Poised to serve
The doors to Deerfield’s veterinary hospital are always open
Dr. Tara Eaton examines Zachery, who is anemic, with Sara Francis
Dr Tara Eaton examines Jasper's eye
Vet IV Catheter tight
Veterinarian Doctor Erika Mueller, co-owner of the Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital in South Deerfield, performs an ultrasound on Sam looking for the spread of a cancerous tumor with the assistance of Melissa Goodhind and Dana Kedziora.
Emergency veteranary technician Sara Francis sits with Bentley as he wakes from sedation after haveing his wound redressed. He was hit by a car and lost a lot of skin on his leg.
ICU Technician Betsy Murray with Chase, who recovered from a siezure induced coma, and Chase’s happy owner Anne Cotton of South Hadley
In March of 2011, Anne Cotton of South Hadley was shocked and scared when she saw her flat-coated black retriever fall to the floor, having a seizure.
“I couldn’t pick him up and get him to the car,” Cotton recalled. “I kept thinking ‘what do I do?’ I called police. They scooped him up and took him into the backseat of the cruiser.”
As fast as she could, Cotton got her pet of five years to the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital at 141 Greenfield Road, South Deerfield.
“I knew about this place. I knew if anyone could do anything they could,” Cotton said. “If they can’t do it, it can’t be done.”
At the veterinary hospital, Dr. Claire Weigand induced a coma for Chase with anti-seizure drugs called Valium and Propofol to control his seizures. For three days, the hospital staff checked Chase’s vitals and put lubricant on his eyes to prevent ulcers. After three days, Chase stopped receiving medications and he started to wake up and lift his head. It was five days before he could sit up.
Chase, who works as a therapy dog for patients at Western Massachusetts Hospital in Westfield, had become a miracle dog, said Cotton.
Only a year earlier, Chase had been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, an endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce a sufficient amount of steroid hormones. When certain hormones are not produced, it can disrupt the balance of salt in the body, which can result in a seizure.
“I wouldn’t have him if it weren’t for (the veterinary doctors),” Cotton said. “They are absolutely marvelous. They are caring and good with owners, too. They work with you so you know what’s happening. Chase is not afraid of this place at all.”
In 2006, Brenda Salyer and Dr. Erika Mueller opened the veterinary hospital as the first emergency hospital for dogs and cats in the region and the only locally owned 24-hour facility in western Massachusetts. Its closest counterpart is the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University in North Grafton.
Mueller had been practicing emergency veterinary medicine for years when several local veterinarians contacted her about opening a facility in the Pioneer Valley. Mueller eventually met Salyer through a mutual acquaintance and the two decided to move forward with the concept. Mueller would provide the medical expertise, while Salyer, who had been working in Boston for State Street Corp., an international financial services company, would serve as the business manager.
In the 6,000-square-foot building, the veterinary hospital started with 15 employees but has since grown to 40. And the hospital is hiring. Since its opening, it has cared for over 60,000 patients.
The veterinary hospital provides advanced medical support to local veterinarians and cat and dog owners in western Massachusetts, southern Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.
Unlike many pet care facilities, it is open 24 hours, every day of the year and focuses solely on emergency and critical care medicine. Regular wellness services, such as annual vaccinations, spays and neuters, are handled by local veterinaries.
The hospital has specific and advanced equipment, medications and blood products that allow the veterinarians to treat pets quickly during an emergency. It also has four board-certified veterinary specialists. Certification requires undergraduate training, four years of veterinary school, an internship, a residency in a specialized field and passing vigorous examinations.
At the veterinary hospital, Mueller provides emergency and critical care and radiology services. Weigand specializes in internal medicine. Dr. Petra Lackner provides ophthalmology services. Dr. John Benson specializes in surgery, specifically involving orthopedic and soft-tissue cases.
In total, there are eight doctors, four of whom are specialists, two business managers, seven client liaisons who schedule appointments and 23 certified veterinary technicians.
Specialty doctors and veterinary technicians have a regular schedule, but frequently are on call, Salyer said. For instance, on a recent Friday, Benson and his technician were on their way out of the hospital when a dog arrived with a broken back. The two stayed until midnight to do a four-hour surgery. The following Monday, the dog walked out of the hospital.
This month, the hospital began offering laser eye surgery for pets, the first facility to do so in the region.
The Diode laser targets pigmented cells and therefore is useful in treating melanomas because it doesn’t harm the surrounding non-pigmented tissue. Instead of removing the affected eye, laser therapy for iris melanomas is an option as long as the tumor is detected in an early stage.
Lackner said the laser eye surgery will revolutionize her job.
“The laser is incredible,” she said. “It treats eye diseases without the need for more aggressive surgery.” Lackner utilizes the minimally invasive method to treat glaucoma, iris cysts, epibulbar melanomas, iris melanomas and pigmented lid masses.
Since 1999, Lackner has been a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, which is a professional organization made of up board certified veterinary specialists in ophthalmology. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine and completed her internship at the University of Pennsylvania.
She worked at the New Jersey State Veteran Specialists for 11 years before moving to Franklin County, where she loved the environment and outdoors and the personalized approach of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital.
Lackner, originally from Germany, has always wanted to treat animals. She chose the ophthalmology track because she can, typically, quickly help her patients. “I can relieve pain on the first visit. If a blind animal comes in, I can do something about it,” Lackner said.
Two years ago, Lackner treated one of the country’s top competition dogs who was developing cataracts. The champion pup could no longer see his handler’s hand signals. But after surgery, the dog went on to compete and win the next week.
Just this week, Lackner and her veterinarian technician, Jeanette Lamphere, helped a 2-year old puppy keep his vision. The dog already had a retinol detachment in one eye, leaving him half-blind. He began to develop a detachment in his remaining eye. Using the laser, Lackner touched 85 spots on the retinol as if tacking it down to the inside of the eye. A few days later, the dog’s vision was fully restored.
Like any hospital, there are costs involved.
According to Salyer, the average cost of a visit is $425. “Our average clients pay more here than regular veterinary services, but the services you get here are services regular veterinarians can’t provide,” said Salyer. “If people are paying more here, they are getting more here.”
Those without pet insurance pay up front like any business. The hospital offers a payment option in which customers pay no interest if bills are paid within 12 months.
“It’s about value for the money. We’re all sensitive to that, especially in this economic time,” Salyer said. “Do you think you’re getting the value in the money you’re spending? Most of the time people say ‘yes’ to that question.”
The veterinary hospital is not unlike an emergency hospital for people. Intravenous pumps sit above pet cages to administer medications. Heating units lay on the bottom of cages to help pets maintain temperature. Beside the row of cages is an oxygen cage that circulates pure oxygen for animals in respiratory stress. The cages serve as patient beds.
The hospital is also a blood donor hub. It can collect dog and cat blood and screen donors to make sure they are disease free. The blood supply is kept in a small medical freezer.
Each day at 9 a.m., the veterinarians start with the daily rounds, checking on the status of patients.
When a animal arrives at the hospital, the first step is an assessment of its condition. Called triage, this determines the priority given treatment based on the severity of the animal’s condition. Like at a human hospital, the pet owner will be asked about the pet’s medical history, such as its medications and prior health problems.
A veterinary tech will assess whether the pet is stable. If not, the pet will be rushed into the emergency room. “Emergencies aren’t planned,” Salyer said. “Doctors could see patients back to back. Doctors work right away to stabilize a patient.”
At any time of day, the hospital could have two to five patients or have every cage filled.
With two large surgical suites, a dedicated ICU ward, an isolation ward, an in-house diagnostic lab, a digital X-ray and ultrasound machine, laparoscopy and endoscopy machine, the hospital can treat a diverse variety of ailments, including a sock or tennis ball in the stomach or a dog muzzle riddled with porcupine barbs. These dogs are known as quill dogs.
A stable pet is escorted into an exam room, where an aide takes the pet’s pulse and respiration.
At 10 a.m. one Thursday morning, Bentley, a boxer mix, had his back leg wrapped and bandaged. Outside in the nearby waiting room, his owner, Laurie Giard of Colrain, waited for the 1-year-old pup. Ten days earlier, Bentley had run into the road by his home, was hit by a car and had the skin of his back leg ripped off. As soon as Giard learned of the accident, she threw on her boots, scooped him up and called the local veterinarian in Shelburne Falls, who recommended the veterinary hospital. Bentley stayed overnight there. Every other day since then, he’s returned for a dressing change as his leg healed.
With a big smile and a warm hug, Giard greeted her young dog. For a few minutes, she discussed the possibility of using skin grafts instead of wrappings with the aide, but decided to stick with the wrappings. Bentley is a licker and the skin grafts wouldn’t last.
Giard said Bentley’s stay at the hospital went well and that the hospital staff has been attentive and caring.
At noontime, Benson was prepped for surgery. He scrubbed his hands and lower arms with a surgical cleansing scrub, put on a blue surgery gown and stepped into the operating room, With sterile gloves, he adjusted the lighting over the patient’s bed. Sam, a yellow Labrador retriever, was scheduled for an anal mass removal in an hour.
At the same time, Dr. Tara Eaton examined Zach, an 8-year-old cocker spaniel. Zach is anemic. He has a special condition called immune mediated hemolytic anemia, a disease in which the immune system destroys the red blood cells. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues. An animal or human cannot survive without adequate oxygenation of the tissues.
To stabilize Zach, Eaton gave him transfusion of red blood cells.
In a six-hour span, the hospital treated seven dogs and cats. And that was a slow day. “With the way we’re headed, we hope to expand, build a bigger hospital,” Salyer said. “We want to be responsible and make sure we’re meeting the needs of our patients.”
Staff reporter Kathleen McKiernan has worked at the Recorder since 2012. She covers Deerfield, Conway, Sunderland and Whately. She can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.