By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
It all started with a dead cat.
For Eric Weisman, its longtime owner, the past couple of months had already been trying enough. He was working desperately to nurse a neighborhood dog back to health as it deteriorated from Lyme disease, making house calls to its heartbroken owners, listening to its weakening heartbeat and hand-feeding the animal by plastic syringe. He was on the phone to Las Vegas, where another client needed careful instruction on how to administer a potentially toxic treatment he'd recommended for a cat with a terrible intestinal parasite. He was also making long-distance calls to Texas, where yet another client was using his procedures to nurse a cancer-stricken dog back to health.
It was all very touch and go.
And then the cat died. As he often did in the course of his work, Weisman—a soft-spoken 59-year-old with a shock of black hair—wrapped the body up and drove it from his home office to the red brick Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Minnesota. In a case summary he left for the head of the lab, Arno Wunschmann, Weisman explained that his pet had likely succumbed to kidney failure. He also pointed out some lesions on the animal's legs, which he suspected could be cancerous.
Dr. Wunschmann laid the animal out on his cold metal work table and set to work on a necropsy, opening the animal up and carefully examining its condition. What he found shocked him enough to report it to authorities.
"This is experimentation on the animals," says Trevor Oliver, the city attorney who received Wunschmann's findings. "Haphazard, uncontrolled, and unscientific experimentation."
JUST AS INTEREST IN alternative medicine has soared in the U.S.—one estimate says a third of all adults have tried some form of unconventional treatment—so has interest in new methods of treating animals.
A 2003 American Animal Hospital Association survey found that 21 percent of pet owners have used some form of alternative therapy on their animals, and the business of vitamin supplements for pets has ballooned into a $1 billion industry. In Minnesota, practicing acupuncture on animals has become increasingly popular, and in 2008 the Legislature passed a law allowing chiropractors to treat dogs and cats.
But the blurring of the lines hasn't always gone over well with authorities. In 2006, the Washington Department of Health issued a "cease and desist" order to an unlicensed woman performing shock therapy on the acupuncture points of pets. In 2009, a California veterinarian lost her license for trying to diagnose animals using E.S.P. and selling her own homeopathic vaccines. And last year, a vet in British Columbia was forced to give up his license after he marketed his own dietary supplements as "cures," claiming he's seen "thousands" of pets healed with herbs.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with people being interested and exploring," says Dr. Brennen McKenzie, president-elect of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. "I think it's important to find what's true, and not what somebody made up and put on the internet."
IN THE EARLY 1970S, an 18-year-old door-to-door salesman named Eric Weisman inadvertently walked onto the killing floor of a slaughterhouse. What he saw—animal carcasses hanging from hooks, their blood dripping onto the floor—horrified him.
"I was traumatized," he recalls.
Weisman had always been an animal lover, bringing stray dogs and cats to his Toronto home, though for most of his childhood his parents would let him keep only birds as pets. After seeing the slaughterhouse, Weisman wandered into a health foods store and came home with an armload of veggie hotdogs and hamburgers.
"I'm going to eat these instead of meat,'" Weisman pronounced.
After watching his mother suffer a long-term illness throughout his childhood, Weisman was inspired to pursue medicine. He moved to St. Paul to begin chiropractic studies at the school then known as Northwestern Chiropractic College, pleased that it incorporated a more "holistic" approach to health. He graduated in 1979 with two certificates in x-ray imaging and acupuncture, and set up shop in North St. Paul. Before long, he had locations in Roseville and Falcon Heights.
Weisman espoused the value of his meat-free diet to patients, and took to the airwaves with his own cable-access show, Health Now!
"Please don't hesitate to call me if you have a question!" he beamed, a business telephone number flashing below his pearly smile.
With his lustrous jet black hair and tidy suits, Weisman soon gathered an audience. Before long, the show was on multiple cable-access channels and callers could catch Health Now! almost any night of the week.
As a loving pet owner, Weisman began developing a pet food in line with the principles of veganism. In 1988, he formulated his own vegan pet food and called it Evolution Diet. He began advertising the kibble and wet food on a series of websites and marketing it in national pet magazines. The product even won best vegan pet food from VegNews magazine.
Word of the pet food began spreading around the country, and as Weisman built Evolution's reputation, he began letting his customers call him for advice about their pets' health.