Norman Allan
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Professor Savage and the Wild: (1986)

Tara was an eleven year old husky, but Tara, when I met her, wasn't well. She had a "foot drop" and hind limb incoordination that was getting worse month by month. The vet called it a "myelopathy", which means a disease of the spinal cord. He said it was progressive, and he said that it was terminal. Tara was not due to recover. Judy, Tara's mistress, for her own health care uses "alternative" medical therapies; for instance, chiropractic. I'm her chiropractor. As orthodox veterinary medicine has nothing to offer Tara, I offered to take a look at her and render a second opinion.

My clinical examination didn't tell us much more than we already knew, but I felt there were three therapies worth researching. The first thing that came to mind was acupuncture, and, speaking with a veterinary friend, I learned that there are claims that acupuncture can reverse these "irreversible" canine myelopathies. But finger pressure (shiatsu) to the relevant acupoints seemed to trouble rather than help Tara's complaint, so this would not be our first choice of treatment. Homeopathy was another possibility, and this was the path we eventually took with considerable success, at least until now four months on. However, homeopathy was not the avenue that led me to Dr. Savage, and I wish to tell you about Dr. Savage - that is the point of this story - so I will leave the consideration of that marvelous and mysterious medical discipline, homeopathy, for another time. It was manual medicine, chiropractic, that led me to the Professor.

Professor Savage runs the University of Toronto Faunal Museum. There they keep specimens of all of Canada's birds and mammals. If I was going to consider adjusting Tara's spine, I needed to study the anatomy of the canine vertebral column. The Faunal Museum was the place I could do that, and there I met Dr. Savage. Doc Savage's main research is the study of animal remains at archeological sites. Through the examination of specimens he can tell what animals the native people and settlers were hunting, and domesticating, in the various stages of our history. Some while ago the Doc dug up a vertebra of a husky from a four thousand year old site on an arctic island. The vertebra, from the thoraco-lumbar junction, that's where the ribs end and the low back begins, round the waist, showed osteoarthritic changes and Professor Savage speculated that the changes were due to the dog working in harness pulling a sledge. "Nonsense", said a group of straight-laced scientists when Savage presented his theory. "How can you generalize from one specimen?" So the Professor analyzed the spines of three working dogs and three non-working dogs from the same breeding community, and sure enough it checked out. The working dogs all showed hypertrophic osteophytic degenerative changes in their thoraco-lumbar regions. The "controls" did not. Now that's interesting in a general sense for it demonstrates that if you suffer a lot of physical stress your spine is going to show osteoarthritic changes. But I guess we knew that. What we didn't know at all was that Eskimo's have been harnessing dogs for more than four thousand years:

So I spent a while examining the vertebral column of a husky, and decided that spinal adjustment wasn't the most appropriate therapy for Tara; though I did learn from that study that when one adjusts or mobilizes dogs it should be done in flexion rather than extension. But then, while I was there. Dr. Savage showed me some of his prize specimens, and these were fascinating, and it is one of these that I wanted to tell you of.

Doctor Savage showed me the rib of a whale, not far off the size and shape of a boomerang. It was smooth and weathered as though it had spent a good while brushed by the sea, and it had great tumourus bony overgrowth. It was found on a thousand year old arctic site, and it has been carbon dated as one thousand years old. Something felt odd about this specimen to Dr. Savage when he was given it along with this information, for, says the doctor he has never seen a cancerous growth in the bones of wild animals! Domestic animals, yes. Pets too. But not in the wild. Not yet. No doubt they are begin to be seen as pollution spreads into the wilderness, but as of this writing, there is not yet an industrial haze at the North Pole. So far Professor Savage hadn't seen bone cancer in the wild, so he was suspicious when presented with a purportedly thousand year old cancerous whale bone. Being a man who pursues his suspicions (I guess it is this that makes
him a scientist), he x-rays the specimen and found two metallic densities in it. He carefully carved a tunnel into the bone and extracted a lead slug and a copper cartridge of a type in use perhaps ninety years ago.

Ninety years ago someone shot the whale, but didn't kill it. It grew a bony tumor, not as a cancer, but to seal off the poisonous heavy metals of the bullet. When it died its bones weathered on shore, someone picked up the rib, and threw it onto a thousand year old midden where it would confound later day archeologists. But not Doc Savage, who thought to look deeper.

There are, of course, morals and messages. The one I want to wave is the link between "technology" and cancer. Artificial foods, artificial chemicals, artificial stress are deadly. Remember this when considering the fruits of civilization. Remember Dr. Savage and the wild.