WEST RIDGE — Armed with a syringe, half-filled with diluted vitamin B-12, veterinarian Judith Swanson stuck a house cat named Baby in the neck.
The 17-year-old feline, suffering from a paralyzed larynx, didn't flinch as Swanson finished the acupuncture treatment.
"I wouldn't call myself an animal lover," said Swanson, a holistic veterinarian. "I didn't have any pets" before graduating from the University of Illinois's vet program in the '70s.
Swanson said she treats animals out of conviction since making a "covenant with God" to treat "the beasts of the field, birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground," as told in the book of Hosea.
Swanson was at one time the only certified pet acupuncturist in Chicago. Since leaving the mainstream vet profession in 1985, she's worked out of her home, seeing patients, like Baby the cat, during the week. She's also treated rats, ferrets and bunnies.
A spokesman for the American Veterinarian Association said pet owners "are looking to treatments like acupuncture more these days as a way to enhance and improve their pets." The spokesman, David Kirkpatrick, said the association does not keep track of how many people practice acupuncture in the city.
Baby's owner, Nancy Tomaszewski, has been bringing her cats to Swanson's practice, Holistic Veterinarian, for 20 years.
Tomaszewski and her partner, Chris Jones, call themselves "suckers for strays," but wouldn't say just how many cats they own.
One Saturday in March, they drove more than an hour from their home in suburban Carpentersville with Baby and two of their other cats — Armstrong, 15, and Peanut, 18 — for acupuncture.
"I truly believe they know it helps them," said Tomaszewski, whose elderly furry friends have suffered from maladies such as kidney failure and arthritis.
In the basement home office, next door to Rosehill Cemetery, the vet went to work on the cats.
Armstrong hissed and squirmed, drawing blood from Jones' hand as he helped hold and console the cat. Swanson poked the needle in arthritic hips and paws and injected some of the liquid, which Swanson says lasts longer than traditional acupuncture.
The treatment, although not fully understood, is believed to stimulate the healing process in animals and humans by increasing blood flow to troubled areas of the body, Swanson said.
Swanson describes the treatment as finding "blockages" in the body, where "energy" no longer flows. Acupuncture is all about "reinstating proper energy flow," she said.
Typically, she charges $80 a visit for acupuncture.
Swanson also acts as a sort of mental health counselor for the animals she treats.
On her website, she instructs new clients to describe the animal's previous home environments.
"Early stresses can set the stage for diseases and health problems," it reads.
"I look at the animal's past," she said, "and see what was supportive and what's suppressive."
Swanson is quick to differentiate herself from the "trendy holistic" vets marketing pet acupuncture today. She doesn't advertise, and rather relies on word-of-mouth for business.
She graduated from Sullivan High School, class of 1970, and is the third generation of her family to live in Rogers Park.
Tomaszewski, packing up her cats into carriers to make the drive home, said she's tried other doctors closer to Carpentersville.
"They don't get the same results as we do here," she said. "We swear by Dr. Swanson."