Pet Project

From animal CAT scans to one of People's most eligible bachelors, Alameda East has it all.

And when Fitzgerald checked to see how Simon the Siamese cat was healing after a recent tooth extraction, he sat on the floor and examined Simon in his lap. Simon, you see, doesn't like the cold metal of the examining table, but give him a warm lap and he's yours. Fitzgerald knows these things about his patients, and that's why their owners are loyal to him.

In addition to being a 24-hour emergency room for animals that have met with all kinds of misfortune -- everything from getting hit by cars to swallowing small objects -- Alameda East also provides general and specialty care for pets.

Dog days: Veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald checks on a patient.
Mark Manger
Dog days: Veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald checks on a patient.

The hospital employs nine general practitioners, of whom Fitzgerald is one, as well as five interns, two internists, one radiologist, one radiographer, four surgeons, one dermatologist, a visiting dentist and a visiting ophthalmologist.

The cramped quarters of the 11,000-square-foot building contain five examining rooms, a treatment room, a radiology room, an orthopedic suite, an endoscopy room, an anesthesia prep room, a minor-surgery room, a physical-therapy room, a lab and an intensive-care unit complete with oxygen cages and an isolation area. There is also space in which the hospital's blood donors are boarded: Stray cats that are brought in are kept here for six months, during which time their blood is periodically drawn for the hospital's blood bank. After their duty is up, the hospital finds homes for them. Greyhounds whose racing days have ended are brought to Alameda East for six months for the same purpose; homes are later found for them as well.

Because space is so tight, Alameda East plans to construct a new building on the adjacent property. Ground for the $2.4 million, 22,000-square-foot structure will be broken on January 8. The hospital hopes to move into its new quarters in June.

With the exception of zoo critters, the hospital does not treat large animals such as horses. But it sees every other kind of animal imaginable, including turtles, mice, spiders and more exotic pets like cobras, marsupials and alligators. Last Christmas, a Denver police officer making the rounds noticed a small animal running from three dogs. Thinking it was some kind of weird rabbit, he chased it and then opened the door of his cruiser. The animal leapt in, and he took it to Alameda East. The weird rabbit was actually a baby wallaby with a name tag that read "Hello. My name is Joey."

A trailer behind the animal hospital houses Alameda East's biggest medical innovation yet: a CAT scanner that nearly fills the entire room. The machine, formerly used on humans, now diagnoses animals.

Alameda East, which has been leasing the equipment for $2,000 a month since January, is one of only three animal hospitals in Colorado with the technology; Colorado State University's vet school has one, and so does an animal hospital in Loveland. In addition to its normal pet-related uses, operator Steve Jonseof also has used the CAT scanner to study dinosaur bones found by University of Colorado researchers, determining that the stegosaurus had suffered from a fungal infection. The biggest animal he's ever scanned was a 420-pound walrus from the Denver Zoo; the smallest was a ferret. With this technology, Jonseof says, "Now your dog or cat may live fifteen years instead of nine or ten."

Other technological advances also afford pets the same comfort and care as humans. Chemotherapy is now prolonging pets' lives. It won't be long before MRI machines are available for pets. And endoscopic surgery is preventing animals from having to go under the knife.

Special scopes are manufactured just for animals; tiny ones can even fit inside a cat's nostrils. Alameda East recently used an endoscope on an English bulldog, whose owner brought her in because she'd been vomiting. When the tiny camera was placed down her throat, the doctors saw a startling image on the screen: little faces peeking out at them. The scope, which had small pinchers attached to the end, plucked 22 rubber dinosaurs out of the dog's stomach.

Just a few days ago, an endoscope was used to remove coins from an iguana.

"We're able to do so much more for animals now than we used to," Fitzgerald says. "The last ten years have revolutionized pain management for animals. After surgery, people get a painkiller; now pets do, too."

Denver cable viewers can catch Alameda East in action on a special two-hour Emergency Vets on December 17. The show, which will follow an intern on his first overnight shift, airs at 6 and 9 p.m. on Animal Planet.

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