Incredible Pet Stories

Incredible Pet Story: Bonkers
The Case of the Egg-Obsessed Cockatiel

The Patient: Bonkers, a twelve-year-old cockatiel

Ailment: Chronic egg-laying

History: Bonkers, one of ten cockatiels owned by Upper East Side attorney Mary Anne Richmond, was nine when she began inexplicably and uncontrollably laying eggs. (Birds in captivity often don’t lay eggs, for lack of good nesting space.) Bonkers was an “in-your-face kind of bird,” says Richmond, yet she’d become exhausted by her productivity, and when she wasn’t laying eggs, she was struggling to pass them. “She’d be lying in the corner of the cage,” says Richmond. “She couldn’t breathe, her eyes were closed, and she’d be really straining.”

Diagnosis: After two months of hormone treatment, Bonkers wasn’t feeling better. An ultrasound revealed a partially formed egg mass lodged inside the bird’s ovaduct. “If they have an egg stuck inside and they lay another one two days later, that’s going to get stuck, too,” says veterinarian Laurie Hess, of the Animal Medical Center on the Upper East Side.

Treatment: Though cockatiel surgery is tricky, Hess recommended that Bonkers be spayed. “You can’t take out the ovary, because it’s adhered to the body wall and would cause too much blood loss,” Hess says. “So you have to take out just the ovaduct and leave the ovary intact.” Bonkers made it through the operation, but she still seemed to be in pain. “We did another ultrasound and saw fluid-filled lesions,” Hess says. “We were worried there might be a cancerous mass on the ovary.” Yet another surgery (poor Bonkers) revealed the cause of the bird’s discomfort: a remaining piece of ovaduct that had become inflamed.

Post-op: Three years and more than $2,000 later, Bonkers is in good health, aside from thwarted maternal yearnings. Now, when one of Richmond’s other birds lays an egg, “Bonkers tries to roll it away and put it underneath her,” she says. “I thought maybe I’d give her an egg and let her sit on it and be happy.”

Incredible Pet Story: Oakley
The Dog Who Ate His Ball for Breakfast

Patient: Oakley, a four-year-old Dalmatian

Ailment: Ingestion of a spiky rubber ball

History: It happened in a blink during a Central Park dog gathering last spring. One moment, Oakley was holding the ball in his jaws, the next moment, it was down his throat. “I didn’t want to believe it,” says owner Aner Marks, a software developer who lives on the Upper West Side. Oakley had swallowed a ball just a month earlier. “The last one he struggled with. But this one just went floop! and was gone.” The other dog owners, typically, were all giving Marks advice. “Make him throw up! Make him eat grass! Do the Heimlich! But I finished the game, went home, ate breakfast, and called Dr. Campbell once her office opened.”

Diagnosis: Rebecca Campbell of Symphony Veterinary Center on the Upper West Side had helped Oakley through his first ball-swallowing, during which she discovered not only a ball down there but a guitar string too! (Oakley eventually vomited up that ball; the string remains.) This time, Campbell gave Marks two options: traditional surgery or an endoscopic retrieval. The spiky toy, says Campbell, “never would have made it through the intestine.” Endoscopy – removing the ball through Oakley’s esophagus – was deemed too risky. Had the ball gotten stuck during the procedure, removing it would have required opening his chest, a more dangerous operation than stomach surgery.

Treatment: “When Oakley was shifting in the cage before the operation, occasionally you could hear a squeak come out of his stomach,” says Campbell. During surgery, she located the offending sphere by squeezing Oakley’s abdomen and listening.

Post-op: The day after surgery, Oakley was well enough to be the centerpiece at a birthday party for Marks’s 5-year-old niece. As for the ball, “it took $1,200 in vet bills to save a $1.98 ball that wasn’t even mine,” Marks says. “I gave it back to my friend. ‘Here you go,’ I said. ‘It still squeaks.’ “

Incredible Pet Story: Sammy
The Cat Who Lost His Meow

Patient: Sammy, an ex-stray cat, roughly five years old

The ailment: Diaphragmatic hernia

History: In 1997, Sammy was retrieved from an abandoned building in Chinatown by City Critters animal-rescue service and taken to West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital. He had difficulty breathing and was unable to meow. “When I talked to him, he would try to meow back, but no sound would come out,” says the hospital’s manager, Liz Farber, who was also puzzled by the way Sammy sat: propped on his front legs, his body splayed out behind him. “He would crane his neck a little bit and breathe that way,” says Farber. “It was completely baffling.”

Diagnosis: An X-ray revealed a hernia in the diaphragm, a cat injury that can result from impacts such as falling several stories from a window or getting hit by a car. Farber’s husband, Michael, a vet who owns the hospital, estimated that the injury was about a year old. Because Sammy hadn’t been treated for the accident, “his abdominal organs had made their way into the thoracic cavity through the tear in the diaphragm,” says Michael. “They were taking up space where the lungs normally expand. The liver and intestines had adhered to the wall of the chest and the lungs themselves.”

Treatment: “With adhesions, the longer they’re there, the thicker and stronger they get,” says Michael. Liz adds, “Did you ever pull two things apart that were stuck together and end up ripping one? That was the problem.” Although Sammy was high-risk, a surgical resident at Animal Medical Center was interested in taking the case. Despite four-to-one odds that the cat wouldn’t survive, says Michael, “we figured he probably couldn’t be any worse off than he already was.” He had to be manually respirated with an oxygen bag throughout the 90-minute operation.

Post-op: Sammy’s insides are now right, but he still suffers from asthma and digestive problems. More medical procedures could be in his future, which convinced the Farbers to adopt him; the best family for Sammy is a vet family. “He completely appreciates the lap of luxury,” says Liz. “And he got his meow back.”

Incredible Pet Story: Trooper
A Doggie’s Dream Team

The patient: Trooper, a fifteen-year-old Lab-shepherd mix

The ailments: Arthritis, hip dysplasia, Cushing’s disease, cancer, neurological problems

History: Trooper, past the upper limit of his life expectancy, is the definition of high-maintenance: He has intimate relationships with six veterinary specialists at a cost of almost $1,000 per month. While Trooper’s upkeep might be over-the-top, his laundry list of troubles isn’t uncommon for New York dogs. “In the city, where dogs are leashed, they live much longer,” says Paul H. Schwartz, Trooper’s general vet. “So they develop diseases classically associated with geriatric humans.”

The (many) doctors: Beverly Cappel, holistic and alternative medicine, Vet at the Barn, Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.; Jonathan Leshanski, acupuncturist, At Home Veterinary (house calls); Emily Elliot, chiropractor, Center for Veterinary Care, Upper East Side; Peter Kross, swim therapist, Biscuit and Bath, midtown; Richard Joseph, neurologist, Westside Veterinary Center, Upper West Side; Paul H. Schwartz, general medicine, Center for Veterinary Care, Upper East Side.

Diagnosis: “For twelve years, Trooper was healthy as a horse,” says his owner, Barbara Mishkin, an Upper East Side businesswoman. Now, sadly, the arthritis and hip dysplasia he’s been suffering for a year make his legs wobble – or buckle completely. Recently, the brain signals that control his legs have been malfunctioning, which Trooper’s neurologist says is due to a yet-to-be-determined spinal problem. Trooper also suffers from Cushing’s disease, a hyperactivity of the adrenal glands that can cause ligament damage. (He was diagnosed with the disease three years ago after he uncharacteristically peed in the lobby of Mishkin’s building.) “After hypothyroidism, Cushing’s is the second most common hormonal abnormality in dogs,” says Schwartz.

Treatment: Trooper takes a daily pill called Anapril to help control Cushing’s and receives monthly fluid injections into his joints for his arthritis. The rest of his therapy is unconventional. “The idea is to try to get some responses without introducing other drugs into his system,” Schwartz says. He supported the turn to alternative medicine when the dog developed a neurofibrosarcoma tumor two and a half years ago. Trooper responded better to herbal remedies than he did to radiation. Cappel, his holistic vet, keeps him on a regimen of more than a dozen daily (some twice-daily) herbal supplements that take five to fifteen minutes to administer “on a good day,” says Mishkin. Trooper’s swim therapist, acupuncturist, and chiropractor work on his mobility. “The doctors keep having to remind me that Trooper’s the equivalent of 100 years old,” says Mishkin.

Post-op: Trooper enjoys the precarious medical stability of the average senior citizen. To enhance his lifestyle, Mishkin has bought him the canine version of a wheelchair. “I think I’ve found the Cadillac of carts,” she says.

Click here for the main Best Vets feature

Incredible Pet Stories