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A Breed Apart

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Richard Joseph
Acupuncturist, neurologist
Westside Veterinary Center
220 West 83rd Street (212-580-1800)
Tuesday evenings only

"Neurology and acupuncture have a nice marriage," says Richard Joseph, who practiced for sixteen years at the Animal Medical Center. The 45-year-old Joseph started out as a psychology major in college . . . until he failed biology his first semester. Clearly, he got over the hurdle, because he's now one of 110 board-certified veterinary neurologists in the world.

Each week, he schleps a mobile MRI unit from the neurology practice he shares in Yonkers with another of the rarefied 110, Jason Berg (see page 34), to clinics in Norwalk, Connecticut, southern New Jersey, and Manhattan. He has a thick Queens accent, longish dark, curly hair, and a hoop through his left ear.

Joseph estimates that he has achieved an 80 percent success rate in joint-pain management through acupuncture. "It's a reasonable alternative to medicine, with its side effects, and surgery, with its risks. My clients' pets walk better, feel better, even revert to old habits, like jumping on the couch." That's success, in Joseph's line of work.

ENDOCRINOLOGY

Andrew Kaplan
Internist
Rivergate Veterinary Clinic
403 East 37th Street
(212-213-9885)

Tall, dark, and humane, Andrew Kaplan is like a refugee worker, compelled to be wherever the need is greatest. So he moved back to New York -- where he'd done his residency at the Animal Medical Center -- from California about a year ago. "The situation in San Francisco is as good as it gets in terms of animal control and overpopulation," he says. In the five boroughs, by comparison, 40,000 to 60,000 animals are killed in accidents or by euthanasia each year.

The 37-year-old general practitioner considers his specialty to be "puzzling" diagnoses and hard-to-manage diseases such as diabetes. His own mixed breed, Katie, is diabetic; you'll see her slowly but sweetly padding around the Rivergate clinic, where Kaplan says he will be practicing only until he can start his own shelter project. The vets at Rivergate support his plan, he says: "They believe in a lot of the same principles I do."

Mark E. Peterson
Internist
Animal Medical Center
(212-838-8100, ext. 8658; www.amcny.org)

If your ravenous-yet-diminishing cat is waking you at 5 a.m. to demand ever more food, Mark Peterson may be your man. Peterson, head of endocrinology at the AMC, estimates that about one in 300 cats in the city -- maybe even one in 50 over the age of ten -- suffers from hyperthyroidism, a condition in which excess thyroid hormone is secreted, creating a constant state of overstimulation. He has been handling such cases for 22 years and was the first veterinarian in the city to treat cats with radioiodine therapy. Peterson's treatment does, however, leave you with a temporarily radioactive cat, which means a one-week hospital stay for your hot little furball and then limited contact with him or her back home for two more weeks.

Friendly, soft-spoken, and anything but hyperactive himself, Peterson grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. In vet school, he became interested in dogs and cats when he realized that medicine for pets was more sophisticated: "If you can't fix a cow for $25, well, it gets shipped off."

LASER DECLAWING

Kristin Iglesias
General practitioner
St. Marks Veterinary Hospital
348 East 9th Street (212-477-2688; www.stmarksvet.com)

"If it's going to be the claws or the cat, we'll save the cat, of course," says 29-year-old Kristin Iglesias. "Laser declawing is the kindest, least traumatic way to do it."

Thanks to St. Marks's laser-surgery machine, Iglesias and the other vets there are masters of the scratchless cat. Iglesias estimates that her homey clinic performed about 55 laser declawings last year. Many vets don't like to declaw cats, and Iglesias is no exception. Tugging at her ponytail, she says, "We're talking about major surgery that, no matter what technique you use, involves removing the whole tip of the cat's finger, the entire bone."

Confident and politically committed -- "Sometimes people bring in these beautiful cockatoos and I just think, Oh, you should be in a rain forest" -- Iglesias received a prestigious scholarship in high school to work in Cornell's vet college for the summer. She was assigned to the department of pathology and necropsy, she says, "and I thought, If I like animals this much when they're dead, imagine how much I'll like working with the live ones."

ENDOSCOPY/ULTRASONOGRAPHY

Robert B. Justin
Internist
Ultravet Diagnostics
220 East Jericho Turnpike
Mineola, New York (800-486-3246)

"Everything that walks through our doors is sick and needs help, and very few have textbook medical conditions," Robert Justin says of his referral-only practice. Animals are usually referred to him for ultrasounds or endoscopic or laparoscopic procedures after simpler diagnostics have failed. Ultravet is a 24-hour clinic that works with about 100 practices in the New York region. Justin typically travels -- with his state-of-the-art equipment -- to nine or ten different offices a week.

In vet school at Cornell, Justin -- a bearded, skinny science-fair type who grew up in the Bronx with pet lizards and snakes instead of puppies -- decided he'd rather be a veterinary sleuth than a veterinary surgeon. "By the time a surgeon gets a patient," he says, "the problem's already known." In his specialty, however, "when you do a probe on an abdomen or heart, you hold your breath a second to see what you find. It can be disturbing. But that's also what keeps it interesting."

EXOTICS

Sally Haddock
Internist
St. Marks Veterinary Hospital
(212-477-2688; www.stmarksvet.com)

When Sally Haddock was applying to vet schools in the seventies, women were the exotics. Now things have improved vastly -- women make up about 75 percent of vet students -- and Haddock has become an expert at exotics, particularly the avian kind. "Birds have great personality," says the spirited blonde author of The Making of a Woman Vet. "They're very curious." Injuries, viral infections, and gastroenteritis are the most common bird ills, but Haddock also deals with obsessive feather-picking, bad diets ("Birds are seed junkies," she says), and "way too many cat bites."

Because blood loss is a major issue with surgery on tiny bird parts, St. Marks, with its laser-surgery machine, is the place in the city for avian operations.

Other exotics that visit the clinic include bearded dragons, potbellied pigs, hedgehogs, ferrets, snakes, and hairy chinchillas ("the cutest things in the whole wide world," says the vet). Soon, after renovations, St. Marks hopes to accommodate fish. "If we have to hospitalize fish," she says, "it would be handy to have an aquarium."

Laurie Hess
Board-certified in avian practice
Animal Medical Center
(212-838-8100, ext. 8619; www.amcny.org)

Laurie Hess was just out of Tufts vet school in 1994 when a man burst into the AMC at 3 a.m. with a large, exotic cat and a one-armed baby monkey in a coma. The monkey's seizure had scared the cat into attacking it, and the man wanted Hess to retrieve the simian arm from the feline colon and reattach it. This proved impossible, and the monkey died from what turned out to have caused the seizure: herpes simplex.

"Effectively, someone kissed the monkey, gave it herpes, and killed it," Hess says. Herpes simplex, so common in humans, is fatal to simians.

Since then, Hess and the three other staff doctors in the AMC's exotics department have treated an average of 3,000 animals each year -- not counting emergencies. She recently doctored Izzy, a male guinea pig with breast cancer who made it through a double mastectomy only to contract an unrelated lymphoma. Izzy's owner was willing to do anything to save him, so Hess e-mailed other exotics specialists and oncologists to find a way to give the animal chemotherapy, something the AMC had never done for a guinea pig. Poor Izzy survived one round of chemo but later died.

ONCOLOGY

Gerald Post
Board-certified oncologist
Long Island Veterinary Specialists
163 South Service Road
Plainview, New York (516-501-1700; www.livs.org)

When he's not helping local zookeepers deal with afflicted wildlife, the benevolent and bearded Gerald Post, 40, is trying to cure dogs and cats of cancer. His practice offers the most advanced in vet oncology: CT scans, chemotherapy, and some experimental protocols like biological immunotherapy and vaccine therapy.

Cancer in animals seems to be on the rise, says Post, but "it's pretty rewarding to see the progress. The therapies we're using now are similar to those used with people."

Post, who founded the national Animal Cancer Foundation in 1999, disputes the notion that veterinary oncology is grim work. "These are animals who, without intervention, will die. Even if we help, they might still die, but at least we can increase their survival time and quality of life. My patients are happy."

Tim Rocha
Board-certified oncologist
Manhattan Vet Group
240 East 80th Street (212-988-1000)

"A major part of my day is patient education," says Tim Rocha, 34, of his oncology practice on the Upper East Side. The Manhattan Vet Group primarily offers diagnostics and chemotherapy; radiation patients head down to the AMC. Before recommending any course of treatment -- or maybe none at all -- Rocha makes sure the owners understand their options and gives them plenty of time to make a decision.

Since beginning his practice in 1994, Rocha has cared for mostly middle-age to older pets, many with lymphoma or mast-cell tumors. So this is a vet who's sensitive to animals that are likely to have other ailments that might affect their response to chemo or slow the healing process.

RESPIRATORY/GASTROINTESTINAL

John Broussard
Internist
Animal Medical Center (212-838-8100, ext. 8723; www.amcny.org)

"Things that are strange to general vets become pretty run-of-the-mill here," says John Broussard, the 38-year-old Texan who heads the AMC's gastrointestinal- and respiratory-disease departments. "There are very few places in the world where you can put together a collection of, say, feline and canine gastro cases that reach numbers in the thousands. So a lot of knowledge can be generated quickly here; we optimize the diagnostics and treatments."

About twenty of these gastrointestinal or respiratory cases a week come from veterinary referrals. "A lot of animals are directed here because they need an intervention: They won't eat or have been vomiting and need tube feeding."

Broussard and his team of interns and residents also work on clinical studies, which include testing drugs that are just becoming available for liver and intestinal problems (such as inflammatory bowel disease). "We're like the last step in the stamp-of-approval process," he says.

OPHTHALMOLOGY

Sheri Berger
Board-certified ophthalmologist
Manhattan Veterinary Group
240 East 80th Street (212-988-1000)

Sheri Berger treats all kinds of animal eye conditions; she has, on occasion, fitted a pet for contact lenses. But most of her day is spent dealing with common infections, cataracts, and glaucoma. Resembling a tall and lanky Winona Ryder, Berger, 38, comes from a horse-racing family; at one point in college, she considered becoming an equine orthopedic surgeon. But ophthalmology batted its eyes at her in vet school.

At the MVG, where Berger has been the medical director for three years, she sees mostly dogs and cats. Certain breeds, she notes, are more prone to eye conditions, like Shih Tzus, cocker spaniels, and chows.

However, all city animals must contend with particularly urban ailments. "Pollution and dirt make infections harder to manage," says Berger. "But there are also fewer exacerbated cataracts in New York because of the tall buildings and lack of UV light."

SURGERY

Richard Greene
Board-certified surgeon
Center for Veterinary Care
236 East 75th Street (212-734-7480)
Monday-Wednesday only

In practice for more than 35 years, Richard Greene trained most of the other surgeons on New York's list during his fifteen years at the AMC. He's one of the few board-certified surgeons who also see general cases, at the cheery Center for Veterinary Care as well as at the ASPCA on Thursdays and in Park Slope at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital on Fridays.

At the ASPCA, he performs as many as fifteen spay-neuters a day. Lately, he's been doing a lot of colectomies on a referral basis for cats with chronic constipation. "In New York, we spend so much intimate time in close confinement with our animals," says Greene. "People will come in with pages and pages of notes on their cat's defecation. It's nice to be able to tell them that you can help."

As for dogs, Greene explains that as different breeds become more popular, "we start seeing more of the diseases that dogs get." Currently, that means a lot of Labs with orthopedic (elbow and knee) problems and cocker spaniels -- "they seem to be back" in vogue, he notes -- with skin and ear troubles.


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