Dr Liza Schneider was one of the first veterinarians in the country to offer a controversial holistic approach to veterinary medicine, and the first Kiwi vet to establish a charitable wildlife trust.


Animal guru Dr Liza Schneider usually has the magic touch, but not today.

"Shmoo …," she pleads in search of her stocky, white tomcat.

When she finds Shmoo, one of four resident cats at Tauranga's Holistic Vets, he immediately looks suspicious.

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His senses are heightened when she holds him up for our poised photographer, and all four of Shmoo's legs flick out like a starfish.

He is sympathetically released, and thunders away in the manner of a galloping horse.

Understanding is something that brown-haired visionary Schneider both has, and requests.

Her Bay of Plenty clinic, Holistic Vets, opened in 2003 and was the first of its kind in New Zealand to offer the best of both worlds: conventional medicine and surgery, alongside "complementary therapies" like acupuncture and homoeopathy.

She is president of the New Zealand Veterinary Association's Complementary Veterinary Medicine Branch, and is one of a handful outside the mainstream to offer complementary therapy services to assist sick and injured animals.

She's a "unique vet" and does it proudly, even if it bugs some of her veterinary colleagues.

She's had to fight to be seen as credible, and not as a "hippy", when she says all she's aimed to do is use every tool at her disposal to help improve her patients' lives.

Schneider has had to fight to be seen as credible in her industry, and not as a
Schneider has had to fight to be seen as credible in her industry, and not as a "hippy". Photo / Andrew Warner

As a result, she has a growing client base, and has seen quality of life improved "substantially" by making use of complementary therapies.

The problem for therapies, like homoeopathy, is they're not backed up with scientific evidence to the same standard as conventional medicines, and that doesn't fly with medical and veterinary scientists who say they're 'unproven' treatments.

The Veterinary Council of New Zealand, on its website, says: In considering the use of alternative or complementary methods of diagnosis or treatment the welfare of the animal is paramount.

The council says where a veterinarian chooses to use alternative or complementary methods of diagnosis or treatment the client must be able to make an informed decision about whether to proceed. Therefore the veterinarian making this choice must inform the client of the nature of the alternative treatment offered; and the extent to which it is consistent with conventional medicine.

Schneider has built up a mutual respect with local colleagues, some of who send her referrals, but elsewhere she's been belittled on veterinary forums.

She's also recently been at the centre of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about claims on her clinic's website, but the complaint was not upheld by the ASA.

"This is an area that really breaks my heart, because there is such an opportunity for us to step up and help animals, but many of our veterinary colleagues don't look outside their little square, because they don't want to be considered unprofessional," she says. "We need to move towards being a profession that respects each other."

She sees patients from as far afield as Foxton, as well as offering over the phone consultations for out-of-towners who can't travel.

It's one thing to spend a fortune on an animal, and do diagnostic and surgical procedures, but in her opinion sometimes right medicine isn't doing the right thing by an animal.

"We can do all these fancy things and use all this medication, but really, if Fifi is 14 years old, this animal is not having an easy time, (and) the kind thing is to weigh up another option."

Around the same time that she opened Holistic Vets, she became the founding trustee of Animal Rescue Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC), a charitable trust which sets about treating and rehabilitating wildlife.

ARRC is believed to be the first wildlife trust established by a veterinarian in New Zealand, and one of the few organisations to bring together conservation, animal welfare and sustainability.

Schneider is the founding trustee of Animal Rescue Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC), which is believed to be the first wildlife trust established by a veterinarian in New Zealand. Photo / Andrew Warner
Schneider is the founding trustee of Animal Rescue Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC), which is believed to be the first wildlife trust established by a veterinarian in New Zealand. Photo / Andrew Warner

The charity works alongside the Department of Conservation, and cares for mainly birds (700-plus a year), but has also treated wetas, skinks, frogs, albatross, kaka, morepork, Bittern chicks and shags. "Always time for a shag," Schneider quips. ARRC has also helped address stray cat issues.

Managing a charitable trust is "really hard", particularly managing personalities, and she doesn't mean the stroppy and unforgiving wildlife.

She's talking about the demands of the public who can be rude to ARRC's 40 volunteers, who are often stretched giving their time.

"It's actually really rare to find (the right) people, and they are very precious gems."

Ultimately the business, Holistic Vets, bleeds for the charitable trust. Every year, they donate in excess of $50,000 worth of services, while they receive "a few thousand" in donations.

Originally from South Africa, Schneider grew up with a conservationist father, who fostered a love of sustainability and animals.

She and brothers, Gav and David, had a pet gerbil, goose, dogs, cats, snakes, tortoises, a chameleon and even a monkey.

The monkey's name was Ikey and was one day seen getting amorous with one of Schneider's cats.

The cat got pregnant and Schneider and her two brothers excitedly anticipated "mon-cats" to be delivered, only to be disappointed when they were kittens.

She originally wanted to be a marine biologist growing up, but with so many pets, it made her feel helpless not knowing what to do with them when they got sick.

"The first thing I had to do was become a vet," she says.

She qualified as a vet at age 24, and moved to New Zealand in 2000, with her now ex-husband, who was searching for greener pastures away from South Africa.

Two years prior, Schneider's stepdad, Dave, had been shot and killed in a hijacking in Africa, with the bullet that killed him also narrowly missing her mother, Ingrid. Her father, Rob, had also been hijacked in several separate incidents, but survived.

"It was really, really awful. Life is cheap and that kind of violence happens. There's heartache in that land, but yet it's such a beautiful, magnificent place."

She is big on education, and is passionate talking. Everything is told at speed, and with a wide grin.

She's featured on the YouTube channel, M.A.D Vets, is a public speaker, runs online courses and writes blogs, and has written books - You Can Do It!!! (a guide to losing body fat and maintaining optimal health), and her autobiography, Vet Tails, which provides anecdotes of patient success.

She's also penned 10 children's books on real-life cases at ARRC, illustrated by local artists who donated their time, and she's looking for corporate sponsors to get the books into schools.

Schneider has penned 10 children's books on real-life cases at ARRC, illustrated by local artists who donated their time. Photo / Stuart Whitaker
Schneider has penned 10 children's books on real-life cases at ARRC, illustrated by local artists who donated their time. Photo / Stuart Whitaker

She's social media savvy, and posts regular videos on Facebook - some quite humorous.

A recent video told the story of Ernie, the brown sausage dog, who suffering tummy trouble, needed a laparotomy, which showed he'd been eating underwear. Left behind in his gut was the crotch of a g-string.

Downstairs in her bright, airy and warm hospital area, are three animals awaiting various types of treatment or surgery. Cats, Chippy and Peakachoo; and coughing poodle Geordie, whose chest is covered in a hot pink jumper.

Mr Gins, a ginger cat, is back from castration surgery, and is lying on his stomach under a blue and red polar fleece blanket, covering his body up to his neck. A miniature hot water bottle is resting against his side.

In another nearby room is gold and black flecked dog Cletus, a crossbreed from Whakatane, who was hit by a car and paralysed.

Schneider hops down on to the floor at eye level with Cletus, who alert and content, pulls his head up to greet her reassuring voice.

Cletus' owner is hoping hyperbaric oxygen therapy will help him walk again, and he's already regained use of his front legs.

Schneider introduced hyperbaric oxygen therapy for animals to New Zealand, after seeing what she believed were positive results from the therapy on humans.

Her hyperbaric oxygen chamber for animals is one of two in the country - the other being in Nelson. They are the first known two to be dedicated to animal use in the southern hemisphere.

Schneider introduced hyperbaric oxygen therapy for animals to New Zealand, having known of positive results from the therapy, on humans. Photo / Andrew Warner
Schneider introduced hyperbaric oxygen therapy for animals to New Zealand, having known of positive results from the therapy, on humans. Photo / Andrew Warner

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a way of delivering a high concentration of oxygen to all the cells in the body. Proponents believe it has various physiological effects, and acts to decrease inflammation, promotes healing and can aid the central nervous system.

Schneider tells the story of a cat that died under anaesthesia, was resuscitated, and woke up disoriented and partly brain damaged.

The cat had hyperbaric treatment and Schneider says she then observed it making an almost full recovery, apart from remaining deaf.

In her opinion, the treatment also helped Tauranga bulldog Fubu, who was injured after running into a bank at high-speed, while chasing a possum. After being told by two veterinarians that the dog should be euthanised, Fubu's owner turned to Schneider.

She treated Fubu, who was in and out of consciousness, with a number of therapies, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and after her first treatment she went home, lifted her head and ate a meal. After her second session, she wagged her tail. Fubu went on to walk again, with only a slight limp.

Schneider became interested in holistic therapies after years of playing sports and having to go on bedrest when she got injured.

"It didn't go down too well, so my parents would take me to a chiropractor or osteopath, and within a few days, I'd be back on sports field. (Also) my younger brother, Gav, had asthma but the only thing that helped him was homoeopathy.

"So at that age, I saw that if there's a will, there's a way, and you don't just have to accept conventional medicine as the be all and end all."

She predicts the demand for complementary and alternative health therapies will soar, as pet owners keep on demanding choice.

"People want complementary therapies for themselves and their animals. As a profession, if we don't take this seriously, we're going to be cut short more and more."

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