Special Firsts—How Cotton the Dog and Romeo the Horse Taught Me to Use My Heart


By John Faherty, DC—HBI Board President


We all have firsts in our lives. Think back to some of yours—first home run, first girl/boyfriend, first car, first dance, first camping trip, first pet etc. One of my firsts was meeting Cotton and Romeo at the beginning of my animal chiropractic journey. This dog and horse would become my teachers about using the heart, only I didn’t realize it at the time.

As an animal chiropractor, I explained in Part 1 of my previous blog how I listen and feel by connecting to the heart. I allow my heart’s direct connection to guide me in what to do to best help the animal I have the honor of working with.

My animal chiropractic journey started with a PUG named Cotton

At the start of learning journey, I got a mid-morning call from Brad, the owner of an 11-year-old female Pug named Cotton. When he asked me if I’d look at his sweet girl, I told him that I wasn’t really working on animals yet as I was just a beginner at animal chiropractic, having only attended one of the 5 four-day modules for certification. Undeterred, Brad went on to explain that nobody was sure what was happening with Cotton, but it was awful. He continued, “My veterinarian said there’s nothing to do but euthanize her and we were hoping chiropractic could help. Her neck is incredibly stiff and sore, she screams when we put her down, and she tries to stand on her front legs. We have the euthanasia appointment later today.”

A Pug named Porky — a client of Dr. John who gets adjusted regularly

My immediate response was to see Cotton, and again I reminded her owners that I was just beginning this journey. So, after my morning of human patients, I met Brad and Cotton, who was burrowed in the crook of his arm. When he put Cotton down, she cried out in pain. She was unable to walk and had a very stiff neck and shoulders. He scooped her back up and she began to relax. Clearly a neck problem in my mind.

From self-talk and self-doubt to heartful surrender

Well, I had been to the one animal chiropractic module at Options for Animals, and instead of the neck and upper spine, the class happened to be studying the other end—the pelvis and sacrum. And although I didn’t yet feel adequate in any way with animals, having been given some basic information in canine neck anatomy and looking at skeletons at my one class, I closed my eyes and with much self-talk and self-doubt, I surrendered. I was okay with not knowing.

Then I naturally let my fingers do what they had done with people for 20 years and adjusted Cotton’s neck. Those of you that have had chiropractic adjustments know that there is often an audible release, and the soreness and range of motion begins to return, usually over time. However, with animals, there is usually no audible release due to the different angles of the joints in a horizontal spine. Yet, when I adjusted Cotton there was a VERY LOUD RELEASE and the self-talk began again…. “What were you thinking? You could have made this worse!” And on and on. I told Brad I had no idea what to expect and he could be keeping the euthanasia appointment, but at least wait until the morning.

The next day, the anticipation of finding out about Cotton was foremost on my mind. Brad reported that after they went home, Cotton was still hurting and have difficulty, but in the middle of the night, she shook her head and jumped down off the bed and ran off! With tears of relief, we made a treatment plan for Cotton. She continued to improve after a couple more adjustments, and along with some exercises, Cotton lived for another four years happy and with a great quality of life. I am so grateful to this sweet girl for being the first one to teach me about surrendering what I think I know or don’t know and letting the innate, heart directed action work.

Porky the Pug at a chiropractic visit

Romeo, Romeo—My first horse success story

Like Cotton, I got a call from Romeo’s owner, Maggie, and was informed that this 23-year-old Apex quarter horse was slated to be euthanized. With whiskers protruding from his snout in all directions, he looked rough. Romeo would only walk on flat surfaces and only circle to the right, putting very little weight on his right hind leg. He was very unsteady, almost falling over, and would take very small narrow steps. He had stopped eating and was losing weight. His condition had progressively worsened over about six months.

The veterinarians were not able to help. Romeo was Maggie’s best friend, and they had won enough competitions while she was in college to cover most of her educational expenses. She asked me to please look at Romeo. Explaining I was very new to animal chiropractic (this was maybe a month after I had seen Cotton), I agreed to come see Romeo. When I arrived, my eyes met the eyes of this sweet being. It was a profound moment, and I will never forget this look of sadness mixed with a palpable glimmer of hope. I watched Romeo walk and felt this was a sacral problem. I adjusted his sacrum and just like in Cotton’s case, there was a loud audible release. And again, there was lots of self-talk and self-doubt…

The next morning when I spoke with Maggie, she was so happy. She said that when she went into the barn, “Romey” (her name for him) was just lying in his stall and laid his head on her lap. After a few minutes, he got up, did a full body shake, and ran up to the top of a hill! He continued to improve over the next several months and when Maggie sent me a picture of her riding Romeo, my heart felt so full. He lived another six years until he lost his teeth and eating became difficult.

Infinite gratitude for my first animal teachers

The gift of these animals was the beginning of using my heart as a directive in my work and in my life. Listening, connecting, feeling, and letting my mind relax. Thinking in the scientific model—the process of figuring things out using my rational mind—was now becoming less and less important or useful. Opening my heart center allowed me to connect deeper and more directly with my animal (as well as people) patients. I will be forever grateful to Cotton and Romeo for being my early teachers.