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At Emergency Clinic, You Can Get 24/7 Care for Your Animal Companions

January 21, 2006

By Dave DeWitte, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Jan. 19–CEDAR RAPIDS — They arrive on leashes, or crouched in plastic crates, at all hours.

Sometimes they yelp with pain or tremble with anxiety. Not infrequently, they are bleeding.

This is the Cedar Rapids’ only emergency clinic for animals. It’s a place where pets’ lives are saved almost every day, and sometimes, relieving an animal’s pain or ending its life humanely are the only solutions.

The Eastern Iowa Veterinary Specialty Center opened four months ago at 755 Capital Dr. SW, near The Eastern Iowa Airport. Hospital Manager Kristi Murdock said a gradual increase in patients was expected. Instead, the center became busy overnight with referrals from area veterinarians.

Weekends are busiest at the facility, which has digital radiography, laboratory and ultrasound equipment many human clinics would envy.

Between 12 and 15 patients arrive on a typical Saturday or Sunday. Nights are slower, with three to seven patients arriving.

The modern two-story building looks more like a human medical clinic than a vet clinic.

Patients arrive without appointments and are “triaged” by a veterinary technician. If the pet has a life-threatening condition, it is moved ahead of other pets.

Work seldom is dull for the five veterinarians on the center’s 21-member staff.

Veterinarian Sylvia Murphy handled the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift Sunday, often the week’s busiest.

Midway through the shift, she tries to figure out why a miniature schnauzer keeps bleeding from the mouth.

“It’s a little heart-wrenching sometimes, but it’s interesting,” she says of her work.

“It’s always a challenge.”

Murphy’s patients for the day include a Labrador retriever with a probable case of Addison’s disease, a beagle having trouble using its hind legs and two dogs that appeared to be sick from eating bad dog food.

“We’ve had a recent rash of toy dogs with broken legs,” Murphy said, referring to smaller breeds.

One advantage of the 24-hour operation is that at least one vet and one vet tech are on duty at all times and backed up by the latest monitoring equipment.

Veterinarian Bradley Schipper handles the overnight shift from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

At 6:30 a.m. Monday, Schipper reports a quiet night: one older dog suffering from seizures, a younger dog with hip problems and one euthanasia. The schnauzer’s bleeding is almost stopped.

An important part of Schipper’s duties comes early Monday when he phones the referring vets about animals that have been admitted. He also updates pet owners, and records his overnight observations of the patient’s conditions for the vet who will take over at 8 a.m.

The center provides overnight vets with a recliner for naps. Schipper rarely uses it.

“You have to be wired a certain way,” says Schipper, who previously commuted to work 25-hour shifts at an emergency vet clinic in New Hampshire.

“It’s a different mind-set than what you see in private practice. I have to do a lot of grief counseling and discussions on potentially significant disease processes. I don’t have as many ‘happy days’ as I had when I was in private practice.”

The relationship between the emergency center and other area vets is carefully defined, according to Murdock. The clinic is owned by a group of Corridor vets who were seeking a better way to provide after-hours services, and by Horizon Veterinary Services of Appleton, Wis., which manages emergency and specialty vet clinics.

Customers must have a referral from a vet, although it may be as informal as mentioning they were instructed to go to the center by an after-hours message on their vet’s phone.

They also pay a premium for receiving emergency service. The center charges a $79 consultation fee to examine a pet, which rises to $99 after midnight and on holidays. Payment is required at the time of service.

But the expense pays for equipment and expertise few clinics can match, such its board-certified veterinary surgeon, Rhonda Aper.

As opportunities permit, the center plans to offer other advanced specialties.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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