In a 30-meter-square room near the dog training center of the university, Van, 88, is showing her students how to insert thin acupuncture needles into specific points along the body of eight cats and dogs sprawled on a table.
Touching the paralyzed leg of Mom Do (Red Muzzle), Hoang, her student, sticks a needle into the dog’s skin as its emits a soft whine.
“Be a good boy, grandma loves you,” Van tells the dog as she rubs its head.
Walking around the room, she helps other students with their acupuncture skills. According to the retired lecturer, animals, just like humans, also need physical therapy and acupuncture to recover.
Van’s students at work at the clinic. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
Van, among the first generation of lecturers at the Hanoi-based university, has years of experience treating animals with acupuncture. After retirement, she opened a clinic at home, attracting a myriad of patrons and university students seeking to learn from the senior vet.
Overwhelmed by the huge response, Van asked the department of veterinary medicine where she used to work to lend her a larger room so she could teach students and treat more animals.
In 2012, she was offered a small building in the school’s dog training center, in which she set up her veterinary clinic.
“The clinic’s goal is to develop acupuncture techniques and help students improve their skills, so they could cure more unfortunate animals,” Van maintained.
She added the clinic used to have no tables, chairs, or medicine cabinets, with all the equipment sourced by her students and herself over the following years.
Their first “customers” were abandoned cats and dogs saved by students, Van recalled.
Time after time, more and more people from Hanoi and other localities learnt about Van’s clinic and brought their pets over for treatment.
Teacher Van demonstrates some acupuncture techniques. Photo by VnExpres/Nguyen Ngoan.
The clinic has received additional financial support from local firms, which have supplied medicines and helped renovate the clinic.
“Sometimes we would treat 30 pets at once, prompting students to work in shifts, even at the weekend.”
After nearly a decade, in declining health, Van still travels to the clinic every day, her eyes fixed on her students and small charges.
“Most pets here suffer from paralysis, metabolic dysfunction, urinary retention, epilepsy, etc.,” Van noted.
Her day normally starts at 7.30 a.m., overseeing cleaning of the clinic and feeding of the animals.
“The students arrive earlier than me – they clean the clinic, bathe the animals, and disinfect their wounds.”
Later, cats and dogs are treated with acupuncture and massage. Acupuncture starts at 9 a.m., under Van’s keen gaze.
After 20 days of acupuncture, the four-pawed “customers” have a ten-day rest before recommencing treatment and recovery.
A paralyzed dog and his wheelchair design by Van and her students. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
Talking about challenges, Van, having worked on bigger animals like pigs, cows, and horses before, said acupuncture points in cats and dogs are tiny, requiring extreme precision.
Most dogs and cats taken in by the clinic are paralyzed, frequently lashing out at or biting acupuncturists during treatment.
To avoid injury, the animals are often secured to acupuncture tables, sometimes merely by hand.
Most animals are successfully treated, some are not. To help the unlucky one move about, Van and her students have created several tiny wheelchairs using plastic pipes.
Treatment is entirely free, Van said. Pet owners only need to pay for their food during treatment.
“My students and I treat the animals for free, only charging our customers a fee to feed their pets,” she said.
From a small number of animals in its early days, the clinic now treats hundreds from many provinces.
Tran Hoang, 25, a senior student at the department of veterinary medicine, said he heard about the clinic from a friend and has lent a helping hand for more than two years.
To Hoang, Van is both a teacher and a strict grandmother with an enormous love for animals, supporting her students as best she could before they graduate and start their own careers.