SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The nights are hard at the Animal Emergency Room.
Doctors and technicians care for a multitude of dogs hit by cars. Feral cats test their bedside manner. They must take extra care to avoid bites and scratches from sick bats, raccoons and skunks that are potential carriers of rabies.
And then there are the emotional, late-night vigils with owners of pets ailing from devastating wounds and debilitating illnesses of old age.
Dr. Kim Buck, co-owner of the clinic, told the San Antonio Express-News (https://bit.ly/1qJRjZw) that even after 25 years as a veterinarian, she still sees injuries that catch her off guard.
“It amazes me how animals can still be alive and how resilient they are,” Buck said. “They’ll have healed wounds and doing great, but you know they had some major trauma and managed to live through that by themselves.”
Since 2000, the AER has been the first stop for many injured animals. Animal Care Services is one of three rescue partners that have a contract with the emergency room. The clinic provides care for pets that will be sent on to the city shelter.
ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said the agency doesn’t have a 24/7 medical staff.
“We partnered with AER to have a mechanism after hours to ensure if there’s a critical case, such as a pet hit by a car or injured inside a home, we can aid it as quickly as possible,” Norwood said.
On an average weeknight, the doctor on overnight shift - 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. - will treat from three to five injured animals brought in from across the city. On weekends, the number rises to as many as 20, as does the severity of injuries, staff said. The staff includes two full-time doctors, three part-time doctors and 10 technicians.
Buck said it’s rewarding to save an animal’s life, but there can’t always be a positive outcome with emergency cases.
“Sometimes I feel, if I had to do a lot of euthanasias, just … tired,” she said, “But kind of like I helped that night. I helped the pets the best that I could.”
Performing triage is the priority of the veterinarians, including Dr. Elissa Jackson, Dr. Christina Noltenius and Dr. Kirstin Hossalla.
“We make sure they’re comfortable,” Hossalla said. “We care for the animals and make sure they get love and care.”
A year ago, Buck and her business partner, Dr. Michele King, bought the clinic from Dr. Danette Schweers, who founded the AER. Schweers, board-certified with American Board of veterinary practitioners, still works a Sunday shift.
Buck said she respects the ACS officers who bring the pets destined for the city shelter. She’s heard how they’ve coaxed out wounded pets hiding in brush and chased a hurt dog in 95-degree weather for an hour to make sure he got help.
“They have a very tough job,” Buck said. “I can’t imagine doing the job they do.”
One recent Wednesday night, ACS officers transported two American Staffordshire terriers that had been rescued by San Antonio firefighters from a house fire. Suffering badly from smoke inhalation, the dogs were stabilized by an AER veterinarian before they were transported to ACS for further care. In the morning, ACS chief veterinarian Dr. Marilyn Gotbeter and her staff continued treatment for possible cornea damage and burns in the windpipe. The brindle terrier was more stable than her black-and-white companion.
By Saturday morning, the critically injured dog’s health had declined. The staff made the decision to have her humanely euthanized.
Gotbeter was quick to praise the emergency room team, saying the dogs would not have lived through the first night without their care.
Buck said although Animal Care Services contracts with AER, the emergency clinic is not part of the shelter, so residents can’t bring injured strays to their office. She said residents can call 311 to report a hurt animal. But because of the client/patient relationship, she said, AER can’t release information if someone calls to check on the status of an injured animal they reported.
The shifts range from slow to a frantic pace in the late hours. But the moments that linger take place in the reception area, where heartbreaking decisions are often made. Sometimes a family will fill an exam room, trying to decide the fate of a pet with a chronic disease. Some pet owners visit the ER at night with dying pets, Buck said, to spare longtime veterinarians who have bonded with their furry family members.
A big part of their job is being there for the pet owners, Buck said, as they struggle with decisions, financial worries or grieve about a pending loss.
“Most of the time you’re helping people,” she said. “A big part is listening to the owners. You have to love people too to be a veterinarian.”
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, https://www.mysanantonio.com
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