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Karolina Weiss (left) and Dr Jin Rishan. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The sight of dogs strapped into wooden contraptions and getting pierced with acupuncture needles is just one of the unusual sights at an animal clinic in Shanghai"s Minhang district.

The other, is the sight of a petite German woman helping her Chinese colleagues to administer some of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments.

As part of an informal exchange program, Karolina Weiss gets to learn the ropes of TCM therapy for animals from Dr Jin Rishan, the head of TCM Neurology and Acupuncture Animal Health Center. In return, Weiss, who is currently an undergraduate student in animal physiotherapy, helps conduct physical therapy for the clinic"s furry patients.

According to Dr Jin, the clinic is the only one in China that specializes in treating dogs and cats with spine and nerve problems, and has treated around 2,000 animals since it was opened four years ago. Dr Jin treats between 15 and 20 patients every day, all of which are either partially lame or completely paralyzed. A standard therapy session spans around 40 minutes and involves acupuncture, electrotherapy and moxibustion.

Weiss, who is also a certified animal nutritionist and co-founder of Pawsome, a pet food company in Shanghai, said that the experience at the TCM clinic so far has been eye-opening, not simply because of the effectiveness of therapy, but because she has gotten the chance to see how the two cultures perceive disabled animals.

She pointed out that in China, people are more inclined to let their paralyzed dogs undergo lengthy treatment in hope that they would recover. In Germany, however, many owners view a disabled dog as an unhappy one, and as such would rather put them to sleep than prolong this perceived suffering.

But Weiss, who has two disabled dogs back home in Germany, does not share the same opinion as her compatriots.

"Dogs don"t care that they"re paralyzed. They still want treats. They still try to jump even though they"re in a wheelchair. And that"s because they don"t have this concept of self-pity," said the 31-year-old.

"Seeing how happy my Samoyed is in life despite her condition has changed my mind about handicapped animals. Before I met Sasa, my first reaction to such dogs was to put them to sleep, to end their suffering. But in reality, as long as dogs have someone to care for them, they"re happy."

While Weiss had always wanted to become a veterinarian, her grades weren"t good enough to gain admission to the course. As someone who loves languages, she turned her attention to learning Chinese.

As part of her degree in Chinese and business administration at Cologne University, Weiss went on exchange at Peking University in Beijing, and it was during this period that she made her first visit to Shanghai in 2008. She returned to the city in January 2012 and started work in the tourism industry before moving on to a German-Chinese joint automotive venture.

But her desire to work with animals never waned, and she decided to revisit this dream after learning from a German vet in Shanghai, Dr Stephanie Goltz, that she could become an animal physiotherapist without having to first become a vet.

Another reason behind this decision, said Weiss, was her belief that physiotherapy could be beneficial to Sasa, the Samoyed she adopted after it was abandoned in Pudong, Shanghai.

After returning to Germany to begin her studies in animal physiotherapy and alternative medicine, Weiss was approached by pet lovers in Shanghai who knew of her passion for disabled animals. A paralyzed golden retriever at the clinic was not responding to TCM therapy and volunteers were wondering if Weiss knew of any treatments in Germany that might yield results.

That was the first time Weiss learned of the TCM clinic, and she was so astounded by Jin"s achievements in helping paralyzed pets that she set her mind on learning about such therapy techniques. An informal exchange deal was soon struck. The German has done two "apprenticeship" stints this year and she plans to continue shuttling between Germany and Shanghai over the next few years to continue her lessons with Jin.

While the clinic does not claim to have a 100-percent success rate, Weiss can testify that these treatments do indeed help, having seen many dogs regain their ability to walk and even run after undergoing TCM therapy.

"Acupuncture works much better than other treatments, at least for cases involving nerve damage. Prior to my first session at the clinic, I saw a video that Dr Jin posted on his WeChat about a German Shepherd that suffered from a spinal disc problem. It could walk after just five days of treatment," said Weiss.

"In the Western world, the solution to such problems is usually surgery, following which the dog would still need to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation period. Being able to walk after just five days is just amazing."

A beige poodle named Lucky was undergoing its 10th and final treatment session at the clinic when Weiss was there in early December. According to the dog"s owner, Lin Luyu, the dog became lame after suddenly collapsing a few months ago.

When Weiss placed Lucky on the floor after removing the last of acupuncture needles from its body, the poodle did not merely walk over to its owner - it sprinted, then jumped excitedly as Lin tried to make payment. Another client who had just entered the clinic with his poodle witnessed the scene. He immediately gave Jin the thumbs-up.

"You see that?" said Weiss.

"That is why I"m here. Dr Jin is a wizard. He makes miracles happen."

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