Dr. Basko – A Different Kind of Vet
Aloha! We thought we’d take an interview style approach to introduce you to Dr. Basko (also known as Dr. B). Read Amber Mira’s interview with Dr. B to learn about his past, his principles, and a few personal facts you might not have been aware of!
AM (Amber Mira): So Dr. B, what brought you to the field of veterinary medicine?
DRB (Dr. Basko): Well, I originally planned on becoming a human medical doctor, but fate led me to a poker game with my friend Dennis and his friends. We were both in college – he was going for dentistry, and me for pediatric medicine…until I worked as an orderly in one of our local hospitals. I was so distraught from the experience, that I dropped out of “pre-med” and changed my major to biochemistry. During the poker game, I told Dennis that I really love medicine, biology, nature, and animals, but I was disappointed that I wouldn’t deal with all of those regularly as a biochemist.
“Why don’t you go into veterinary medicine?” replied Dennis. “What’s that?” I said.
I grew up in a lower middle-class family as the son of a factory worker; we never took our pets to a vet. I don’t think my parents actually knew of such a profession. My father was a farmer who immigrated to this country after WWII. He instinctively knew a lot about caring for animals.
AM: Oh nice! What might you have gone into career-wise, if not the medical field?
DRB: At the time of veterinary school, I was still playing in about five different bands, one of them my own ‘2nd best in Detroit’ polka band. I also played classical mandolin, cello in a mandolin orchestra, clarinet in a classical music orchestra, bass fiddle for a men’s chorus, and accordion for a women’s dance troupe, so I might have ended up being a professional musician! The accordion was King!
AM: Haha! That’s great! So, how did you get your start in holistic medicine?
DRB: I was working in many different veterinary hospitals and helped with some research in the modalities of cardiology, opthalmology, orthopedic and general surgery. I managed one of the largest state-of-the-art emergency clinics in San Jose. Stress was at a premium. We saw all the most difficult cases. People were stressed. Animals suffered, and I was able to give the best care, science, and technology that money could buy. But something was missing. I went on a search for that missing element, and kept asking the question: “What’s missing in medicine?”
Living in LA afforded me the opportunity to attend UCLA night school after work. I had heard that there were cultures that had a reputation for health, longevity, and spiritual practices. I then studied Buddhism, Taoist philosophy, Hinduism and Yoga. Yoga changed my life! And I was introduced to a whole new world of healing practices I had never heard of before.
What I found was missing was a focus on caring for geriatric dogs and cats (and horses too) in medicine. Besides drugs and a prescription diet…that’s it for options for aging animals! Oriental medicine and philosophy conveyed to me key ideas of eating fresh food and less processed foods, that true cooking is putting love into your food, that all beings are Blessed and should be respected, and that exercise is an important part of life. I also learned about meditation, intentional healing, the use of energy to heal, and the disciplines of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.
At the time, I was primarily a surgeon. I had a friend with severe migraines who was stuck on pain killers and wanted to go off them. UCLA needed volunteers for an experiment at the UCLA medical center, and wanted people who had pain, were non-Asian, and who would commit to 10 treatments of acupuncture to treat pain. At the time, they thought that acupuncture therapy was just a placebo effect – or that it only worked on people of Asian background.
Later, I heard that they needed vets for animal experiments using acupuncture to treat pain, and that’s when I committed to a 2-year study supported by the California Veterinary Medical Association and UCLA. I volunteered along with about 40 other veterinarians from all over the country, and we treated pets who were paralyzed.
AM: Wow…It’s hard to believe that UCLA held that theory back then!
So what happened next?
DRB: Well, the animals got better! No placebo here. They either walked or they did not. Of about 2,500 animals, we had a 65% rate of significant positive effects and improvement – and without the use of steroids or pain killers. Overall, 84% of the animals showed signs of improvement, and were better than they started.
The research study included a 2-year training program in acupuncture. After that, I began to look at it more as a complementary treatment for many of my patients – especially for old pets in pain.
While participating in this study, I was managing an emergency clinic /specialty veterinary hospital, studying Chinese food therapy, nutrition, and learning Aikido. But, I still felt that something was missing in my own personal approach to my career. At the time, I was stressed out and needed a break. So, I went camping with my three dogs in the Pacific Northwest to think my life through and assess the situation.
It was on that long camping trip, that I meditated, walked in the woods with my dogs, and began to read James Herriot’s novel, “All Creatures Great and Small.” I discovered the power of house calls and treating animals in the home environment. I found that to be another key element missing from traditional medicine. I realized that to make pets feel comfortable and safe, veterinarians needed to make their exam room environment “animal friendly” and duplicate the home environment in their hospitals, instead of having everything so sterile. When I came back from my camping trip, I quit my job as surgeon and director, and began to do house calls.
AM: Did you then take on additional training, internships, etc.?
DRB: Yes I did. Animal courses in holistic medicine were not available at the time. The word holistic did not even exist. So I studied with many different human nutritionists, acupuncturists, and Oriental medicine physicians for many years while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I worked as a volunteer at a human acupuncture clinic for about four years, and studied many facets of Eastern medicine theory in weekend courses such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, diet therapy, acupuncture, meditation, and energy theory. I even spent some time learning how to cook from the monks at Tassajara Hot Springs.
AM: What other experiences did you have in your career as a vet?
DRB: I worked with incredibly beautiful and intelligent racehorses in Northern California. Some of the more progressive racehorse owners thought that acupuncture would give them a competitive advantage. Using acupuncture and lasers, I treated many horse injuries. One thing acupuncture did not do is make horses run faster. I found this out the hard way by betting I could make them run faster. I also learned not to bet on the horse you treat…it’s bad luck! Sometimes the horses won anyhow, because they at least felt great after treatments!
AM: Haha! That’s a good story! Let’s change gears here.
When did you start working in Hawaii?
DRB: I started working on Oahu first, although we lived on Kauai. Our pets were in quarantine, so we had to visit them on weekends. We stayed at a photographer’s house who was gone filming in Africa. He told his journalist friend about my holistic practice, and she wanted to do a story about it in Hawaii Magazine. When the article came out, I had many calls for help. So, besides visiting our pets, I started doing house calls in Honolulu in 1988.
My current practice was founded in 1990, but I had a few other clinics in Hawaii before I began this one. Hurricane Iniki on Kauai caused me to move my clinic four times to different areas of the island. Much of my career has been spent doing house call appointments, as I think it is a better option for very sick or elderly animals who can’t handle the stress of coming into a traditional clinic.
AM: What is the most exotic animal you’ve worked with?
DRB: Llamas – definitely. It was a big fad in Silicon Valley during the dot com era where many professionals were adopting llamas into their families. Turns out, llamas can be pretty unfriendly to strangers! I didn’t see many llamas after my first few experiences with them…they don’t tolerate acupuncture needles well, most aren’t socialized to new people, and they do spit!
AM: Tell us about your own pets… how many have you had at a time?
Any special memories you want to share?
DRB: Well, I once had four cats, three dogs, and two birds with me. There wasn’t much room for a girlfriend in there! This was during my early days as a vet, and I used to have a king-sized mattress in my living room to share with my pets (they were bed hogs)! I’ve had several Dobermans – they have great personalities. I also once went to a farm to buy a horse, and came home with an Airedale puppy instead. Most of my pets were rescues – either from the local pound or pets that were dropped off at our clinic and ditched by their former owners. I have fond memories of my Border Collie – she stuck around for 24 years! I attribute that to her home-cooked diet and the four-mile runs we used to do daily. I also love to cook and prepare food for my pets, and take walks in the woods with my dogs.
AM: 24 years old for a medium-sized dog?! That’s amazing!
DRB: Yes, and I aim to help all of my patients live as long, or longer!