For the Feathered Patients of Acupuncturist Simm Gottesman, Needles Are the Way to Health

updated 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

First a one-inch needle is tapped gently between the patient's eyes. Then, at other pressure points, more needles are inserted, each penetrating about an eighth of an inch. Some are wired to a machine whose mild vibration causes the patient to fibrillate.

The patient in this instance is an emaciated screech owl, but it could have been any of hundreds of birds or occasional small beasts that wind up at the Wild Bird Care Center in Fort Lauderdale. Acupuncturist Simm Gottesman, 31, is the first to apply the arcane Chinese healing art to these creatures. "Animals are brought in polluted, starved, with no sense of balance," she says. "With acupuncture you can see a change week to week. The more I treat a bird, the more it fights as it gets its energy back."

Michigan-born, Gottesman has always loved animals, starting with her childhood pets—a lizard that lived in the family piano and a turtle that dined on hot dogs. But when her cat developed an abscessed foot, Gottesman discovered that she would never become a doctor. "I fainted when I saw blood," she says.

Instead, she earned her B.A. at the University of Michigan as an education major. While teaching at a Florida women's prison, she developed a painful ear problem. When acupuncturist Ralph Alan Dale cured her after a few treatments, Gottesman decided to study with him and also with a Chinese master acupuncturist. Three years later, in 1982, she received a state license to practice. Her fee is $35 per treatment for human patients; she works on animals gratis.

Gottesman got into the animal kingdom two years ago when the Wild Bird Care Center wound up with a pair of raccoons afflicted with distemper. One died; the other got Gottesman's acupuncture, recovered, and was released back into the Everglades. Working with animals, who can have no expectations of a cure, has "proved to me that acupuncture has physiological effects on the body," she insists. "Then the body can heal itself." Whether the patient is man or beast is, so to speak, beside the point.

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