We're a city of the pet-obsessed. New Yorkers live with 1 million dogs and 4 million cats -- and our pampered darlings have considerably longer lives than their counterparts in the rest of the country. That's partly because we keep them indoors (significantly limiting their contact with cars and raccoons), but also because they receive the finest medical care money can buy. Laser declawing? Root canal? Endoscopic surgery? If your pet needs attention above and beyond what your regular vet can provide, you have the good luck to be living among the top veterinary specialists in the country.
"Just like with people, there's a second level of care," says veterinary neurologist Richard Joseph. Some of the vets on our list of the best specialists in New York are affiliated with the city's veterinary hospitals, but we've also included many private-practice specialists. Every doctor here was nominated by multiple peers, and our list includes both board-certified specialists and general practitioners whose reputations are built on their expertise in a specific field. Among other things, these specialists tend to have access to the most advanced equipment; so the more technologically reliant the field (dentistry, oncology), the more worthwhile a visit to a specialist might be.
Just ask some of the pets that these great specialists have saved, like Oakley, the dog who swallowed a spiky rubber ball; Sammy, the cat who couldn't meow; and Bonkers, the cockatiel who wouldn't stop laying eggs. What do these animals have in common? Owners who can -- and will -- go to great lengths to keep their pets healthy and happy into their golden years. "The oldest cat I've seen was 31," says Paul H. Schwartz, a general practitioner at the Center for Veterinary Care. At first, Schwartz didn't believe the animal's owner. "Then I looked at the record and saw that the cat's name was Groovy."
*Addresses for hospitals and vets offices are provided on first mention only.
Animal Medical Center*
510 East 62nd Street(212-838-8100, ext. 8748; www.amcny.org)
"There are some snow leopards at the Bronx Zoo sporting my root canals," says the AMC's Dan Carmichael. It seems the cats, in a randy mood during breeding season, had gotten aggressive and broken their teeth on the chain-link fences of their enclosure (the zoo has since installed Plexiglas). Carmichael's other notable clients include police dogs and bomb-squad sniffers.Carmichael went to Cornell's famed veterinary school, where his father, a vet virologist, invented the now-mandatory dog vaccine for parvovirus. The silver-haired 38-year-old dentist has distinguished himself, too. Only two vets are board-certified for dentistry in the state of New York. Carmichael is one of them; the other, Thoulton Surgeon (yes, that's really his name), practices in New Rochelle. For once, finding the right guy is easy if only you can get in to see him. He's very busy.
"Dental disease is the most common medical problem in dogs and cats," says Carmichael. "Many people take a wait-and-see attitude. If there's no pain, they just let it go. But 85 percent of dogs over three years old and about 50 percent of cats are suffering from some dental condition that needs attention." Usually, that condition is periodontal disease, which calls for a cleaning under anesthetic. He tells the story of a Scottish terrier that had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder for incessantly licking and biting at the air. It turned out that he had advanced gum disease. Carmichael simply gave the Scottie a cleaning and extracted some of the offending teeth.
Animal Medical Center (212-838-8100; www.amcny.org)
Say that Dick Cheney were a dog. His (discreet) motorcade would pull up in front of the AMC and he would place himself under Betsy Bond's care. Because for veterinary heart trouble, she's the best.
Bond, 52, who's been practicing at the AMC for 25 years, is one of three excellent cardiologists on staff. The center also has two residents in the specialty and all the exquisite technology for Doppler echocardiography and coil and pacemaker implantations that any critter could need. So Bond can usually test patients right away instead of requiring a several-hour stay. "A lot of the animals I see have complex problems," says Bond. "It's great to know there are so many specialists in the building."
The AMC's ability to provide 24-hour care is particularly critical for her specialty. "You just can't predict when an animal will have cardiac trouble," she says.
220 East Jericho Turnpike
Mineola, New York (800-486-3246)
If the AMC is the mother ship of animal cardiac care, 45-year-old George Kramer is the Obi-Wan Kenobi. Since 1989, he has been summoned to handle special cases at virtually every veterinary hospital in New York, treating dogs and cats -- even the occasional Bronx Zoo gorilla -- for conditions like arrhythmia, valvular disease, and cardiomyopathy.
But Kramer prefers to work at Ultravet on all matters of the heart. "The hardest part of my job is helping people make decisions about keeping a puppy or kitten with heart disease," he says. "But dealing with the problem later, when there's a bond and history with the same pet, could be a lot harder."
The only cardiologist on staff at the Mineola clinic, Kramer sees a lot of Dobermans, poodles, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels -- breeds that tend to have bad tickers. The good news? The technology has evolved, says Kramer, so that an animal with a new pacemaker can spend just one night in the hospital.
County Animal Specialty Group
1574 Central Park Avenue
Yonkers, New York (914-779-2670)
Sick-pet symptoms don't get much scarier -- for pets and owners -- than seizures and paralysis. "A lot of what we do here is take care of people," says 31-year-old Jason Berg, whose one-and-a-half-year-old clinic offers only treatment in dog and cat neurology, by referral.
Berg and his partner, Richard Joseph (see page 36), are the only two licensed veterinary neurologists in New York City and Westchester, and they have all the necessary machinery for their speciality: MRI scanners as well as equipment for brain and spinal surgery, spinal taps, and physical therapy. One thing the doctors have noticed: Meningioma brain tumors are inexplicably more common in East Coast cats than West Coast cats. But luckily, "cats have an amazing recovery from this type of surgery," says Berg. "I can usually send the patient home two days later with an 80 percent chance of survival."
Animal Behavior Consultants
House calls only
Today, Peter Borchelt is visiting with Charo, a "hypersensitive" Chihuahua. He gently tugs his signature tool, the Snoot Loop, a small facial halter that closes Charo's mouth and will (after prolonged use) calm her recently acquired habit of shrieking when her owner comes near.
"Her little-bitty brain has somehow gotten the idea you're a bad person," he says to the client.
"Obedience training would be a waste of time here. She's not misbehaving; it's fear."
According to Borchelt, who back in '78 became the first behaviorist in the city, his therapy can eliminate quirks like Charo's -- and more serious problems -- without using the violent (and passé) whack with a rolled-up newspaper.
And though a paper costs considerably less than a visit from Borchelt ($300 to $400), only the latter will bring you good karma and a happier pet.
345 West 70th Street, No. 6D
Playing with Kelsey, a hyper poodle that wildly jumps on her Upper West Side owners when they come home, animal behaviorist Linda Goodloe remarks in her gravelly, businesslike voice, "What a well-meaning, devoted dog."
A dog that loves her owner too much would be a change of pace for Goodloe, who, like most animal behaviorists, often spends her afternoons teaching owners how to handle rough dogs.
Even so, Goodloe doesn't believe in punishment. She shows owners how to use a halter as a calming -- not a restraining -- tool. Goodloe visits each family one time, then sends them a game plan for how to deal with their problematic pets. For cats, she says, a phone consultation is often enough. "Cats don't do what they usually do when someone else is there," she says. Her technique also saves owners money -- she charges $45 for the first 30 minutes, then $1 for each additional minute.
Because animal behavior is such a new field, there are few doctors with advanced degrees: Goodloe and Borchelt are the only practicing behaviorists in the city who are certified by the Animal Behavior Society.
Veterinary Internal Medicine and Allergy Specialists
207 East 84th Street (212-988-4650)
New kid on the block Heather Peikes is giving her veterinary neighbors plenty to talk about. She began practicing as Manhattan's only board-certified dermatologist four months ago, at a new 24-hour hospital that's the animal-care equivalent of Weill Cornell's pricey Greenberg Pavilion. vima Specialists may cost a little more than other veterinary clinics, but clients benefit from three internal-medicine specialists, state-of-the-art equipment, and hour-and-a-half appointments.
Though general practitioners often treat dermatology and allergy problems (which make up 20 percent of all vet cases), Peikes is adamant about the value of her tiny specialty field.
"The problems I see can be very severe, to the point where the animal is just one big scabby mess."
Some owners don't realize their pets even have a dermatological problem. "I had an owner tell me their dog was very nervous -- he bit his nails all day long," says Peikes. " 'He's not nervous!' I said. 'He has a yeast infection on the skin around his nails!' "
Skin problems also tend to develop as symptoms of internal ailments, which she can not only diagnose but team up with the hospital'sinternists to treat.
Animal Emergency and Referral Center
647 Bloomfield Avenue
West Caldwell, New Jersey
Manhattanites will drive 45 minutes into deepest, darkest Jersey to see Karen Helton-Rhodes, who was the head of dermatology at the AMC for thirteen years.
Helton-Rhodes, 45, also runs a horse farm and is dermatologist to the show-circuit stars. Allergy sufferers constitute more than half of her practice. Chronic, itching dermatitis is a common hereditary problem in dogs, "kind of like hay fever in people," she says. "Once an allergy gets into a breeding line, it's there to stay. Allergies are in goldens and Labs, so they've kind of taken over where West Highland White terriers used to be the big itchy breed. Boxers are their own little problem child. I saw three yesterday. All I can say is, thank goodness the shar-pei is in decline. The worst skin -- and that's all they were."
Animal Medical Center
(212-838-8100, ext. 8620; www.amcny.org)
"The majority of patients that we test come up positive to people," says Mark Macina, the spiky-haired staff dermatologist at the AMC. Yes, he means they're allergic to the people who brought them in. "I look at the pet and say, 'You have to get rid of your owner.' "
The difference between allergies in humans and in animals is that people respond with respiratory problems (stuffy nose, watery eyes) while dogs and cats respond with skin problems (itching, redness). But the science of immunotherapy is the same for both, as are the most common environmental offenders: dust, mold, grass, trees, weeds.
Macina, 40, who grew up in the city -- "My family was troubled when I went to this hoity-toity liberal-arts college and then ended up cleaning pee and poop from cages" -- also takes urban challenges into consideration when treating allergic pets. "Like the constant construction going on outside your window," he says. "The cats have to hear that all day. Noise and pollution can exacerbate allergies. Plus, I see a lot of obsessive-compulsive behavior in New York -- licking, chewing, grooming." Whether that last comment referred to pets or humans, we weren't eager to ask.
County Animal Clinic
Yonkers, New York (914-779-5000)
Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center
123 West Cedar Street, Norwalk, Connecticut (203-854-9960; www.vrecnorwalk.com)
Nina Shoulberg works at five hospitals -- the two mentioned above, one in White Plains, one in Bedford Hills, and a private practice in Norwalk -- where she treats dogs and cats, 99 percent of them referrals from vets. Shoulberg, 45, who has been practicing since 1984, says her patients mostly suffer from allergies, but she's also diagnosed skin and ear infections, and immune-system diseases like lupus. "I see a lot of dogs who are allergic to cats," she says, "but that's fairly common." She had one patient that turned out to be allergic to marijuana. "The owner clued me in. We had him stop smoking. Then, when we reintroduced it, the dog got itchy all over again." Alas, relief can't always be achieved by cutting back on the bong; most pets have to take antihistamine pills or undergo allergy shots. "We really try to avoid steroids," says Shoulberg.
Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society
West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital
203 Tenth Avenue, at 22nd Street (212-645-2767)
A dozen needles are still visible in Angus's dense coat, but the thirteen-year-old German shepherd is unfazed: He's about to receive treats. Thirty-six-year-old Bridget Halligan is rummaging through the cupboard under her examining table as Angus attempts to nose in. She produces a biscuit, then runs her hand along Angus's back several times to remove the last of the tiny needles. Angus doesn't flinch; he does this every two weeks.
Roughly a third of Halligan's practice at West Chelsea is acupuncture patients, and most of them, like Angus, suffer from pain from orthopedic problems. She also treats some diabetic cats and older dogs with arthritis. Her patients generally don't mind the five to fourteen needles involved in a treatment. "I'll try to make the visit different from a regular trip to the vet," Halligan says. "For some newcomers, we even lower the lights."
She grew up in Staten Island -- not exactly a holistic-health hotbed. Yet it produced three acupuncturing Halligans: Her father and sister practice the art on humans. "So many people will say acupuncture works because people believe it works," she says. "When it's effective on dogs, the evidence is obvious."