Photo by Ashley Lodato
Dr. Easton performs acupuncture on a four-legged patient.

By Ashley Lodato

How does a geologist-computer geek-park ranger decide to become a holistic veterinarian?

In Dr. LaShelle Easton’s case, the inspiration was a beloved pet. When Cat Mandu fell ill with a chronic disease that didn’t respond to conventional veterinary medicine, Easton started exploring alternative treatments.

“My kitty was going to need a monthly shot for the rest of her life,” Easton says. “I just couldn’t really envision doing that.”

Easton was introduced to non-Western medical approaches in childhood by her Chinese mother. Then, after her cat became ill, she learned more about veterinary treatments like acupuncture and laser therapy. She eventually became intrigued enough to leave a 12-year career at Rocky Mountain National Park — as a natural history interpreter and computer programmer — to earn a degree from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

In taking a holistic approach, Easton considers multiple factors when treating an animal. “I look at what’s obviously wrong with the animal,” says Easton, “but I also look at the beliefs of the owner and the personality of the animal.”

Because Easton and other vets can’t speak directly with their patients, they rely on information provided by the pets’ owners and non-verbal cues from the animals. She takes a lot of time with each patient; the initial evaluation alone often takes 90 minutes.

Easton employs several different treatments in addition to basic examinations: acupuncture, low-level laser therapy, massage, traditional Chinese medicine, Western herbs and nutrition counseling.

Easton doesn’t see holistic veterinary medicine as a replacement for more conventional services. “We treat chronic problems,” says Easton. “We aren’t necessarily the vets to visit when you have animal emergencies.”

She suggests taking animals to one of the Methow Valley’s three traditional vets for emergencies, vaccines, blood work and other lab testing, while she focuses on longer-term issues and general animal well-being.

But if she is only vet available, she said, she is qualified to provide emergency care.

“I’m trained in both conventional Western medicine and alternative therapies,” she says. “I see how the two work together and complement each other.”

When Easton and her husband, artist Mark Easton, moved to the Methow Valley in the spring of 2016,  she says she met a number of residents who were taking their pets to the closest holistic vet, in Ellensburg. Many now come to Easton’s airy office across from the post office in Twisp.

The Eastons first learned of the Methow Valley when Mark Easton did a stand-up comedy show at the Twisp River Pub. “The next day Mark walked around, stopped at the bakery, poked in shops and liked what he saw,” says Easton. “We wanted to live in a small town with a strong community feel, with a good arts scene and which had political diversity.”

Easton and her husband are both involved in community theater, and just wrapped up a run of the Merc’s summer play. They also spend time gardening, reading and working on the fixer-upper house they purchased.

Most of Easton’s patients are pets and small animals but she will work with pigs, horses and cattle if needed.

She tries to establish a rapport with each patient during initial visits (“There are lots of treats involved,” she says.) and build trust by walking the animal through an unfamiliar experience, such as acupuncture. “I use permission points,” she says, “and it’s calming to the animal. It says ‘This is what I’m doing to you.’ You’d be surprised at how willing the animals are to come in again.”