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Published: Sunday, 5/15/2005

The after-hours vet

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Linda LaCourse holds Sophie to help calm her for a shot as Christine Ballez takes an emergency call and Dr. Barb Buford stitches up a dog. Linda LaCourse holds Sophie to help calm her for a shot as Christine Ballez takes an emergency call and Dr. Barb Buford stitches up a dog.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

The colors of the emergency clinic waiting room were soothing pastels. The television was on in the background to provide some distraction. But Sandy Chimney was still nervous as she waited for news about Maggie.

Maggie is 12 years old and had a fever of 104 degrees.

"I was scared to death that the fever would keep going up, and I'd wake up in the morning and she'd be dead," said Ms. Chimney, of Perrysburg.

So she brought Maggie - her beloved Miniature Schnauzer with such a long, expensive medical history that she calls her the "million-dollar dog"- to the Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center of Toledo, Inc. on Central Avenue.

The clinic is open all night as well as weekends and holidays, making it the best hope for many local pet owners who need veterinary attention after traditional office hours and who can't wait until morning.

On any given night, it's like an episode of ER inside (minus George Clooney and human patients). Past evenings have brought sick lizards, pregnant pets, greyhounds that had been in fights, a cat shot with an arrow, a small dog that ate more than a pound of gravel, and a cat that was ADR.

ADR?

"Ain't Doing Right," explained veterinary technician Christine Ballez.

That's medical talk, and it pretty much describes all of the animals that walk in here.

"We do just emergencies," said veterinarian and owner Kittsen McCumber. "We don't have appointments, and we don't turn anybody away."

Heidi Sitzenstock of Maumee takes her dog, Puddin'head Joe, home after the dog got stitches. Heidi Sitzenstock of Maumee takes her dog, Puddin'head Joe, home after the dog got stitches.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Some vets and animal clinics offer on-call service and others have veterinary technicians staffed around the clock, but this center is the only one in the Toledo area with a doctor on-site all night. It is one of 16 emergency hospitals in the state listed by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society in San Antonio, which has about 3,000 members.

Extra hours require extra money, so a visit to this vet will cost more than a regular one. Depending on what time the pet arrives, a weeknight exam can cost between $60 and $70; weekends are between $65 and $75, and holidays are $85. Any tests or treatment or surgery is extra.

The clinic isn't open during the day and doesn't do things like dental cleaning and spaying and neutering. Its hours are 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the week. On weekends, it opens at 6 p.m. Friday and remains open straight through 8 a.m. Monday. It's open for all the major holidays too, even the Ohio State-Michigan game.

"Christmas Day for some reason some reason is busy," Dr. McCumber said. "They eat tinsel. They eat the chocolate. They eat the gifts. They eat the ham that's sitting on the table for everybody to eat. They tend to get into trouble."

It got started over 20 years ago as an alternative to one vet covering the entire city one night, another doctor covering the next, according to Jim Galvin, owner of West Toledo Animal Hospital who started the center with more than a dozen others.

That's good news for people like Erica Baker and her mom, Barb. They brought in Sophie, a chihuahua mix, after she started shaking and vomiting one night.

"We went through the phone book looking for a vet that was open. There was none," Barb Baker said.

Looking at Sophie, she said, "This is your only option."

Sometimes the doctors recommend a course of treatment or things to look for and then send the pet back home. At others, they keep the animal overnight for observation, fluids, and other treatment. (Sophie went home about 10:30 p.m., still shaking a little.)

Though they don't get to see healthy animals and usually don't get to see how cases are resolved - most pets go back to their regular vet when the morning comes - there are other rewards for those who work at the clinic.

"I kind of fell in love with the excitement," said Jim Walasinski, a veterinary technician.

What kind of excitement? Dogs making weird noises. Dogs with reverse sneezes. Dogs shaking. Dogs vomiting.

Some nights, things are so busy the employees hardly have time to sit down. And it's hard to ever know what to expect.

"I've taken pantyhose out of dogs," said Dr. Jody Ehrmin. "You name it, they'll eat it."

Sometimes, all the medical knowledge in the world can't save a pet, and Dr. Ehrmin concedes that it can be upsetting. But, she said, "It's not all sad. I truly feel that I am helping to relieve suffering here."

That's all Heidi Sitzenstock wanted when she brought her 6-month-old dog, a Brittany spaniel named Puddin'head Joe - PUD for short - after he cut his foot while he was outside. She drove up from Maumee, but that's nothing for her. In order to get PUD originally, she drove all the way out to Oklahoma. That's love.

The dog needed five stitches to take care of the wound. When he came out - front left leg covered in a sky blue wrap - he looked a little woozy.

"It's OK," Ms. Sitzenstock said. "We're gonna go home."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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