhodes
Board-certified dermatologist
Animal Emergency and Referral Center
647 Bloomfield Avenue
West Caldwell, New Jersey

Manhattanites will drive 45 minutes into deepest, darkest Jersey to see Karen Helton-Rhodes, who was the head of dermatology at the AMC for thirteen years.

Helton-Rhodes, 45, also runs a horse farm and is dermatologist to the show-circuit stars. Allergy sufferers constitute more than half of her practice. Chronic, itching dermatitis is a common hereditary problem in dogs, "kind of like hay fever in people," she says. "Once an allergy gets into a breeding line, it's there to stay. Allergies are in goldens and Labs, so they've kind of taken over where West Highland White terriers used to be the big itchy breed. Boxers are their own little problem child. I saw three yesterday. All I can say is, thank goodness the shar-pei is in decline. The worst skin -- and that's all they were."

Mark Macina
Animal Medical Center
(212-838-8100, ext. 8620; www.amcny.org)

"The majority of patients that we test come up positive to people," says Mark Macina, the spiky-haired staff dermatologist at the AMC. Yes, he means they're allergic to the people who brought them in. "I look at the pet and say, 'You have to get rid of your owner.' "

The difference between allergies in humans and in animals is that people respond with respiratory problems (stuffy nose, watery eyes) while dogs and cats respond with skin problems (itching, redness). But the science of immunotherapy is the same for both, as are the most common environmental offenders: dust, mold, grass, trees, weeds.

Macina, 40, who grew up in the city -- "My family was troubled when I went to this hoity-toity liberal-arts college and then ended up cleaning pee and poop from cages" -- also takes urban challenges into consideration when treating allergic pets. "Like the constant construction going on outside your window," he says. "The cats have to hear that all day. Noise and pollution can exacerbate allergies. Plus, I see a lot of obsessive-compulsive behavior in New York -- licking, chewing, grooming." Whether that last comment referred to pets or humans, we weren't eager to ask.

Nina Shoulberg
Board-certified dermatologist
County Animal Clinic
Yonkers, New York (914-779-5000)

Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center
123 West Cedar Street, Norwalk, Connecticut (203-854-9960; www.vrecnorwalk.com)
Nina Shoulberg works at five hospitals -- the two mentioned above, one in White Plains, one in Bedford Hills, and a private practice in Norwalk -- where she treats dogs and cats, 99 percent of them referrals from vets. Shoulberg, 45, who has been practicing since 1984, says her patients mostly suffer from allergies, but she's also diagnosed skin and ear infections, and immune-system diseases like lupus. "I see a lot of dogs who are allergic to cats," she says, "but that's fairly common." She had one patient that turned out to be allergic to marijuana. "The owner clued me in. We had him stop smoking. Then, when we reintroduced it, the dog got itchy all over again." Alas, relief can't always be achieved by cutting back on the bong; most pets have to take antihistamine pills or undergo allergy shots. "We really try to avoid steroids," says Shoulberg.

Alternative Medicine

Bridget Halligan
Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society
West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital
203 Tenth Avenue, at 22nd Street (212-645-2767)
A dozen needles are still visible in Angus's dense coat, but the thirteen-year-old German shepherd is unfazed: He's about to receive treats. Thirty-six-year-old Bridget Halligan is rummaging through the cupboard under her examining table as Angus attempts to nose in. She produces a biscuit, then runs her hand along Angus's back several times to remove the last of the tiny needles. Angus doesn't flinch; he does this every two weeks.

Roughly a third of Halligan's practice at West Chelsea is acupuncture patients, and most of them, like Angus, suffer from pain from orthopedic problems. She also treats some diabetic cats and older dogs with arthritis. Her patients generally don't mind the five to fourteen needles involved in a treatment. "I'll try to make the visit different from a regular trip to the vet," Halligan says. "For some newcomers, we even lower the lights."

She grew up in Staten Island -- not exactly a holistic-health hotbed. Yet it produced three acupuncturing Halligans: Her father and sister practice the art on humans. "So many people will say acupuncture works because people believe it works," she says. "When it's effective on dogs, the evidence is obvious."

Richard Joseph
Acupuncturist, neurologist
Westside Veterinary Center
220 West 83rd Street (212-580-1800)
Tuesday evenings only
"Neurology and acupuncture have a nice marriage," says Richard Joseph, who practiced for sixteen years at the Animal Medical Center. The 45-year-old Joseph started out as a psychology major in college . . . until he failed biology his first semester. Clearly, he got over the hurdle, because he's now one of 110 board-certified veterinary neurologists in the world.

Each week, he schleps a mobile MRI unit from the neurology practice he shares in Yonkers with another of the rarefied 110, Jason Berg (see page 34), to clinics in Norwalk, Connecticut, southern New Jersey, and Manhattan. He has a thick Queens accent, longish dark, curly hair, and a hoop through his left ear.

Joseph estimates that he has achieved an 80 percent success rate in joint-pain management through acupuncture. "It's a reasonable alternative to medicine, with its side effects, and surgery, with its risks. My clients' pets walk better, feel better, even revert to old habits, like jumping on the couch." That's success, in Joseph's line of work.


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Andrew Kaplan
Rivergate Veterinary Clinic
403 East 37th Street

Tall, dark, and humane, Andrew Kaplan is like a refugee worker, compelled to be wherever the need is greatest. So he moved back to New York -- where he'd done his residency at the Animal Medical Center -- from California about a year ago. "The situation in San Francisco is as good as it gets in terms of animal control and overpopulation," he says. In the five boroughs, by comparison, 40,000 to 60,000 animals are killed in accidents or by euthanasia each year.

The 37-year-old general practitioner considers his specialty to be "puzzling" diagnoses and hard-to-manage diseases such as diabetes. His own mixed breed, Katie, is diabetic; you'll see her slowly but sweetly padding around the Rivergate clinic, where Kaplan says he will be practicing only until he can start his own shelter project. The vets at Rivergate support his plan, he says: "They believe in a lot of the same principles I do."

Mark E. Peterson
Animal Medical Center
(212-838-8100, ext. 8658; www.amcny.org)

If your ravenous-yet-diminishing cat is waking you at 5 a.m. to demand ever more food, Mark Peterson may be your man. Peterson, head of endocrinology at the AMC, estimates that about one in 300 cats in the city -- maybe even one in 50 over the age of ten -- suffers from hyperthyroidism, a condition in which excess thyroid hormone is secreted, creating a constant state of overstimulation. He has been handling such cases for 22 years and was the first veterinarian in the city to treat cats with radioiodine therapy. Peterson's treatment does, however, leave you with a temporarily radioactive cat, which means a one-week hospital stay for your hot little furball and then limited contact with him or her back home for two more weeks.

Friendly, soft-spoken, and anything but hyperactive himself, Peterson grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. In vet school, he became interested in dogs and cats when he realized that medicine for pets was more sophisticated: "If you can't fix a cow for $25, well, it gets shipped off."

Laser Declawing

Kristin Iglesias
General practitioner
St. Marks Veterinary Hospital
348 East 9th Street (212-477-2688; www.stmarksvet.com)

"If it's going to be the claws or the cat, we'll save the cat, of course," says 29-year-old Kristin Iglesias. "Laser declawing is the kindest, least traumatic way to do it."

Thanks to St. Marks's laser-surgery machine, Iglesias and the other vets there are masters of the scratchless cat. Iglesias estimates that her homey clinic performed about 55 laser declawings last year. Many vets don't like to declaw cats, and Iglesias is no exception. Tugging at her ponytail, she says, "We're talking about major surgery that, no matter what technique you use, involves removing the whole tip of the [cat's] finger, the entire bone."

Confident and politically committed -- "Sometimes people bring in these beautiful cockatoos and I just think, Oh, you should be in a rain forest" -- Iglesias received a prestigious scholarship in high school to work in Cornell's vet college for the summer. She was assigned to the department of pathology and necropsy, she says, "and I thought, If I like animals this much when they're dead, imagine how much I'll like working with the live ones."