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Animal Chiropractic

Animal Chiropractic

Ensuring critters benefit from chiropractic care, too:

Maria McElwee, D.C.

by Beverly Knight

Animal ChiropracticMaria McElwee

Maria McElwee, D.C., ’14, has always had a love and passion for two things: chiropractic and animals. Her dream-come-true is that after graduating from Sherman she has been able to successfully marry those two passions in her career.

McElwee grew up in Conyngham, PA. Her mother, Joanne Gallagher, D.C., ’82, and her uncle, John Degenhart, D.C., ’80, ensured that she grew up “with the chiropractic lifestyle.” In fact, one of her earliest memories as a child is that she would pretend to “adjust” family members. And she would always dress as a chiropractor on career days in grade school. “I loved everything about it,” she says.

But it was the love of animals that permeated her young life. “I think that was instilled by my parents, especially my dad,” she says. “They taught my siblings and me to always be compassionate and caring. Life was to be respected.” She was the kid who, while walking to the school bus in the morning would pick up all the earthworms off the road after it had rained so they wouldn’t be run over by cars. And she clearly remembers almost getting her thumb broken protecting a spider that someone was trying to smash with a dictionary.

Her father, a carpenter, would bring home animals that had been uprooted or injured on the job site and she would nurse them back to health and take care of them until they could survive on their own. “My parents would always tell me that I had a bond with animals that they had never seen before, and I didn’t think anything of it.” She had barn cats and one of her pet chickens would even hike with her, she says, adding, “I never had normal pets, but I always had an understanding with animals.”

McElwee completed her undergraduate studies at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. Because she knew she wanted to go to chiropractic school, she chose a degree program that would include the prerequisites through the core classes or electives, graduating with a B.S. in exercise science. And, best of all, attending Bloomsburg meant that she could continue doing 4-H and drill team with her horse.

Her family connection to Sherman was a factor in choosing the school for her chiropractic education. She had grown up attending Lyceum with her family and had great memories of the time spent at Sherman when she was younger. Those memories, coupled with Sherman’s dedication to personal attention, led her to the decision to attend, a decision she never regretted. “They always gave you the one-on-one attention when you needed it and made you feel like family,” McElwee says of the instructors who were always available and helped her successfully complete her degree program.

Selling her horse, the animal she calls the love of her life was the hardest thing she had to do as she was preparing to enroll at Sherman, even though she knew she would still be able to see him on occasion. “Animals were always a big part of my life,” McElwee says, explaining that giving up her horse broke her heart. “During chiropractic school, it was hard with all the strays that were around. I was always helping with the animals when I could,” she remembers. “My friends would pick at me because I acquired quite the ‘furbaby’ family by the end of school. We are one happy family and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says of the animals that have always been her love and her passion.

“I had an interest in working with animals through chiropractic, even though at Sherman, I focused on people,” McElwee explains. As graduation approached, she decided to look into animal chiropractic as an option and saw that it would be possible to make her dream a reality. Following that dream, McElwee enrolled at Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic in Wellsville, KS, after graduating from Sherman in fall 2014. She completed her coursework there, becoming internationally certified in animal chiropractic. She is quick to point out, though, that she maintains her “human” license while living her dream of working with animals.

That understanding she developed with animals as a child serves her well in her professional life. Critter Chiropractic, her mobile animal chiropractic practice, located in Sugarloaf, PA, close to her family home, allows her to go to horse barns to keep people from having to trailer their animals. “People appreciate me coming to the house when their cat or dog needs care or is nervous to travel,” she says of the successful practice that she has grown in the area. “I see myself down the road having a farm where people can bring their animals to receive chiropractic care and other beneficial care by holistic practitioners,” she says of her dreams for the future. “But I will always offer mobile services for the care of animals that need it.”

When she started her work with animals, she discovered that they benefit from chiropractic care in the same ways that people do. “They are exposed to physical, chemical and emotional stressors of daily living, and that has an effect on their nervous systems,” she explains, adding that caring for animals is made difficult by the fact that they are so good at hiding pain and compensating for it, something they do instinctively. “They are silent sufferers and amaze me every day with what they endure. It is the best feeling in the world when I am able to give their body what it needs to start the healing process.” The reward for her is seeing animals relax and “get the joy and brightness in their eyes again.” It continually amazes her that the animals relax and trust her to work on them.

Though all of her patients touch her heart, she remembers some of whom chiropractic care was life-changing. One, a little corgi in a cart supporting his hind side was one of her first patients. Everyone had given up hope on him except his owner, who thought that chiropractic could help him. In the beginning, he couldn’t walk or support himself in the hind end. After the first appointment, he started to support himself and stand. After the second one, he started to walk and improvement continued. “To see him trotting around would bring tears to my eyes. He amazed me with the healing within his body. Every day is wonderful when I see changes like this, big or small,” McElwee says of the rewards she reaps in her professional life.

Her advice to other students about to embark on their professional lives is to follow their dreams and passions, no matter where they lead. And, she says, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. Anything is possible when you put all of your heart and soul into it. That will always shine through. The most important thing, though, is to believe in yourself, because that is all that matters in the end.”

*Previously published in Sherman Magazine Fall 2016

Sherman College Strives to Offer Excellence

Sherman College Strives to Offer Excellence

We are Different

Board of TrusteesPeter Kevorkian, D.C.
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Iremember my first day in chiropractic college. Excited to be starting a journey into a profession I knew little about, I sat in a room with more than 150 other students as the college went through the process of collating us into the academic system.


Staff members from admissions, the registrar, financial aid and others came to explain the logistics and protocols of the college. With that, student representatives from the major clubs also gave short presentations attempting to entice us to participate in their groups. Most memorable on that day, for me, was the presentation of the philosophy and communications club.

This 15-minute patient education lecture changed my life. The person presented an old chart lecture developed by Reggie Gold, “Attitudes that Keep You from Becoming Healthy.” I had never heard the chiropractic story as a whole package. After that talk, I made a commitment to myself to learn how to do that talk. I spent the next number of months developing the words, getting over my fears, and dealing with my introverted nature to learn how to do a patient lecture.

I came to believe that if people could know what I know, they would do what I do. I knew that children should be checked and adjusted from birth, that chiropractic is about creating well-being and not treating disease, that the intelligence of the life is infinite and the educated mind is finite, and most importantly that the body is always better off with good nerve supply than bad nerve supply. Although I got quite good at talking TIC and answering questions in an effective and congruent manner, I knew that the true test of my competency would be when I was in my own practice.

Although there are many pieces to creating and sustaining a successful chiropractic practice, I firmly believe the cornerstone of a subluxation-centered, family practice focused on building well-being is effective patient education. Our articulation must be congruent with our practice objectives and philosophical tenets. I also know that the educational process needs to happen without judgment and at an appropriate gradient.

When a person enters our practice, they often do so because they want relief or resolve some problem or disorder of the body. As chiropractors, we attempt to move the person from a mindset of “get rid of my problem or medical condition” to “help me have a healthier, better functioning spine.” We strive to have the person move from thinking, “I trust the doctor and the treatment he/she gives me,” to “I trust that my body knows how to do everything perfectly right.”

Education of our unique service is more than a conceptual one. The chiropractor needs to make real the spine and the benefit of a healthy spine. As the patient understands a subluxation, they take a huge step in embracing the uniqueness of our service.

Caution must be taken, though, to not create the “subluxation condition.” Patients may come to us for low back pain or headaches or bedwetting and we replace the medical condition with the subluxation. A subluxation should be corrected because a subluxation in a person’s spine keeps them from fully expressing their potential. A subluxation is not a pathology that needs to be treated; rather, it is a state of the body that is less than ideal, and chiropractors can provide a specific force to the body to allow its correction. Every technique has a different model of the spine as they determine the best manner to direct the chiropractor to place a force on the spine. This is the unique service of chiropractors.

The issue is whether we focus on a healthy spine or ridding the body of subluxation. The real goal that chiropractors share is to have a healthy spine and nerve system. The strategy we use to get there is the correction of spinal subluxations.

The concept of focusing on creating health versus treating disorders is not unique to chiropractors. The concept of Salutogenesis had its origins more than 30 years ago within the field of psychology. This term describes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis). Although very aligned to our philosophy of “improving health” rather than “treating conditions,” it is not a replacement of our philosophy and/or practice objectives.

Vitalism is recognition that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. It has its origins in the later part of the 1800s and honors aspects of mechanism and spiritualism. Vitalism is a framework within which our philosophy fits but it is not what chiropractic is. Our objective to correct vertebral subluxations is the specific strategy we have to contribute to the well-being of our patients; the goal of building well-being is a larger frame.

People are always better off without subluxations than with subluxations. This is the central focus of how we serve our patients. The concepts of Salutogenesis, Vitalis, and even health are important ones, and all are aligned with our philosophy. But none of these define the practice of chiropractic.

Chiropractic is the location and correction of vertebral subluxations. That service is non-duplicative and is what makes us unique. Sherman College strives to offer excellence in that art form and graduate competent, compassionate, highly skilled chiropractors to offer that service to humanity. I am proud to play a part in it.

Originally published in Sherman Magazine Spring 2017, page 3