The veterinarians at Avian and Exotic Animal Care owe alot to those who came before us: the small animal vet who allowed us to come to their animal hospital and look over their shoulder; the large animal vet who let us ride along on farm calls for a day. It is for this reason that our practice allows so many pre-vet and veterinary students to job shadowing at our hospital. We see it as part of our obligation to the profession, and these experiences can have a powerful effect on the next generation of veterinarians.
Here is what a recent visitor had to say:
I just wanted to take the time to say THANK YOU so much for allowing me to shadowing at the Avian and Exotic Animal Care earlier this week. I cannot express how much I appreciated all that Dr. Johnson, Dr. Eckermann, Dr. Leonatti, and the entire veterinary technician staff have taught me through my series of asking many MANY questions, haha! I never would have imagined that I would take so much information, see such a diversity of patients, and learn so much about exotic animal medicine during my first day of shadowing alone!
And by the second day, after observing a variety of surgeries (from watching a 3-month-old pig get spayed to watching a rabbit have her leg fracture repaired) and gaining more knowledge of how to medically care for a collection of exotic pets, I just had a really good feeling inside knowing that I’ve made the right decision for me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to shadow the Avian and Exotic Animal Care veterinarians for those two days because this experience has allowed me to have a better idea of what it’s like to be in the footsteps of a veterinarian and hopefully will enable me to be one step closer to being in their shoes one day.
We never know what the impact of these opportunities will be, but we are fortunate to have the opportunity to “give back” to future veterinarians!
In early 2012, we received a rabbit from the Cape Fear House Rabbit Society who had been found living under a house and was flea infested and full of parasites. We told them we would treat him, get him into great shape, and help find him a permanent home.
Treating him proved to be the easiest part of the process. Due to his previous living situation, Boots was pretty unsocial and unsure of people. He would sometimes grunt and “growl” when we would take him out of his cage and if he thought you were trying to take the stuffed animal he was attached to away from him, he would leap forward, almost boxer-like and try to claw you with his front feet. We found that moving him into one of our large runs overnight seemed to help. Maybe the extra exercise he got worked some of the stress out of him. Since he was up for adoption, he spent his days in a cage in our adoption room, coming out to play if staff had time and then eventually we had a volunteer come in the afternoons to help socialize him. He quickly became our pet project (no pun intended) and our eyes were on the prize of adopting him out.
We took Halloween pictures of him posed with a stuffed pumpkin. At Christmas, we put a Santa hat on him and put him in a Christmas basket. All these pictures were prominently displayed on our Facebook wall in an attempt to find him a home. Unfortunately, he preferred to be an only rabbit and most of the potential families already had at least one bunny in the household. Others were turned off by his red eyes and sometimes surly manner. Everyone felt sorry for him after hearing his story, but he would need too much work for most people. We really were giving up hope but we told ourselves, and him, that 2013 was going to be HIS year to finally have a family.
It wasn’t long into the new year that our dream came true for him. One of our awesome rabbit clients had lost their bunny a couple of months before the new year and had finally decided it was time to get another bunny, not as a replacement but as an addition to their family. They would be a single-bunny household with someone in the home most of the time to give Boots the love and attention he deserved and would need to help make him a socialized rabbit. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation. They came to meet him and agreed to pick him up shortly thereafter. The day they came to pick him up, our whole staff was overcome with excitement. Some of us were sad to see him go, but all of us were so happy for him and his new family!! He could finally be out of a cage and free to roam a house filled with love.
Sometimes the job we do is a hard one, filled with loss, grief, and sadness. Helping Boots and other animals find their forever homes is one small way we can counteract the negative things that happen with veterinary medicine. As you can see from the attached pictures, Boots’ situation improved 100% and our spirits were greatly improved as well.
One weekend, we had a client call frantic about her hedgehog. It apparently had somehow developed a terrible skin condition overnight and the owner was completely beside herself with worry. We were able to work her in and when she arrived, she was frantic.
The technician took her into a room and began the check-in process, taking the hedgehog out of the carrier to weigh it and as she put it on the scale, it was easy to see why the owner was so concerned—the skin was a deep cherry red between the quills. Something seemed to be a little off, however, and the tech asked the owner if it might be possible to try something before bringing the vet into the room. The owner anxiously agreed and the tech reached for a pair of forceps (basically, tweezers). She began carefully separating the quills along the animal’s back and gingerly reached for the reddened skin, pulling carefully to reveal….
PIECES OF FLEECE BLANKET!
Yes, that’s right! The owner’s son had given the little hedgehog a piece of red fleece to sleep on and the animal apparently loved it so much it burrowed in, catching pieces of the fleece between the quills where it worked its way down to the skin.
The owner didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or just happy it wasn’t something more serious. The technician went to go bring the vet into the room, leaving the owner and her son shaking their heads laughing at themselves!
We recently had a client bring in a two-week old duckling for her first physical exam. Nothing exceptional, right? Well, this little cutie has quite the comrade with a very sweet back story.
According to the owner, Eve was hatched on Christmas Eve with her sibling, Jesus(pronounced hey-soos), hatched the next day. Eve and Jesus were inseparable until December 29 when the owner came in to find Jesus dead. He said Eve was inconsolable, crying and fretting over her dead clutch mate so they posted an ad on Craiglist looking for a hatchling near her age. They thought they would get another duckling or perhaps a chick to extend their flock and make their little girl happy but the only reply they got was for 3 baby quail so off they went.
Upon arriving back home with the quail chicks, the owner says Eve immediately perked up and stopped crying. He says the first couple of days she tried behaving like the quail, but her little duckling legs wouldn’t let her dart around the cage with the others. Since then, the four of them have been inseparable, even cuddling up to sleep. She and the quail have formed quite the little flock!
When it was time to bring her in for her office visit, the owner knew he couldn’t just bring Eve. The stress of being removed from the others would just be too great and he didn’t want to do that to her so he loaded up one of the quail as her comfort partner. She was great throughout the whole visit with only a little bit of stress when taken back to radiology and her partner couldn’t come with her.
As you can see from the pictures, Eve is quite happy to be snuggled up around the quail. They say love is blind and I guess this proves it!
In veterinary practice, death is an unfortunate inevitability. With some exceptions, many of the animals we treat have a relatively short life span. Sometimes the animals die, in spite of all attempts by the owner, and us, to save them. Sometimes pet owners are forced to make the very difficult and painful decision to humanely euthanize, or put their animal to sleep. Regardless of how an animal passes, there is a great wave of sadness that envelops everyone in the practice whether it was the animal’s first visit to the clinic or their hundredth.
Of course, the longer the relationship we have with our patients the harder it is to say goodbye. This was the case recently when one of our long-term ferret patients passed away. Everyone in the clinic was familiar with this precious little girl and we all watched anxiously as she endured many rounds of tests and treatments and yet managed to make us all smile with her sweet personality.
After her death, her owner made the selfless gesture of donating her things to our blood donor ferret that lives at the practice. The first day we laid down rows of tunnels and toys and let him run loose in a room and he LOVED it! He didn’t know which toy to play with or which tunnel to explore first! Staff members took turns either going in and playing with him or watching him through a little window as he did what ferrets do best—make us all laugh.
Death isn’t a subject most of us want to think about,much less talk about. Unfortunately, it’s a part of life none of us can escape. For a small moment, though, we were reminded that even after death, an animal can still bring us joy. Our ferret’s life has been greatly enriched simply by the presence of one special little girl, and her extremely unselfish owner, and for that we are eternally grateful.
We had an unusual case come in this week. One of our clients presented a wild black rat snake she had found in her chicken coop. Apparently, the bandit had slithered through some chicken wire and into the pen to rob nests. However, this unlucky snake mistook a fake wooden egg (used to control laying in hens) for a real one.
After eating the decoy egg, the snake was too wide to escape back through the chicken wire and was stuck in the coop!
We took a radiograph of the snake, which revealed a hollow, egg-shaped foreign body in the stomach. Had our client not found the snake, this guy could have died.
Dr. Eckermann-Ross performed a surgery (“gastrotomy”) to remove the fake egg. After removal, Dr. E sutured the stomach, the muscles of the abdomen, and the skin. The skin of a reptile has to be sutured a special way (everted, or “pooched out”) in order for the snake to shed normally after surgery.
Our snake should recover well and will be released back into the wild. He is actually a very lucky snake but, ultimately, the chickens got the last laugh!
One of our clients recently realized that the box turtle they were caring for was an imposter! They told us their story this way:
“By our recollection, we first had two Carolina box turtles show up at our front steps in the summer of 2004. With a little reading and some guessing, we decided that one was a male and the other female. The two continued to show up for food or our companionship. The female was more inclined to pay us some attention, but wild turtles are not very cuddley. Little by little we settled on a diet of tomatoes and sometimes raw hamburger. We never knew when one would come, and their visits were rarely together. Each fall they quit coming as abruptly as they had begun that spring, and we learned that they hibernate for the winter since they are cold-blooded and their body temperature depends on the ambient temperature.
The next spring, they began coming back again. To shorten the story by several years, the same routine was repeated each year up through the fall of 2011. In time, we gave them names: ”Rex” and ”Regina”.
But two notable events figure in the story. In August of 2009, we discovered that the male had a big enlargement on the side of his head. Our regular cat/dog vet referred us to the Avian and Exotic Animal Care clinic, which fortunately is nearby. They were wonderful and immediately diagnosed his problem as a severely infected ear. They took him in the back for a while and dug out the by-then congealed material. We went home with Rex looking much better, and we had medicine to treat him. Each day we were to spread an antibiotic ointment on his ear. Every third day, we gave him a hypodermic shot in his rump. When the medicine gave out, Rex was a much better turtle, and we returned him to the pavement outside our front door.
In December, 2011, we found Rex about 40 feet from the front door, standing out in an open forested area. He was supposed to be hibernating. We had seen Regina digging in the early fall as if she were making preparations, but except for the ear episode two years earlier we had never seen Rex anywhere other than at our front steps. It seemed unnatural for him to be out and about at this time of year, even though we had had a mild winter so far. We also noticed that his eyes seemed swollen and he was “wiping” them with his front legs. So, off to the Avian and Exotic Animal Care clinic again. Yes, he did have infected eyes and also a respiratory infection. These would require a few weeks of medication to treat, and he would need to be kept indoors for the rest of the winter because he was in no shape to hibernate now. We gave Rex his medicines, including more rump shots, and he eventually came around just fine.
Two weeks ago, our 19-year-old Siamese cat decided to spend a warm night outside, which she is not supposed to do. We left the front lights on, and the wife woke up often to go to the front door to call her. Well, about 5:00 am, she again saw no cat but found a turtle on the porch. Not on the brick walkway between the asphalt drive and the steps to the porch where we regularly fed them but up on the top of the porch. He was pacing along the edge of the top tread, up four steps each 6½ inches high. The wife was curious, but mostly she was still mad at the cat. So, she put the turtle back down on the brick walk and went back to bed.
At 6:45, she woke me up to come look at something. She had let the cat in finally! But then she saw the turtle back up on the porch. We were not sure that our cold weather was over and we wanted to be able to bring him in if we were going to have a cold night, so we put him “out to pasture” where we had kept Rex during his recuperation from the ear infection. Just to be sure, we have made his walls higher.
I photographed him as I had routinely done to other turtles that happen by because they each have such distinctive patterns. Comparing photos of the new turtle with those of Rex who had visited us so many years, their patterns were identical! Could we have identical twin turtles?
A little later, the wife yelled to day that “Rex” in our basement was not “Rex,” and she held an old photo next to the live turtle to prove it. We had never checked the markings on the one in our basement. We were acting as humans often act in “knowing” something so completely that we had never thought to examine our basic presumptions, and without taking time here to explore the many fascinating, valuable, philosophical and historical lessons for all aspects of life related to this lazy and careless practice and how people can so easily come to believe silly things which they then staunchly defend without any rationale at all, I’ll return to the turtle story. Clearly, the new climbing turtle was really Rex.
Are you as confused as we were? The turtle whom we had named Rex to go with Regina and who was at least a common-law husband of Regina, was now in our back yard while another male was in our basement, pretending to be Rex. Even his medical records said “Mr. Rex.”
We knew that in these bureaucratic days, lots of problems can come about if medical records get messed up, (children swapped at birth, confused Social Security benefits, etc.) so we decided to let the new turtle assume the permanent name “Rex”, while the original Rex in our back yard was re-christened “Sir Edmund” after Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the men who were the initial climbers of Mt. Everest in 1953. Surely, scaling 26 inches of straight-up brick steps twice in one night is a more difficult feat for a box turtle than climbing a mere 29,029-foot sloping mountain side is to two well equipped men over a two-week period with dozens of helpers and a year of planning.
As we near the end of this tale, it came to pass that we decided to take Sir Edmund to the Avian and Exotic Animal Care clinic because he was not eating anything we offered him, even after months of hibernation. He was pronounced healthy after a visual exam. If he does not begin eating, we are to return him for blood work, an X-ray to look for obstructions in his GI tract, etc.
What we have learned from all this is to be more thorough in taking care of strange critters. If you show up on our porch, day or night, we will feed you but then immediately put you in a box with some worms to keep you amused, then go straight for the blood work, X-rays, and recuperation with the help of AEAC!”
March 30, 2012
Why do people want to own wolves or wolfdogs? For the same reasons that people have other unusual pets: to have a connection with nature, admiration for the species, “wow” factor, rescued the animal from someone else, etc.
Do wolves and wolfdogs make good pets? Yes and No. That depends mostly on what someone wants from a pet. A wolf or high wolf-content hybrid can be socialized to accept human contact, however they often retain behavioral traits that help them survive in the wild: fear or aggression towards strangers, a strong predatory drive, exceptional intelligence, high energy, and a strong tendency to “test” others for hierarchical purposes.
Therefore, wolves and wolfdogs are NOT good pets for those that want a “family pet” that is expected to accept visitors, protect or play with children, or spend long periods alone without room to roam. The most important thing to know is that this animal will constantly test owners to verify where it stands in the pecking order at home. While this form of aggression is perfectly normal in wolf society and is the “glue” that holds a pack of animals together, in the home, owner-directed aggression is unacceptable to most and is the kind of behavior that dogs are routinely euthanized for.
In North Carolina, a wolf is illegal to own; however, a wolf/dog hybrid (anything less than 100% wolf) is considered legal. County by county, wolfdogs are regulated differently depending upon local regulations. Wolves and wolfdogs require the same preventive health care that dogs do: routine physical examinations every 6-12 months, fecal examinations for internal parasites, blood tests and year-round prevention for heartworms, flea control, and vaccinations (for rabies, canine distemper virus, parvovirus, hepatitis virus, and coronavirus. Routine blood tests (complete blood count and blood chemistry) are also recommended every 1-2 years to check for early indicators of disease. Don’t worry if your pet is fearful of the vet: our doctors can safely sedate a wolf or wolfdog to make the visit run smoothly.
What follows is a cute letter from one of our patients, a Severe macaw:
“ATTN: Dr. Dan Johnson, Dr. Stacey Leonatti
My buddy Jim asked me to write you a thank you note.
A few days ago, Jim noticed I was rubbing my right eye and squinting a lot. He could not see one of my down feathers in my lower eyelid. Probably because of his advanced age and myopia setting in.
Yesterday morning when I would not eat my breakfast, he became very worried. He called your fine clinic. Thanks to the nice lady on the phone, she immediately found an opening in your schedule to see me.
I never knew a Prius would go that fast and was at the clinic ASAP.
Everyone there was super professional and immediately started seeing (pardon the pun) the problem with my right eye. You quickly removed the down feather which would be like a cotton ball in a human’s eye.
Jim was so impressed with your excellent eyesight, steady hand, and super fine motor skills he asked you to remove the stainless steel leg band from my left leg. He has known me since I was three months old. I stayed with a previous owner for three years and him the past five years. Since I met him he never approved of the band on my leg because of safety reasons. He was just waiting for the right person with the right skills to remove the band. Thank you for removing my leg shackle.
Jim took videos of me with the eye problem and videos of you removing the down feather and removal of the leg band which will be sent via separate emails.
As can be seen by one of the videos, he said, “I was most lucky to have three young pretty ladies working on me”
On my behalf and the other animals you care for……….thank you so much for working hard at the Vet school in TN and becoming a super VET.
Thanks also to Dr. Dan for starting the clinic and his fine work in helping animals. Jim has always been impressed with his knowledge of high performance birds. We all know anything that can fly is superior !
Thanks again and as can be seen by the attached pictures, I am back to 100%.
Not long ago, an elderly client asked me to come out to his place in the country and do a multi-bird checkup. He wanted to know if I thought his birds looked alright, because they lived loose in his house and there was some question as to whether he would legally be able keep them. What I found was a dozen or more parrots living loose inside a small farmhouse. There were birds on counter tops, cabinet doors, and book shelves. As you can imagine, the house was a wreck. Everything had been chewed on and pooped on. There was a thick layer of feather dander on everything.
The man lived here with his birds. He slept in a bed and ate in a kitchen with free-flying parrots in his house. To my amazement, all of the birds appeared to be in good health. They had food and water. They had other birds to interact with. They had an owner who cared for them.
I had seen birds that looked much worse than this, and I had seen dirtier cages. But I had never seen living conditions like these for any bird owner before. The man asked me if I thought the birds looked OK. I told him they did, but that he was essentially living in an aviary.
This was obviously not a good living arrangement for either him or the birds. The bird owner acknowledged that, however his primary concern was that the birds stay healthy. I gave him a checklist of bird care improvements that he needed to make. I also offered to help rehome the birds if/when he was ready to do so.
Unfortunately, I don’t know what eventually happened. I was never again contacted by this owner or the authorities.