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The Intensive Pet Care Unit


When Dr. Donnelly explained that he'd have to knock him out for the examination, the vet freaked. But then it was explained that, really, it was like the monkey would be stoned, and certainly not killed. "Oh," the vet said, much calmer, "he gets stoned with me."

On the day of Junior's laser surgery, Dr. Donnelly arrives a few minutes late, rushing up in his usual Gap khakis, blue button-down shirt and Hermès animal tie -- today's features birds. He's also wearing a hedgehog lapel pin, given to him by a hedgehog-owning client. "It takes an exotic person to own an exotic pet," you sometimes hear people say. It's true that someone like Miss Cintron has her quirks: She won't, for instance, have visitors. "Oh, no," she says, looking panicked. "I'm a clutter person." Still, Dr. Donnelly insists, "They're eccentric, but in a really nice way. I love my clients. They're funny but innocent," he says, "and they cherish the lives of their beloved little pets. I can work with them."

Dr. Donnelly takes Junior from Miss Cintron, leaving her in the waiting room to consult a catalogue of environmental-enrichment products -- the rat-toy catalogue he'd promised her.

"I'm not working today," Miss Cintron calls cheerily, "so I have all day."

Dr. Donnelly takes Junior off to the exotics department, a small room with a wall of cages. Greggy, a Congo African gray parrot, rides by on Dr. Ben Otten's shoulder and leaves a whitish deposit on his shirt. Sixteen years ago, Greggy's owner couldn't afford further treatment for her asthmalike symptoms. So exotics adopted her. She's extremely intelligent, like a 6-year-old kid, it's said, and on a couple of occasions she's managed to open all the cages, liberating the lizards and turtles, bunnies, birds, who crawl or hop or fly gamely around the overheated room. greggy rules, it says on her cage. An anorexic rat is in the house today. There's also a cockatiel and a limp ferret whose owner has authorized a myelogram. (The hospital doesn't act on Giuliani's prohibition against ferrets as pets.)

"Come on, who's a good rat?" says Dr. Donnelly, turning to Junior. He sticks him with a syringe of sedative, but the needle bends in the thick skin near Junior's butt.

"Hopefully that will get him under," Dr. Donnelly says when the second try enters. "Then we can gas him."

It's a busy day in the surgery department when Junior breezes through, heading for the dental suite. Another rat, a nervous one, has been having breast tumors removed. A husky is also on the schedule. Huskies are criers, warns one of the vets. A mutt, a biter, has a big tumor on a leg. Heinous, says another surgeon.

Already the beach is busy. The beach is an area in the OR recovery room, so called because it's kept warm and also, no doubt, because for once the species lie down side by side, unconscious and picture-perfect -- so far, there's a pit bull who got a severed artery fixed, a ginger cat who had an eye removed, and a bunny rabbit, all of them on a single inflated mattress, as if taking in the sun.

The dental suite is tucked into a corner of surgery, and Dr. Dan Carmichael, the only board-certified veterinary dentist in New York, and his assistant, Shawn Takada, a red-haired Irish woman married to a Japanese man, are already at work. She's chewing gum and cleaning the teeth of a collie -- the owner will be sent home with chicken-flavored toothpaste.

"On one side of town, they're putting poison out to kill rats," notes Dr. Carmichael. "On the other side, we're doing laser surgery on them for gum work."

Junior is laid out on a gurney on his belly, his four limbs spread, his body toneless. Carmichael wears a blue scrub top stained with what looks like blood. He is a fixer of problems, pulling teeth, getting dirty. He sets the small pad of a dental X-ray in Junior's tiny mouth. Everyone is ushered out of the room, though Carmichael stays. There's no way to fix the X-ray between the rat's teeth, so he holds it. "Shoot," he yells. He's got a chair-side developer, which gives the image back in a few seconds.

"There's no periodontal pocketing," he announces, then wheels over the laser. Junior is rolled onto his back, his four limbs sticking into the air like weather vanes. The laser -- state-of-the-art, says Carmichael -- is about the dimensions of an IV pole and bag, though sturdier. Plastic surgeons use it to take out people's wrinkles.

The laser tip is held like a pencil. From any distance, it doesn't do a thing. Up close, it suntans. Closer, it burns. Carmichael asks if Donnelly would like to do the operation. "I'd love to try," says Donnelly. "I did that laser course."

Donnelly works between the teeth, and in a few minutes, the pink wad of tissue that had poked between the teeth is gone. Junior's neck is tinted with blood. Carmichael pulls from a drawer a rubber band, the kind used on human braces. He fastens it over the two bottom teeth, pulling them together -- orthodontic splinting. With a drill, Carmichael evens the bottom two incisors. The procedure is over and successful.

Then, suddenly, Donnelly lifts Junior's hind two legs in the air, drops them, lifts them. Someone says, "Oh, shit." The rat has arrested. There's no heartbeat, no breathing. Shawn Takada rushes over. She grabs Junior with two hands, as if he might be a musical instrument, and puts his head into her mouth. She breathes.

"I can't do that," mutters Donnelly to no one in particular. It's the allergies. Once, he did just such a CPR maneuver to save a laboratory rat and had to be rushed to the hospital.

"We lost the rat," someone says.

"Shit," Donnelly says quietly. He runs for some epinephrine. There are five or six people around now, ready to help, in blue scrub suits and white coats.

"C'mon, baby," says Takada, momentarily taking Junior out of her mouth. "Breathe."

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