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Pets: This hospital offers a new leash on life

The Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center: A new leash on life

Behind the wall of stippled glass, Neka the pit bull is taking it like a champ, patient under the thrum of the MRI machine. Hold steady, girl: If anyone’s going to find out whether it’s a spinal tumor causing your pain, it’ll be the docs at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center. They’ve got the machines, the expertise and a sprawling, 20,000 square-foot shrine to advanced vet care. With its surgery suites, hospital-grade tech and staff representing six specialties — from cardiology to oncology to internal medicine — you’ll be forgiven if you mistake this place for a human hospital with a bring-your-pet-to-work day in full effect. There are dogs and cats everywhere. Some romp tentatively in rehab rooms, others are on the mend in kennels stocked with toys. Opened in 2005, the center (8650 W. Tropicana Ave., houses a blood bank and 24-hour emergency center with vets on standby, too. It also happens to be one of Las Vegas’ best-kept pet-care secrets.

“People are amazed that we have this kind of technology and medical specialization available to pets,” says Hospital Administrator Dean Penniman. “But we do. It reflects not only the advancements in veterinary care, but how much people have come to care about their pets, and how much they’re willing to do for them.”

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What makes this animal hospital unique is how it’s pulled together a team of animal specialists and medical tech to tackle the toughest cases that stump general-practice vets, who frequently make referrals to the center. Conditions that used to be considered a death sentence — from cancer to grievous injury — find treatment here. Take the case of Bubbles, a miniature pinscher who loved to chase golf balls thwacked by her owner. Bubbles made a false start, and the owner struck Bubbles in the head with a golf club, fracturing her skull. Veterinarian Dr. Linda Weatherton not only saved Bubbles, but oversaw her totalrecovery — even after having to remove part of Bubbles’ brain.

“I love the adrenaline rush of working in emergency pet care, of never knowing what’s going to come through the door — and the satisfaction of turning around what seems a like tragic situation,” says Weatherton. “And, of course, being there for pets and people when no one else is.”

[ HEAR MORE:  Vet Christopher Yach’s clients include sharks and gila monsters. Hear him on "KNPR's State of Nevada".]

The complex handles about 500 cases a month. But the center wants even more; the staff feels that many pet owners and valley vets aren’t aware of the center — meaning second chances for pets with seemingly dire medical conditions.

“One of the most important things we offer people are options — courses of treatment that many people didn’t even know existed,” says surgeon Dr. David Mason. “And that brings them a lot of comfort. These pets are members of their family.” Mason himself doesn’t own a pet. With a workload at the center that has him rising at 5 a.m. every day, he doesn’t have time. It would be ironic but for this: In a way, the furry and purring clients of the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center are his pets.

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.