You can draw a straight line from the newly adopted 5-year-old, tri-color Chihuahua named Zeb currently sleeping on my couch to the Wesley V. Metzler Surgery Center at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. It was the center's staff who amputated his back right leg after it healed wrong from a previous injury.
And it is they who are beaming with pride after recently becoming the only animal shelter in Colorado to gain accreditation from the American Animal Hospital Association.
To learn more, last Thursday morning I walked through the frosted doors marked "Administration," behind which officemates of the canine variety, often leashed or penned in by a child gate, lay alongside the staffers working for the patients in question.
Patients like Summer, a white miniature poodle in the intensive-care unit — which is really just a side room off the main surgical area stocked with a few cages and specialized treatment material — who underwent hernia repair, a dental procedure and a femoral head osteotomy, where the pain-creating, damaged head of the femur is removed, letting the gluteal muscles create a false joint.
Left alone to rest, Summer loudly whined for the few minutes I stood talking to 30-year-old veterinary services manager Julie Crosby, a not-uncommon sound in the surgery center. "I don't even hear it anymore," said a smiling Crosby, who was hosting the nuzzle-happy Canela, a co-worker's dog, in her office. "You block it out."
A job at the Humane Society, which sees more than 25,000 animals a year (roughly a quarter of which are ultimately euthanized), requires a laser focus for a variety of reasons.
First, there were the 900-plus requirements to be met for accreditation from the AAHA (which Crosby pronounces "ah-ha"). "It's a really rigorous evaluation, and it covers everything from patient care, anesthesia, surgery, pain management, pharmaceuticals, policies, producers and protocols — it's very, very detailed," she says. "And it's pretty rare. The most recent article I saw, I think there were only about a dozen shelters in the country with it, and we're the first in the state of Colorado.
"So, the level of equipment that we're using for monitoring, and the training surrounding anesthesia and surgery, all of our sterile protocols and technique — it was just a matter of looking at those and making sure everything was up to their standard, because AAHA sets the bar in the field."
You can tell how happy it makes the team just based on the fact that Crosby remembers the exact date that a Hospital Association representative came out for a preliminary visit. Care for the processes was evident elsewhere, too. A masked Dr. Nicole Putney, hunched over a gray short-hair named Misty, explains that she was treating the cat outside of the main, glass-doored surgical area — where two heated, V-shaped operating tables sat side by side — because she didn't want to contaminate it. Plus, it wasn't a very involved procedure.
"This guy licked his incision a lot and got an infection; and the owners claim they can't keep the E-collar on him, but we're gonna change that," says Putney. "We're gonna make it work somehow, because cats have really bad bacteria in their mouths."
Unconscious and oblivious to her plight, Misty lay on her back, glassily staring out from open eyes (which receive a lubricant) while a vital-signs monitor sat clipped to her thin, pink tongue. Afterward, the recovering animal may spend time on what employees call The Beach — a large pad covered in blankets where a machine blows warm air. Anesthesia decreases body temperature, so heated apparatuses, like the high-tech microwaved sock full of rice, the light smell of which floated in the air, are common.
Up to 30 animals are neutered or spayed — the latter gaining a tiny, green tattoo to signify the procedure — a day. Meanwhile, the center's four veterinarians and 11 veterinary technicians are also performing amputations, eye removals, lump removals and dental work, and surgically treating bite wounds, injuries from car accidents and infectious diseases. There's also a "trap, neuter and return" program for feral cats, who are kept in blanketed cages with low-volume classical music playing until they're released where they were found.
But there are always those emotionally taxing emergency procedures, the other reason a strong focus is needed. The latest example is Stewie, the kitten recently rescued from a Pueblo man who tortured and killed Stewie's brother. About $2,000 was needed to fund surgery for an unrelated congenital esophagus malformation, and within days of putting out the word, HSPPR received more than $3,000 from outside donors.
"There's a lot of positive that we really try to focus on because there's a lot of difficult stuff that we deal with. ... But I'm just excited to have that accreditation, because I really think it shows the community and our supporters and just everybody out there that a shelter doesn't necessarily equal low-level care," Crosby says. "It's quite the opposite in our case. We're really providing these animals the absolute best care that they could receive, and we're gonna maintain that standard."