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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Emergency clinic provides after-hours care for pet owners in need

The door slammed and Li’l Puddns came up a couple inches short.

The beloved black cat broke her routine Thursday evening and didn’t run up to greet her owner, Nancy Rohrig, of Spokane. Instead, Li’l Puddns rushed for the door and didn’t quite clear it before it slammed on the kitty’s tail.

“She’s the sweetest kitty ever. She’ll start purring just by looking at her,” Rohrig said. “Everybody loves on Puddns.”

As soon as the door slammed, Li’l Puddns screamed out in pain and tried to pull her broken tail out of the doorjamb.

“The tail was bent at 90 degrees. When we saw how bad it was bleeding, we decided to bring her in,” Rohrig said.

With her normal veterinarian closed, Rohrig gathered up neighbor and local-homeless-cat enabler Betty Smith-Lambert, and they drove to the only option in the Spokane area equipped to deal with after-hours pet crises: the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center at 21 E. Mission Ave.

The clinic, which opens at 5 p.m. weekdays and closes at 8 a.m., started in the late 1970s as a cooperative between veterinarians to both provide a central facility for emergencies and to afford a home life for pet doctors without the intermittent late-night calls.

Earlier this year, the organization moved into its new 15,453-square-foot facility that sports 10 waiting rooms, full surgery facilities and space for specialty clinics that provide high-tech imaging and radiology. The building’s architecture and design also earned it the 2017 Specialty Hospital of the Year award through a national trade competition.

Late-night drama

Dr. Terry Brown, 69, started with the clinic in 1979, just two years after it opened. He’s been pulling porcupine quills from dogs’ mouths and trying to determine why the family cat won’t stop puking ever since.

“It’s a hard life to be up all night and dealing with it,” Brown said. “I didn’t have a Christmas or a Thanksgiving from 1979 to 2006. But I guess I’d say it’s satisfying when you save things and make things better.”

Dr. Mike O’Dea, who manages the facility and is among six full-time emergency room veterinarians, said one of the biggest challenges of the job comes from the clients who don’t have four legs or wings.

“There is a variety of emotions we deal with,” he said. “We have to manage the pets’ conditions but we also manage the owners to the best of our ability.”

Pets become surrogate children. They often provide more love than they receive, and their passing creates trauma for everyone involved, Brown said.

One recent trend has been more treatment of dogs and cats that eat marijuana-laced treats made for humans. The treatment is straightforward, but sometimes it’s not only the pets that have ingested weed or methamphetamine.

“Dealing with people who are under the influence of those types of things is also difficult. They can be unpredictable while you are just trying to get through the situation,” Brown said.

While the emergency vets mostly deal with bites and pets that can’t hold anything down or anything in, they are also equipped to perform any manner of emergency surgeries. Just last week, O’Dea operated on a dog that swallowed a corn cob.

O’Dea said he also once treated a dog that swallowed a tube of Gorilla Glue.

“I was able to retrieve a complete mold of the dog’s stomach,” O’Dea said. “I had it in my freezer for years before my wife made me get rid of it. She was kind of disgusted by it. But I thought it was a pretty neat memento of that surgery.”

Letting go

Both vets said the hardest part of their jobs comes when they deal with pet owners who struggle to let go of their aging loved ones.

Brown has a cat his daughter left behind, some eight years ago, and another old feline that suffers from diabetes and can barely get around.

“You go on longer than maybe you should. I can’t criticize too much; I guess I could say that with my own pets,” he said. “Sometimes what is best for the pet is not the best for the owner.”

O’Dea said he talks to pet owners and gives them a quiz about whether it’s time to intervene.

“I consider quality of life. Is he active, eating, drinking? Does he want to be social? Is his pain controlled? If you start ticking off no to any of those, euthanasia is a valid discussion,” he said. “No matter how much money you have, I’d still tell you the same thing.”

Liz Grafos, of Spokane Valley, said she’s been taking her pets to the emergency pet clinic for 15 years. Deciding when it’s time never comes easy.

“That’s the hardest thing ever,” Grafos said. “But that’s the bargain you make. You take them warts and all. People have a responsibility to look after our pets and take care of our pets because they have no say.”

She and her husband, Dean Grafos, last week took in their 15-pound gray cat, Alex, after he apparently got into a fight and suffered scratch and puncture wounds.

“He was hardly moving. He would not eat or drink anything and he was panting,” Liz Grafos said. “Your kids grow up and your animals replace them. We are just being proactive.”

But the emergency care comes with a cost. The examination of Alex cost $356. Grafos was happy to pay.

“It’s a remarkable service,” she said. “I’m really glad it’s here.”

Puddns by a tail

Smith-Lambert, 73, who came in with Rohrig and Li’l Puddns, said her normal vet bill is $60 and it costs $110 for a simple examination at the emergency clinic.

Smith-Lambert said she has two official cats and as many as 50 felines, a couple skunks and the occasional raccoon that come ranging to her home in the hope of a free meal.

“They are all nurtured. I swear, there is a message on the freeway: If you are hungry, go here and you will be fed,” she said. “I’ve used this clinic for three of my cats who were in bad shape.”

O’Dea put L’il Puddns under and ended up surgically removing the last 2 inches of her tail after the door-slamming incident. After surgery, the cat’s eyes remained dilated and O’Dea put her in a gaudy cone to prevent her from licking the stitches.

When O’Dea brought the disoriented kitty out to Rohrig, she reached for the feline that followed her home from a jog some six years ago. She noticed that Li’l Puddns’ tail had been fully shaved and was shorter.

“Can we get her a prosthetic? She will never model again,” Rohrig said to laughter. “Image is important.”

As she loved on her kitty, Rohrig turned to O’Dea. “Puddy thanks you, but I hope I never see you again.”

“I understand,” he said.

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