The dictionary definition of quack is “an ignorant, misinformed, or dishonest practitioner of medicine.”
“In the eyes of conventional, strict science, I could be considered a quack,” veterinarian Dr. Martin Goldstein readily admits. That’s entirely the point.
Dr. Marty, as he’s become known to his legions of fawning, loyal patients—well, technically to their owners—was one of the first holistic veterinarians to come out publicly in the 1970s, preaching the values of incorporating supplements, nutrition, homeopathy, and even acupuncture into conventional treatment plans for the most hopeless of animal cases.
Quack was among the kinder things he was, and still is, called by colleagues, some of whom urged for his medical license to be revoked. As the line between natural medicine and pseudoscience continues to be drawn, Dr. Marty still finds himself at the center of the debate.
But after four decades of practice, he has stacks of boxes housing files touting the success of his methods: countless dogs and cats who had been given terminal diagnoses by other veterans and instead lived out years of healthy life owed to his methods.
Among them are Waffles, Mulligan, and Scooby, whose health sagas and miracle recoveries are case studies in The Dog Doc, a new documentary—released this weekend in New York—that tracks the progress and roller coaster emotions of the animals and their humans while under Dr. Martin’s holistic care.
More, it’s a soap box for Dr. Marty to promote the virtues of integrative veterinary medicine, a still-controversial approach—if increasingly less so—and urge for its universal adoption in the face of criticism.
“I accept all of these criticisms as a compliment, because I know when you start to impinge into the negative space you are going to ruffle some feathers,” he says. “And when those feathers get ruffled and get thrown at you, you know you’re impinging correctly.”
Feathers, fur, and the tears of desperate pet owners come to Smith Ridge Medical Center, about an hour’s drive north of Manhattan, when all hope seems lost. They arrive at Dr. Marty’s office after having already sought four, five opinions and bleak prognoses. Waffles’ rare fungal infection has zapped him entirely of life. Mulligan’s congenital liver disease puts him at risk of fatal renal failure. Scooby’s bone cancer of the jaw seems incurable.
But the doctors at Smith Ridge put Waffles on a Vitamin C infusion therapy, treat Mulligan with a regimen of supplements and a diet change, and perform cryosurgery to freeze the tumor on Scooby’s jaw—all, along with the magnetic wave therapy and acupuncture that Dr. Marty routinely prescribes, have no basis or support in medical science, according to his harshest critics. Even a layman observer might consider the notion wacko.
“Look, we’re performing surgeries, doing ultrasounds and CAT scans, and using the medical standard treatments,” Dr. Marty says. “This is about integrative medicine. It’s not one side versus the other. True holistic medicine is encompassing both alternative and conventional. It’s not the other side of conventional medicine. Holistic or integrative medicine is the embracing of both modalities.”
With his dog print shirt, own zoo of home pets, and warmly authoritative voice, Dr. Marty could very well be an Alan Alda character come to life.
Eager and affable, he, for example, happily veers off-topic to address current events and quell pet owners’ fears about the novel coronavirus and their furry loved ones. No, despite reports of a dog that tested low positive, there is no evidence that humans and their pets will transmit the disease to each other, or that pets will spread it.
See, evidence does, in fact, matter to Dr. Marty.
In The Dog Doc, he remembers back in 1986 when he was invited to lecture at a university about his success treating cancer patients with his integrative treatments. One of his best friends in the field left the room and stood outside the door, warning people not to go in: “This guy’s crazy!” At times the wall against alternative medicine seemed so formidable that he felt helpless. “But,” he says, “I kept making the patients better.”
Recounting the amount of ridicule and criticism he received when he was starting, he says, “You could probably still count the arrow holes in my back, which are now just scars that have healed.”
But things have changed. Roughly two-thirds of veterinary schools embrace acupuncture and it’s now common to have an acupuncturist on staff at veterinary hospitals, whereas he was once labeled a lunatic for suggesting that sticking needles in dogs could help with arthritis, among other ailments.
“My friends that ridiculed and criticized me, we go out to dinner now and they say, ‘You know, you were so far ahead of your time,’” he says. “And my answer to that is that acupuncture has been around for 3,000 years. I’m not ahead of my time. I’m just 30 years less behind.”
“In the eyes of conventional, strict science, I could be considered a quack.”
— Dr. Martin Goldstein
It’s natural to be skeptical of Dr. Marty’s methods.
Hearing him talk about the impact of supplements and nutrition as treatment triggers whiffs of the same alarm one might get reading, say, a Facebook friend’s manifesto against Big Pharma while promoting the junk science of essential oils and their healing powers.
And when he gets going about what he considers the malpractice of veterinary vaccinations, the inclination is to throw red flags everywhere. For clarity’s sake, he is not anti-vaccination. He is for responsible and healthful vaccinations; the potency and dosage of mandated pet vaccines as is, he says, could have grave immuno-suppressive side effects. Detractors still find danger in that stance.
Given all this, critics warn against his ideas. SkeptVet.com, a blog dedicated to science-based health, for example, published an article railing against one of Dr. Marty’s most passionate arguments—that corn- and grain-based commercial dog food is harmful to a pet’s health and raw, carnal diets should be the default—as misinformation. “What we have here is unsubstantiated belief presented as fact,” the blog says. “And this kind of fear mongering has real dangers.”
At the core of the kind of integrative medicine that Dr. Marty practices isn’t a rejection of science or traditional treatment, but a perspective rooted in strengthening patients’ immune systems so that they are able to fight ailments naturally. He was number two in his class in veterinary school, he stresses. He knows the science and the conventional methods. “I know and think like they do, and I know that they need to expand their thinking to start embracing alternative therapies.”
The Dog Doc came to Dr. Marty in a similar fashion to how most of his patients find their way to Smith Ridge, which is through word-of-mouth from a concerned Samaritan.
A woman at a dog park told Petey’s owners about him after learning that they were facing the decision to remove his jaw due to aggressive jaw bone cancer. Mulligan’s usual vet thought his owner had lost her mind when she notified him that a friend recommended she seek out Dr. Marty’s help. And director Cindy Meehl (Buck) found her way to him after a stranger at a store caught wind of her Coco’s incurable high fevers and asked if she had heard of a Dr. Marty Goldstein.
He weaned Coco off her intense antibiotic and steroid regimen and introduced his own therapy. Soon, Coco was a normal, healthy dog. Once Meehl finished work on Buck, her Oscar-shortlisted documentary on “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman, she set her sights on Dr. Marty as her next subject.
“They shouldn’t have to come to me,” Dr. Marty says about the word-of-mouth trail to his offices. “Their veterinarian should be doing this. So my ultimate goal is to make an impingement in the profession so that this is being practiced standardly across the United States and the world.”