Business is hopping during holiday at Pittsburgh veterinary center

Pet-sitter Lauren Welsh was waiting Thanksgiving morning for a diagnosis of the tummy problems Louie had been having.

Louie, an American Eskimo dog she is caring for this week, had been vomiting and suffering from diarrhea for several days, she said.

A canine version of the BRAT diet -- boiled chicken and rice -- hadn't solved the problem. As a result, Ms. Welsh, who lives in Carnegie, brought Louie to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township.

Louie was one of 14 emergency cases to have arrived by 11 a.m. Thursday. He and the other pets were being cared for by four veterinarians, 11 technicians and two assistants working on the holiday morning.

Another half-dozen staff members would arrive at noon.

Veterinary specialists in fields including surgery, oncology and internal medicine also would stop by during the day to check on their cases.

"When we interview job candidates, we let them know we operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Kenton D. Rexford, the clinic owner and a veterinarian, who lives in Shaler.

"Everyone shares equally in the holiday shifts," he said. "I'll be working Christmas Eve and Christmas."

The variety of symptoms among the newly arrived cats and dogs mimic most of those found in a hospital serving humans. The animals were being treated for seizures, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty breathing, a bone fracture and back pain. Another 30 animals were being cared for as inpatients. Some were connected to heart monitors or received supplemental oxygen in special cages.

"I like the variety," technician Billie Jo Giehll of Heidelberg said, describing both her duties and the kind of cases she and her colleagues see. She compared her work to that of a nurse: drawing blood, placing intravenous devices, taking X-rays and monitoring patient progress.

Kennel assistant Alicia Lobdell, who lives in Pittsburgh's Westwood neighborhood, has always liked animals, and she likes playing a part in their recoveries. "It's so nice to see pets that came here in terrible shape look so great when they leave," she said.

Mr. Rexford said the emergency center treats between 16,000 and 17,000 animals annually. They are among the 40,000 total cases -- involving specialties including cancer treatment, ophthalmology and neurology -- handled each year. The facility on Camp Horne Road employs 250 people.

Thanksgiving doesn't bring a host of unique cases, although there is an increased risk of mayhem when animals from two families are brought together.

Susan Brian, who lives on a farm outside Sidney, Ohio, is visiting her sister Peggy Denning in Ben Avon for the holiday. Mrs. Brian said Simba, her 10-year-old shih tzu, always had gotten along with her sister's two larger dogs, a Siberian husky and a samoyed, until Tuesday morning. Simba, who is blind, must have come too close to the husky while he was eating, and the larger dog bit him on the face.

The veterinarians prescribed painkillers and antibiotics now and recommended an appointment for dental X-rays when Mrs. Brian returns to Ohio. His owner said Simba had stopped shaking and appeared to be on the mend after his treatment. "It's wonderful having a center like this," Mrs. Brian said.

Ms. Welsh, who was waiting for the results of blood tests and an X-ray to help diagnose Louie's stomach woes, agreed. "The folks here are heroes -- working every holiday and all night long," she said.

As someone who has worked with both people as a pharmacy technician and with pets as a veterinary tech, she said she had found fringe benefits in dealing with animals. "I tell people that I get paid in puppy kisses and kitty purrs," Ms. Welsh said.

Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.