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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > A dog and a cat walk into a hospital

A dog and a cat walk into a hospital

Updated on: 07 July,2024 04:26 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Kiss Hattiangadi , Feroz Parekh |

Tata Trust’s new small animal hospital in Mahalaxmi seems like something we’ve all been waiting for. Two species put it to the test

A dog and a cat walk into a hospital

Pradnya Hattiangadi, Matunga-resident, is a canine behaviourist. Kiss works as a therapy dog with children on the spectrum; Feroz’s existence is a gift to humankind. Pic/Ashish Raje; (right) Feroz impersonated a stray cat in need of a general check-up

The city that goes on morchas for community dogs got a new veterinary hospital this week, under a name synonymous for animal welfare and related charity. The city already has many trusted specialty hospitals with passionate vets: Dr Leena Dalal’s PetZone has branches in Powai, Mahalakshmi, Churchgate; Dr Umesh Karkare’s Happy Tails in Deonar and Khar, Dr Sangeeta Vengsarkar Shah has been one of, if not the, first veterinary cardiologists (Shivaji Park); There’s Crown Vet in Worli and Khar, Cessna in Belapur and The Vet (Eye Vet, Cancer Vet and Ortho Vet) in Chembur. All of them offer specialised care for kidney or orthopaedic needs, in-house diagnostics (blood tests, X-Rays, ECGs, ultrasounds), and surgeries. And attached pharmacies.

So what can Tata Trusts offer? Real estate and infrastructure, we found.

We tested the newly-opened tertiary hospital with two candidates: Kiss the 12-year-old Weimaraner and Feroz, the eight-year-old ginger cat. Kiss sought a second opinion for her ongoing sleep incontinence; Feroz impersonated a stray cat who needed a check-up before being adopted into an apartment. That’s an outright lie—Feroz identifies as lord of all he surveys in this writer’s home, and his pronouns are laadla/raja beta. 

The three parameters we tested were: Infrastructure, service and handling; price point.

We drive down the winding bylane in Mahalakshmi to the Tata Trusts Small Animal Hospital. Pradnya Hattiangadi, canine behaviourist, trainer and Kiss’ human, remembers that the Welfare of Stray Dog centre once stood here.

Kiss was prescribed cranberry extract for the infection leading to incontinence Kiss was prescribed cranberry extract for the infection leading to incontinence 

At the onset, Tata Trusts offered pet parents a luxury unheard of—parking within premises. That too at the gate, for the ease of immobile, sedated and senior animals.  And there is no ramp at the entry, because there are no steps. The entry to the hospital is at smooth ground level—an extremely mindful and crucial detail. There is no hurdle, not even a threshold that an ailing animal would have to lumber over.  A compound, parts of it lined with astroturf, encircles the main building. Again, very thoughtful for dogs to decompress before and after a vet visit, and to relieve themselves.

The waiting area is wide with seats arranged in a zig-zag pattern, so the doggies can  get a wide berth. There are also tables every two or three seats for carriers with small dogs. There’s a separate cat space in the corner, enclosed with a door and the blinds drawn—very important details. There are stable tables for carriers.
This may seem like a small thought, but it’s not. For a pet, a vet is rarely a pleasant experience. And the triggers stack up the minute they spot the clinic/hospital. A tussle in the waiting room, a snarling dog in your face on the other side of the carrier, a dog mounting another, sets off a spark in an already tense room and could have a domino effect on all animals waiting. A cloud of fear pheromones already looms over the place. It also throws off blood pressure and heart rate giving inaccurate reading and lowering immunity in a critical pet. Each step taken to diffuse stress at every level, helps.

One thing we’d change is that the weighing machine is right next to the door, and is naked in its slippery steel-ness. Behaviourists often prescribe a yoga mat or astro-turf so that dogs don’t slip and hence get on the machine easily; and we’d suggest that it be in another location.

Why? Imagine yourself a dog, reluctantly trying to get on and stay put on a slippery surface, and the door opens, another dog walks in and pokes his nose up your behind to say, hello…

The reception staff asks if we have an appointment; we don’t. They tell us that it’s a 30- to 45-minute wait without it. We’re asked what we’re here for, and given intake forms to fill. We’re only the second patient in the room, but we wait for over an hour. This is hard on Kiss, who cannot settle down. An extended waiting period increases the stress hormones which circulate longer in the system, chipping away at immunity. Extremely sensitive cats will also drool to the point of dehydration due to stress, as well as defecate and vomit repeatedly. Many vets request you to wait in the car or walk your dog in cases of extended waiting time.

Dr Hamid Shah and Aditya Varpe of the Pet Care team take Feroz first to consultation room no 5. We’re happy to see that the steel examination table is also covered with a Turkish towel—great grip and easy to clean. We tell them Feroz is here for a general check-up and a green flag to become a house cat. He needs to be vaccinated, de-wormed, de-flea-ed and have his ears cleaned. Dr Shah is congenial, asks where the cat gets his name, checks his teeth and ears, declares he is healthy, does not need his nails clipped (never advised in cats), but does need to manage plaque build-up on his teeth. Weighing a little over 4 kilos, Feroz is porky but Dr Shah says we needn’t worry.

Varpe is great at handling—he applies the spot application for parasites on Feroz’s parted fur expertly, drips drops into his ears, massages them and cleans up, stroking Feroz’s forehead all the while. There are more technical, low-stress methods of handling cats using two towels and examining them in the carrier, and we wish SAHM had trained vet assistants in this—if you are building something anew, what a great opportunity to train from scratch. This would also add a notch to the vet assistant’s qualifications, hopefully resulting in more employment opportunities with higher pay.

Dr Shah informs us that this is a tertiary hospital i.e,. it deals with specialities, so Feroz’s basic vaccinations will have to be done elsewhere. Bummer. While Dr Shah has wonderful human skills, Feroz is able to back out of his hold a few times while getting his ears cleaned, and I take over. A six-point hold with a towel would have avoided this.

It’s Kiss’ turn and she’s shaking and shivering in the consultation room. She needs her temperature taken, which is done through the rectum, and Varpe lures her with treats. He speaks to her through the procedure, and Dr Shah recommends an ultrasound to check her bladder.

The ultrasound machine is in another room, and we peek through the window: The handling is not so gentle anymore. It’s the old school ways that are still widely accepted for efficiency, which can traumatise sensitive dogs and push some to bite the face off their handlers. One attendant sweeps Kiss’ legs from under her so that she falls on her side (gently), and one more person holds her down at the shoulder with his body. It’s only due to absence of better understanding, not abject cruelty. 

It’s a minus point for Hattiangadi that she is not in the room for the simple procedure. Most pet parents are kept out so as to not excite the dog and complicate the process with emotions, but Hattiangadi could make Kiss lie down on command with a treat. She uses a form of training called Consent Work in which animals participate and cooperate in treatment plans. Conscious zoos use this to medicate large animals.

While we wait, another young vet leads an Indie into a consulting room. She’s held the leash high so that the dog does not back out of his collar, and uses a jaunty, high-pitched voice to lead him—perfect handling. The dog thinks s/he’s going to do something fun, and may not realise s/he’s been duped until the thermometer appears.

The ultrasound reveals a cyst and we’re glad that Dr Shah’s prescription is based in common sense. Matunga-based Hattiangadi asks whether they need to explore hormone therapy to treat this, or at least antibiotics, and Dr Shah responds, “We don’t like to give antibiotics like its candy. Try this cranberry extract for a month, and then we will see. If it doesn’t work, we’ll do a culture test to see exactly which antibiotics to give.” Heartening.

Outside, billing and pharmacy have teething troubles. The machine doesn’t work, there’s no paper for billing and the whole system takes time though there are three people and not too many patients. Two young guns from the marketing team though, are eager to record your testimonials for social media against a trade-marked background.

Basic consultation fee is Rs 1,100 for each animal—steep considering the average at a vet hospital is Rs 500 to Rs 700. The ultrasound costs a steep Rs 3,400; it’s in the range of Rs 2,000-Rs 2,200 at other places, and even waived off if the vet chooses it. At Happy Tails, Kiss’ chosen vet, they don’t charge her unless this is something the pet parent insists on.

SAHM is not all motors firing it—orthopaedic, physiotherapy and nephrology departments are not functional yet. Though the first preference is to patients with an appointment, two colleagues have been trying to get one by phone for a few days, but nobody is picking up the phone.

If SAHM does manage to keep its 24/7 promise, it would be a boon—most hospitals stop this service a few months after opening. This area has a high density of specialty clinics—Crown Vet and PetZone—are just up the road, so perhaps only the ability to house and handle a large volume of patients is in SAHM’s favour. A little tightening of processes would be welcome—even the most devoted of pet parents cannot spend two hours for a basic consultation.

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