Pet emergency? New Cape clinic open 24 hours

Dr. Thomas Burns treats Pepper the cat Sunday at Cape Animal Referral and Emergency Center in East Harwich. The center currently shares space with Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital but is constructing a new, $1 million dedicated facility in South Dennis.

HARWICH - The cat purred and rubbed her head against the veterinarian's hand as he examined her Sunday morning. She looked fine. But Pepper was potentially near death.

Her owner, Bill Lean, had discovered an empty box of mouse poison in the basement of his West Harwich home. Pepper was nearby.

Within four hours, the poison would cause internal bleeding. Lean rushed Pepper to Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital in East Harwich, where Dr. Thomas Burns worked quickly to save the cat.

Pepper is among the first patients at Cape Cod's only 24-hour veterinary clinic.

The Cape Animal Referral and Emergency Center opened in a section of Pleasant Bay Animal Hospital's facility on Queen Anne Road in early February. By mid-summer, the center should be operating in a new, 10,000-square-foot building on Theophilus Smith Road, across from the transfer station in South Dennis.

For now, the center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for specialty services, and 24 hours a day on weekends. When more staff is added in coming months, the center will be open round-the-clock.

The clinic is the brainchild of the Cape Cod Veterinary Society. Two years ago, the society decided an emergency shelter was needed, given the many dogs and cats on Cape Cod and its relative isolation from the rest of the state, said Burns, who is president of the society. A group of members has invested in the new center, he said.

"Finally, we all got together and said, 'Enough is enough,'" he said.

All veterinarians are usually available for emergency situations, but when time was of the essence or an animal needed constant monitoring, Cape pet owners had few options.

That critical time equates to lives,” Burns said. “I have definitely had cases (where animals have died) where I wonder, if they had had 24-hour care, if they would have made it.”

CARE veterinarian cardiologist Dr. Nancy Morris said when she was working at an off-Cape clinic that offered 24-hour emergency care, several Cape animals died on the way because there wasn't a closer clinic.

Ailments such as diabetes, which is common in overweight dogs and cats, and pancreatitis require intravenous fluids and constant monitoring to make sure the animal doesn't pull the IV out and is getting the right amount for its condition, Morris said.

Last weekend, veterinarians treated the urinary tract of an elderly German shepherd, a disc problem that had left a dachshund unable to walk and two diabetic cats that needed round-the-clock insulin and monitoring.

A golden retriever that had fallen through the ice Friday night was rescued by Orleans firefighters and brought to the center for treatment, said Burns. The dog, whose elderly owner was on his way to save him before paramedics arrived, was near death when the animal was brought on shore. But thanks to warming techniques used by the Orleans rescue team and subsequent treatment at the center, the dog came around and left the clinic the same night, Burns said.

Anyone who lives or vacations here knows how Cape Codders love their dogs and cats. Morris said a Delta Air Lines magazine recently named Cape Cod the second-most friendly spot in the country to vacation with your dog. With many dogs visiting the region, the chances increase of one needing medical attention for, say, a fish hook in the face or a sick stomach from eating a bacteria-laden dead fish.

"The Cape has grown and changed so much; 20 years ago there was probably not enough support for something like this," said Morris.

The roughly $1 million facility going up in South Dennis was funded by a number of investors, including several Cape Cod Veterinary Society members, said Morris.

In addition to emergency care, the center will provide specialists such as Morris to take referrals from other Cape Cod veterinarians.

Eventually, there will be about 10 to 15 veterinarians, all of whom will provide emergency or specialty care, said Morris. For now, the center is operating with about 10 veterinarians rotating their services. An internal medicine specialist, Dr. Paul Hendricks, is on staff and a veterinary ophthalmologist is arriving early next month.

The center also has about 10 veterinary technicians who are working part time.

All medicine at the center is emergency or specialty care, Morris said. There will be no duplication of services given at other veterinary clinics around Cape Cod, such as vaccinations or general surgery, she said. Records from the animal's visit to CARE are sent to the regular veterinarian, she said.

And what became of Pepper? Due to the prompt medical care she received, Burns felt confident she would make it.