Eugene Weekly : Cover Story : 7.29.2010


Pets Issue 2010:

Going to the Dogs (And Cats)

Does This Spay Make My Butt Look Big? The real facts on spay and neuter

Take ‘em or Leave ‘em It’s vacation time, doggone it

‘We’re Here for Everything On call 24-7-365 at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital



‘We’re Here for Everything
On call 24-7-365 at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital
by Rick Levin

E-VET staff care for Blue. Photo by Sarah Decker.

I have three cats or, rather, they have me. I love my three cats. Sometimes, when I’m looking at them and that particular vulnerability of mind strikes, I involuntarily imagine one of them getting smooshed by a fast car. And when that happens, I get that pre-vomit swill of saliva in my throat and sometimes I even almost start crying.

If you get the same feeling about your pets, I’m here to tell you something: There’s good news. As you read this, there are vets at work, and they are at the disposal — 24-7, and year round — of your animals. “Since 1978,” reads the web site, “the Emergency Veterinary Hospital has provided the highest-quality emergency medical care to pets and their people in the Springfield-Eugene region.” This is no lie. In both locations, on Q Street in Springfield and on West 11th Avenue, I’ve watched these vets work and listened to them talk, and I can tell you they’re saints.

I like that part, “pets and their people.” Because, let me tell you, if anything even minor ever goes wrong with Nora or Mr. Smith or little Buzzy, I’ll be needing as much help as the cat.

In the car on the way to my first night observing the goings-on at the Q Street Emergency Vet Hospital (E-Vet), I was freakin’ terrified. I’ve seen some pretty unnerving things in my life — compound fractures, bone-deep cuts and way worse — but just the thought of a puppy limping through the door with a bloody paw had my insides gone to jelly. I didn’t think I could take it. There’s good reason original sin is exclusive to homo sapiens and our suffering is so complicated. 

I admitted all this to Dr. Ingrid Kessler, co-owner and co-director of E-Vet, as well as its chief of medicine and surgery. She smiled with understanding, and proceeded — as did every vet I spoke with — to put me totally at ease. First, Dr. Kessler assured me that weekend nights, of which this did not happen to be one, are “much more likely to be consistently busy.” Things indeed were quiet when I got there, with only a couple of comfortably caged cats in recovery and one white pit bull, Lola, being monitored for a post-op flare up of her spaying incision. Dr. Kessler said that earlier they’d treated a fractured pelvis. She apologized that things weren’t more hectic. I told her not to worry about it.

I asked Dr. Kessler what the protocol was when an animal came in with a condition not easily diagnosed — for instance, a lethargic dog who wouldn’t eat, or a cat that kept falling over sideways. “On an emergency basis of ‘I need to fix it now,’” she said, “I’m going to use everything at my disposal.” Dr. Kessler’s “everything” amounts to the latest and best in equipment, including ultrasound, digital X-raying, oxygen support, ECG, incubators, radiology, surgery suites and an in-house laboratory. As Dr. Kessler puts it, “I have life-saving equipment, high tech stuff… No flea products.”

There is no such thing as a stupid question, and at the E-Vet there is no such thing as a stupid emergency. Sometimes just the smallest clues, something slightly off, can be an indication of a potentially dire emergency. Open mouth breathing, pale gums, lethargy — these can be symptoms that something’s gone awry with your pet. For instance, “dogs will eat extraordinary things,” said Dr. Kessler, such as the terrier I saw a few nights later that had nibbled some sort of toxic vegetation on a hike (Lucky, thankfully, was lucky this time).

Of course, when it comes to pet care there is always an issue of cost, and the delicate balance of life-and-death considerations versus mortgaging your house on a risky surgery. “Times are tough. You have to be kind of creative sometimes,” Dr. Patti Mayfield told me, pointing out that often the vets will test out an educated supposition rather than immediately running the full battery of diagnostic tests. And yet, as she explained, foremost in the vet’s mind is the health and well-being of the animal and its owner, which means smart, compassion-driven care and open communication rather than automatically reaching for the most expensive solution. “If we went into this field to get rich, we’re not very bright,” she said.

My second night, a Saturday, I visited the E-Vet on West 11th, a location that opened just a couple years ago. On the drive there, in an ugly irony that had my stomach turning for half an hour, I watched a cat run out from behind a parked car and almost got crunched by oncoming traffic. This sort of hit-and-miss stuff seems to happen a lot on Eugene’s backstreets. At least I would have known where to take the thing.

This night I met with doctors Lisa Iverson and Nanyel Hillsberry. They’d just treated and released a golden retriever that had gotten trapped under a flipped boat, fortunately while wearing a lifejacket. Dr. Hillsberry said the types and intensity of emergencies they see on weekends vary depending on the weather and other imponderables. “That’s part of the fun of emergency medicine,” she added. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

One of the things they got was a black lab named Blue, who had cancer and was scheduled for surgery later in the week but had stopped eating. Sad-eyed Blue was handled with the utmost care as the vets inserted a catheter into a vein, trying to get a steady dose of liquid sustenance pumping into the weakened animal. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at once to see how each person in that emergency room ministered to the dog, calling him by name, talking to him gently, pacing their movements to his needs. On the surface, this couldn’t have looked less like an emergency. But in reality, where pain is pain and worry hurts, this is exactly the sort of emergency that shines such a humane light on the E-Vet doctors. “We’re here for everything,” Dr. Kessler said. And I, for one, am glad for that.