Dr. Marty Goldstein & Cindy Meehl – Walking the Dog Doc
Dr. Marty Goldstein & Cindy Meehl
Walking the Dog Doc
By Jay S. Jacobs
The old saying goes, “Dogs are man’s best friend.” But who is our best friend’s other best friend?
In many cases that is Dr. Martin Goldstein, DVM – known as Doctor Marty to friends and patients – the trailblazing veterinarian and author who for decades has been a pioneer in natural medicine for pets. He opened Smith Ridge Veterinary Hospital decades ago and has become celebrated for his uncanny ability to save animals that traditional veterinarians had given up on.
Documentarian Cindy Meehl, who has been a patient and a friend for years, has long dreamed of making a film celebration of the Doctor Marty’s practice and his incredible medical success stories. After finishing her celebrated documentary Buck – about cowboy and trainer Buck Brannaman, whose life inspired the novel The Horse Whisperer – Meehl decided it was time to make her film on Doctor Marty. After spending a few years at the practice and filming hundreds of cases, The Dog Doc is finally finished and is now widely available.
Doctor Marty has retired from the full-time practice since the filming ended, leaving Smith Ridge in the capable hands of his fellow vets, so that he could concentrate on finishing his second book and spreading the word of natural alternatives in veterinary medicine. The Dog Doc is also helping to get the word out.
Soon after the film was released, we spoke by phone with Doctor Marty and director Cindy Meehl about the movie, the doctor’s practice, natural medicine and keeping our beloved pets safe in a shelter-at-home world.
How did Cindy approach you to make a film about your practice?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: It started around 30 years ago. She had one of her dogs at the very, very end. Coco, a Shar Pei. This dog had these persistent high fevers, which is part of a syndrome that Shar Pei’s have. Every time it would spike – 106 [degrees], or higher – they would put the dog on antibiotics and steroids. Eventually it was all taking its toll. They deemed Coco hopeless and was going to die soon.
Cindy Meehl: Like the people you see in the movie, I had come to him in desperation with a dog that was dying. All the vets said she was going to die.
Dr. Martin Goldstein: She was at a holistic pet store, crying. Someone said to her, “Did you contact Marty Goldstein?” She called my office. I think I was a single practitioner then. I was starting to get calls from all over the United States. I called her back at 11:00 at night on a Friday. (chuckles) That’s when she said, “Oh my God, this guy is different. What doctor would call this late, especially if you don’t even know him?” I just said the magic words to her. I said, “You realize that Coco’s body is trying to do something, and you keep on suppressing it?” So, we took Coco off the drugs, went on remedies. The fever worked its way through, and this dog just rejuvenated, almost back to puppyhood.
Cindy Meehl: She was dying, and he just totally changed my whole thought process on animals and health. He put her on some supplements and took her off the pharmaceutical drugs she had been on for six years of her six-year life. She just turned around and lived six more years. I was sure we’d lose her at six.
Dr. Martin Goldstein: Since then, we’ve become real good friends. She’s brought all her animals to my clinic. Then she did the documentary. I watched the whole thing unfold on Buck, the horse whisperer. When I watched it, I was so blown away by the level of professionalism. When she was done with Buck, she said, “I’d like to do one on you now.” It was a no-brainer. Of course.
Cindy Meehl: That was what got me on the path when I first met him. Over the years, just seeing the miracles – literally the miracles – that he was performing. [It] was just too hard to ignore. I really felt if everyone loves their animals as much as I do, you want every second you can have with them and keep them around. To me this is the way. It’s not like I haven’t seen a lot of different practices and animals in my lifetime. I was sold.
The Smith Ridge specialty is animals that conventional vets have given up hope on saving. This is an important but also very difficult position to take. Why do you think a practice like this is so vital?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: It started that way. What’s really good about where Smith Ridge is now, and society is now, is the message I brought across. You saw some of the quote-unquote “miracle cases.” But if you would ever watch my presentations to the vet schools on documented cases, [they had] $40,000, $60,000 worth of therapy, and they have like two days left to live. We turn them around and they live another seven, nine, or ten years. The no-brainer became: if this kind of therapy works so well on these hopeless, terminal cases, what would happen if you started an animal’s life doing this?
Cindy Meehl: Marty’s [practice] is now run by Dr. Jenna. All the doctors you saw in the film are still there. They are amazing. I highly recommend them all. It’s important because a vet can’t just think, “Well, I’m going to add a vitamin and I’m an alternative doctor.” These people have really done their research. They have done extra studies. A lot of doctors will come and work there just to learn the methods that they are using. That is the sad part, that it’s not as easily available if you go to your normal veterinarian school. It is something that you can’t necessarily just learn from a book.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: We’ve really become about wellness, not just terminal disease. Society is finally grabbing onto that. My license was verbally threatened in 1978 for treating arthritic dogs with glucosamine sulfate, and not using standardized drugs. Do you know how much glucosamine sulfate is sold a year in veterinary medicine? (chuckles)
Cindy Meehl: What is great about this type of medicine is that they do take every animal as an individual. They treat them based on their blood. They treat them based on that dog, and how he is reacting to things. It takes more time. I think frankly some doctors don’t want to give it more time. They’d rather say antibiotics for that, steroids for that. There are a lot of amazing veterinarians out there that are conventional. I think they would really embrace having this other knowledge to save more dogs. It’s just so effective. I’ve lived it now almost 30 years. I’ve seen it. If I didn’t believe it, I would never have spent the last four years of my life getting the film out.
My stepfather was a pretty well-known naturopathic physician and psychotherapist in Philadelphia for over 30 years.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: Yeah, I was going to ask about that. I saw that in your review [of the film].
Yes, his name was Dr. Wayne Diamond.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: (recognizes the name) Oh, really?
Yes. We still sell his vitamin formulas. Much like you, my stepfather got into natural medicine because of his own personal health. He was told as a teenager that he had a rare blood disease and would not survive his twenties.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: There you go.
That was when he started researching natural medicine. He ended up living well into his 60s. Could you discuss your journey towards natural medicine?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: I graduated Cornell in 1973. I was really into music at the time. Being at Cornell for over eight, almost nine years, during the ‘60s, drugs did occur. (laughs) Being into music, I was part of the interfraternity council, band booking for the fraternities. I was always going to parties. Genetically, on the male side of my mother’s family, there were a lot of genetically based conditions that I inherited. Chronic bursitis, male pattern baldness, I had birthmarks growing on my body – appearing, and growing. All of the sudden, I became very concerned and kind of freaked out about my conditions. My doctor, who was around the corner, was treating my left shoulder for the chronic arthritis and bursitis when I was in my twenties with ultrasonic treatments. He was going to inject long-acting cortisone into my shoulder. I just searched for alternative ways for my own health.
Cindy, do you take natural healing seriously in your own life and your family life?
Cindy Meehl: Oh yeah. It’s kind of funny. After Marty saved this dog that I brought to him, at death’s door, and he did it so simply and so quickly, I was incredulous. (laughs) One day, I remember we were going for a checkup with the same dog, and I said, “I want a doctor that does for me what you just did for my dog. That did something so simple, so miraculous, I would love to have a personal physician that does that, for me and my children and my husband.” He gave me the name of George Zabrecky; he has the Zabrecky Institute in Pennsylvania. He has doctors working with him. We went down that path starting back then, almost 30 years ago.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: I didn’t come out of Cornell saying I want to be a holistic vet. It didn’t exist. When I stumbled upon macrobiotic diet, and I applied that, my arthritis went away. And I was always fat. My nickname in high school was Porky. I’d always tried to lose weight and I never could. On a predominantly brown rice diet and macrobiotics, I lost 20 pounds in under two weeks. All of the sudden it was this wakeup call, like oh my God.
Cindy Meehl: My kids, that’s all they know. They do the same thing with their own dogs now, and they do it with their own health. It’s amazing how small their records were when we would go to the doctors. They would look at these little tiny folders and go, “Is this all there is?” And I’d say yes. (laughs) They didn’t understand why my kids were so healthy.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: The no-brainer was to try it on our own family pets. It worked. Some of my clients, I shared this with them. Changed their diet, because in those days like you saw in the film, we were feeding dogs solely Top Choice and Gaines Burgers, which was chemicalized carcinogens. All of the sudden their allergies got better. Their fur looked better. Their joints got better. It was like oh my God. Then I became certified in acupuncture in the mid-70s. I was one of the first in the United States. As I tried to share this, especially with my colleagues, I just got condemned.
Many traditional doctors are often close-minded towards natural medicine. Why do you feel that is?
Cindy Meehl: I definitely found that. I’ve said this before, the only criticism I’ve heard of this film is that it seems one-sided. Where is the other side? It is not for lack of trying. At one point I was going to be allowed into a very conventional practice. I kept trying to arrange it and they said, “It’s just going to be too invasive. We just can’t have a whole film crew come in and disturb our practice.” So, it was like, fine. I had tried to meet with the American Veterinary Medical Association and discuss the practice, their protocol for vaccines and titers, and they were happy to talk to me until that they heard that I wanted to maybe mention vaccines. Same thing with Kansas State University. The researchers and people were very happy to discuss titers and vaccines, but when the head of the University found out, it was like they closed it down.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: I would say a big part of it is the ego associated with being a doctor. I’ve learned so much over the years, especially once the internet hit, from my clients. Especially from breeders. I became so open to this. But if a client questions the authority of a doctor, it’s like “How dare you? I have a degree. I was in school for eight years.”
Cindy Meehl: You have to wonder if the pharmaceutical companies that supply a lot of funding to the universities must have a say in that. I wasn’t looking to do smear interviewing. I just wanted the facts. Why we can’t discuss the facts of ingredients and any possible adverse reactions, or why we don’t titer more, I did not understand. I just want a discussion. I don’t understand why people can’t discuss that. It’s one or the other. I have questions. Let’s talk about what’s in them. Some people might consider that anti-vaxxing, but to me that’s just being intelligent, to say “Let’s discuss what you’re injecting into my dog.” Or my child. Or anybody. What are all your ingredients? How do you grow it? How do you make a million doses of that? I am totally not anti-vax. I vaccinated my kids. I vaccinated my dogs. But I don’t over-vaccinate them. And I learned you can even titer your children, which I did.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: The good thing about where my life is at right now is that… you know, I wrote a best-seller 20 years ago (The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat) that’s still a best seller. It’s in the top 8,000 and 9 million on Amazon over 20 years later. It was all my opinion. The transition that has occurred right now is almost everything I said in that book that was my opinion is now scientifically documented. The harm of vaccines. The inappropriateness of a lot of these cereal-based diets, processed diets. The acceptance of supplements and nutraceuticals and remedies. Now I’m serving as a spokesperson. Society, even the profession, is coming around, like you saw the interest at the end of the documentary at Cornell.
Like you say, the film shows you returning to your alma mater of Cornell recently to talk with a new generation of students and they seemed to be more open to the idea of natural healing. Do you think that younger vets and students will keep the successes of Smith Ridge in mind in their own practices?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: Absolutely. You saw that I did speak at Cornell years back. It went in one ear and out the other. I just finally finished the manuscript for my second book after 20 years. I wrote this story in there. When I was done with my lecture, and that lecture went over two and a half hours, and this is years ago, it was almost all students. The head of surgery at the small animal clinic at Cornell attended the entire thing and referred his own technician’s dog to me to do cryosurgery instead of amputating a leg.
Cindy Meehl: I do think that the new generation and young people, they are much more concerned about the environment. They are much more concerned about chemicals and health and doing things more naturally. Going back to the way things used to be. I do think that you see they are a lot more interested in these different things.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: What happened was, I was on cloud nine after this presentation. I took a tour of the new wing of the Cornell vet school. A lady veterinarian in one of the offices introduced herself to me and said, “I read your book. I’m very fond of your work. But you will not see your work in the confines of this facility within your lifetime.” I said to her: “What? It just went over so well.” This is what she told me. “They recently did a survey of the student body for alternative medicine, and 93% of the students said they were interested in it. They brought it down to the head board of trustees. The decision by the trustees was if we allow to ratify this decision based on this survey, it would be like letting the inmates run the prison. We can’t set that precedent.”
Cindy Meehl: I do think that it is the old guard that is keeping a lot of it from coming in. And, quite honestly, I do think the pharmaceutical [companies] put a lot of money into the universities to train the doctors. That is a conflict of interest. If you ask me, we should be doing everything. We should be doing the conventional, but we should be learning about the alternative – less invasive, less side-effect – methods of healing.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: There was a veterinarian there doing acupuncture, and his demonstrations were so popular you couldn’t even get near it. They fired him. For no reason at all. So, we have the old school that is still so ingrained on the old ways of doing it. You saw what we discussed on vaccines. The decision to vaccinate animals standardly every year was made by one man at Cornell in the 1950s. It stood the test of time until almost the year 2000, when it got changed to three years.
I had a vet I used for years and he said vaccines every year was too much. I’ve since moved and have a new vet, and they don’t seem the types who would go against the norms like that. Luckily, it had changed by then.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: I know. What I say to people when they tend to question me, I just say, “When was your last polio shot?” That’s when they get it. The documentation coming out of the universities right now is the distemper and parvo immunity is between seven and fifteen years after the puppy vaccine. It’s all documented. Why are we vaccinating every three years based on a calendar? It’s insane.
As a cat owner, well she owns me, I noticed several shots of cats at your practice, however the film focuses on the dogs. Why was it decided to limit the film to dog cases?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: Yeah. It’s funny, I like what you said in your article, because this is what I say jokingly when we get asked this question, but you hit it right on. The Cat Doctor sequel.
I think it’s a natural.
Cindy Meehl: We filmed some cats. There was a whole cat story that we had in the film. You start with sort of a fat film and you have to cut it down. It had to do with an amputation on a cat that we were hoping they could do a cryosurgery on a tumor on the leg. There are times when you can’t use alternative medicine. There are times when you have to go back to conventional methods. Because we were trying to highlight alternative things, as much as it was actually a very beautiful story, and the owners were just amazing, and the cat was amazing, [we couldn’t use it]. We’re going to put it in the DVD extras because it is still a wonderful story.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: One of the issues that we had; Cindy made a decision that we would not film any of my cases going back retrospectively. I have mind blowing… when you saw that film on ABC news about that dog Whiskey, that dog was carried in on a stretcher with 24 hours to live. They had spent tens of thousands of dollars. You saw that dog running around 50 pounds heavier. She didn’t film any of those [older cases]. When you take a case on to film, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Like Waffles, like you said. Who knew? When Waffles responded and was running around for nine months, we thought Waffles was cured. Nuh uh. So, the dog stories, like Mulligan, they became a lot more compelling than the cat stories that were filmed.
Cindy Meehl: The other thing about cats… and I have a cat who I adore, look at my Instagram, it is mostly him, he rules this family and he rules the dogs, too… but I think that when people come into the clinic, the cat is usually in a box, you know. They put them in the little carrying cases. So, film-wise, as far as trying to get that on film, a lot of times you are looking at a box. Or the cat is very shy. They are not as easy to film, frankly, as it was to film the dogs. That’s another reason that perhaps we don’t have as many cat stories. And I would say that – well, I’d have to ask Marty this – but it seemed like the practice seemed to have more dogs than cats. But not that they don’t have plenty of cats. It’s just at the end of the day we had a lot of compelling dog stories and that’s what won out. It ended up being The Dog Doc.
Dr. Marty Goldstein: I was a little concerned, honestly, because I know we didn’t capture the dozens and dozens and dozens of miracle cases that I’ve accomplished over my career. I knew they weren’t captured, except Mulligan and Scooby with the mouth. When they took the 300 hours and started editing, I was concerned that they were not going to come up with a good film. The editor, Steve Heffner, just did this phenomenal job to put that film together.
Dr. Marty liked my idea of making the cats the sequel…
Cindy Meehl: (laughs) Okay. Okay. I doubt they are going to let me back in for another three years.
You told specific stories of several pets and their humans. Was it difficult to get the owners to cooperate?
Dr. Marty Goldstein: Every single one, even though they are coming in total despair, was totally open to doing it. It was good. It was tough from both sides. Cindy and the film crew, they all love animals. They were in tears all the time.
Cindy Meehl: It was amazing, because we probably filmed over 100 different people and I would say 99.9% of people just said okay. Certainly, some people were a little hesitant, but somehow, they trusted us. I think they realized that we were there not to exploit them, but to share a story that they were living through. When you’re going through trauma with a pet, or you are concerned about a pet, there is something wonderful about community. I think a lot of people if you don’t have dogs or cats, you maybe don’t understand how much of the family these animals are. They are like a child.