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Maryland Dog Magazine

Holistic Approach to Animal Rescue

Jan 27, 2015 08:13PM
Holistic Approach to Animal Rescue

Bella’s Bully Buddies Animal Rescue: Treating the Whole Dog

By Melissa Trotman-Pfeifer


When we started Bella’s Bully Buddies dog rescue, our intention was very simple: we wanted to save the lives of wonderful dogs abandoned at local shelters. After our own adoption experience, we realized that most shelter animals were “pit bulls” and are less likely to be adopted as a result of undeserved media attention.


Bella’s Bully Buddies started in May 2012 with a few volunteers and a few dollars donated by the founders, with the goal of rescuing 30 dogs a year from our local shelters. We quickly drew interest from many wonderful local people and families who wanted to help and join our foster network and before we knew it, we had rescued 197 in our first year!


This level of success in saving abandoned dogs comes with a great responsibility. Many of the dogs we took into our care had serious medical conditions as a result of neglect and many had behavioral issues that needed to be sorted out. This meant we would need to recruit different types of professionals to teach us how to care for these dogs with an open minded and holistic approach. Giving attention to each dog’s mind, body, and spirit, caring for the whole dog in order to overcome these health and behavioral issues.


A Cornerstone to Bella’s rescue is training our foster families in caring for the whole dog, in addition to providing a loving home. Thanks to the amazing professionals who volunteer their time, our foster families have the opportunity to be trained in basic obedience skills and socialization, nutrition, vaccination protocols, and most recently, Reiki. Here are a few examples of how Bella’s has used a holistic approach to successfully care for our foster dogs.



A little over a year into our work, we took a dog into our care who had clearly suffered abuse and neglect for her whole life. Hailey was in much worse condition than most dogs we had rescued.  Her skin was black and crusty and she bled when you touched her. Her skin was so inflamed and infected that her whole body was bloated and swollen. Hailey’s physical condition was appalling, but her spirit was also in need of immediate attention. Hailey was very fearful of people and gave the impression that she had good reason not to trust humans. She got the standard veterinary care for her medical conditions right away, but she just wasn’t responding to the treatment and her fearful behavior was getting much worse.















If we didn’t find a way to get Hailey on the road to healing soon, we knew she wouldn’t make it. One of our trainers, Dave Cochran, of Show Me Your Dog Training, took Hailey into his home and started working on her fear of people. Dave hand fed Hailey and worked with her every day to build her confidence and trust in people. Her diet consisted of raw meat and vegetables, as any processed foods would  worsen her condition. While Dave was working on Hailey’s behavior and nutrition, I was looking for a holistic veterinarian who could provide a second opinion about her condition, because she had not improved on the antibiotics and steroids originally prescribed.  As a health care provider, I knew that antibiotics and steroids would further suppress Hailey’s immune system and could cause more harm.


We found Dr. Scott Sanderson at Animal Wellness Center, who practices homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, chiropractic, and other “alternative” therapies in addition to conventional veterinary medicine. Within five minutes of arriving to Animal Wellness Center, we knew we were in the right place, where the assistants were  kind and gentle people and the office has a therapeutic and supportive feel that made us comfortable right away.


Once we went into the consultation room with Hailey, Dr. Sanderson sat on a bench and invited Hailey to sit with him. This bald, mangy, stinky dog with scabs shedding everywhere was rolling around in Dr. Sanderson’s lap, we were thrilled to see how open he was to letting her become comfortable with him and how he started his exam and assessment without her even knowing. His first question was about her diet.  He approved of the raw diet , nutrition is the basic component of holistic care.  Although we were most concerned about Hailey’s skin, we needed to start her healing from the inside out, our plan for her would be based on strengthening her immune system. He approved of the fact that we had stopped her antibiotics and steroids, having seen that they were not helping.


Hailey’s new plan would involve continuing her raw diet and whole food supplements, adding high dose probiotic and digestive enzymes, homeopathy, acupuncture and Chinese herbs, and a natural medication to stimulate immune function. Dr. Sanderson diagnosed her with sarcoptic mange, a condition, not treated with antibiotics and worsened by steroids. As we suspected, her previous treatment would never have helped her and only could cause more harm.


Dave started noticing hair growth pretty much immediately after Hailey’s first treatment session with Dr. Sanderson and at the two week mark.  This dog, who  had not shown a bit of improvement in 6 weeks with conventional veterinary care, had shown incredible improvement in just two weeks with a holistic approach to her care.  Today, she is a happy, bouncy dog with a full coat of fur who lives with a wonderful foster family, including two senior dogs and foster parents Beth and John who have continued Hailey’s raw diet and regimen of supplements for the ongoing support and healing of her immune system.


Our experience with Hailey has changed the way we approach the care of all of our dogs.  After further research and discussion, we have adopted a vaccination protocol based on research that supports fewer vaccinations, minimized pesticide based preventatives and we provide education and resources to encourage our foster families to feed whole food or raw diets with whole food supplements. The response from our foster families has been amazing and as they see the difference this approach makes in their foster dogs, many have adopted the same practices for



their own furry companions. We have had several of our dogs blossom and make full recoveries from severe medical conditions under Dr. Sanderson’s care and now we have a more extensive network of acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutrition professionals and Reiki practitioners who help us to provide the best care for our dogs.



Trumpet, a young “pit bull” mix, recently came to our rescue after presenting  at a local shelter as a stray three times. Three families had failed Trumpet, but his spirit was still holding up, if not a little bruised. We got Trumpet into one of our experienced foster families where he immediately settled in enjoying the companionship of the family, including several other dogs. Trumpet had a couple of small masses that were growing, so we scheduled surgery to have them removed and sent for biopsy.  When Trumpet’s foster mom, Heidi, went to pick him up following surgery, she could see that he was very upset and had difficulty recovering from anesthesia and the trauma of surgery. She took him home and did everything she could to make him comfortable. The concern really set in a couple of days after surgery when Trumpet was still not acting like himself. The once happy, playful dog was trembling and timid and did not seem happy at all.


Heidi began to use Reiki to help Trumpet’s body and spirit heal from the trauma of surgery and other experiences he had previously that were causing his struggle. Trumpet accepted and responded well to the Reiki from the first treatment and he continues to accept treatments from Heidi.  After only a couple of weeks Trumpet is acting like the happy, playful dog he was prior to having surgery.


Opening our eyes and minds to a more holistic approach to caring for our animals has provided healing for them and an incredible peace of mind for those of us caring for them.


Bella’s Bully Buddies would like to thank BARCS for caring for Hailey when she arrived at the shelter and Jen Carle, Hailey’s sponsor and earliest advocate, for bringing Hailey to our attention and providing ongoing support for her care.  Bella’s would also like to thank Dave Cochran of Show me YOUR Dog Training, LLC for the countless hours of obedience training, he has provided for our foster parents and our foster dogs; as well as personally caring for our foster dogs. Bella’s would also like to thank Kathleen Lester of the Animal Reiki Alliance for providing Animal Reiki Training for our foster parents. And to all of our foster parents, thank you for taking these angels into your homes and caring for their body, mind and spirit.




Melissa Trotman-Pfeifer is a co-founder and Director of Bella’s Bully Buddies, a Nurse Practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the Division of Cardiac Surgery, a wife and stepmother.

Bella’s Bully Buddies, Inc. is an all-volunteer, non-profit rescue for dogs in need of loving families. To donate or to see our adoptable dogs, go to