It’s a pet owner’s worst nightmare: your dog gets injured late at night on a holiday weekend and needs to be treated right away but your regular veterinary office is closed. Attempting to quell rising panic, you search online and discover a small miracle, right in your own backyard – Olympia Pet Emergency.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week including all holidays, Olympia Pet Emergency is designed for just such situations. In medical terms, while most veterinary practices are like general practitioners, with long-term relationships and appointments, Olympia Pet Emergency is like the ER.
“There are no appointments,” says practice manager Ted Westby. “We don’t do spays and neuters or vaccinations. We see people when either their regular vet doesn’t have time to see them or something happens overnight. People show up at 1:00 in the morning with a dog that’s been attacked by a raccoon or has a face full of porcupine quills. Maybe their dog or cat wasn’t feeling well and all of a sudden it got bad, so they show up here.”
Sundays are typically peak days, as are holidays like Christmas Eve and 4th of July. The long weekends resulting from Memorial Day and Labor Day also generate high volume. “Thanksgiving is kind of interesting because you end up with a four-day weekend,” says Westby. “We see more emergencies during Thanksgiving than any other time because of the length of the holiday.”
The nature of the practice means that clients are always to some extent in crisis mode, presenting the staff with a special set of challenges. “Often the clients are panicking or emotionally distraught,” says hospital administrator Trisha Jones. “The team members are remarkable. They’re very compassionate and they find a way to stay calm and develop trust very quickly. That compassion and level-headedness is really important.”
The staff treats a range of issues, from porcupine quills to the aftermath of dog fights to ‘blocked’ cats who can’t urinate and dogs who have ingested anything from a rock to twenty socks. “We deal with a lot of toxicities,” says Westby. “The biggest one right now is marijuana toxicity by a huge margin. We always saw it a little bit, but now that it’s legal we’ve seen a real increase.”
On one occasion, a man brought in a redbone hound puppy named Annie that had been hit by a car and had a broken leg. “It was a beautiful dog, and the guy didn’t have any money,” says Westby, who operates a rescue operation with his wife that houses 27 dogs. “The staff was talking about doing all kinds of things. I was driving home thinking, ‘I can’t let that dog die.’”
He called his wife and they agreed to take money out of their Care Credit account to pay for the puppy’s surgery. “They put a big splint on her and did the work that they needed to do and then one of our techs adopted Annie,” says Westby. “She ended up with a really nice place to live and people that loved her.”
Westby’s brother David, a veterinarian working in a day clinic at the time, founded the practice in 1996 after seeing the need for an emergency pet service. “He saw that vets were doing all of their own night calls and this was an opportunity to help his colleagues,” says Westby.
With that in mind, Dr. Westby contacted all of the vets who he knew in the general area that he planned to service and explained his plan. “Basically, this is an emergency practice,” says Ted Westby. “We’re not going to do what you do, we’re going to do what you don’t want to do.” Ever since, local veterinarians have regularly referred clients to Olympia Pet Emergency. Although referrals slowed when the economy crashed in 2008, they have increased as it began to recover.
While the demands of emergency medicine are intense, the rewards are also great according to Medical Director Blair Burggen. “First, there are the patients,” he says. “They need help and they need advocates, because they can’t talk or tell us what they need.”
“Then there are the clients who bring them in,” he continues. “They just need help. In the middle of the night or when their vet isn’t answering the phone, we’re all they’ve got.”
Finally, having a high-functioning team is critical. “I’ve worked with a lot of good teams and good people over the years. They can either make it or they can break it,” he says. “Our team is a big part of what makes this work so satisfying.”
For more information about Olympia Pet Emergency, visit www.olympiapetemergency.net or call 360-455-5155.