By Virginia Mann
In 1978, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States, the Sony Walkman was introduced, and gasoline cost $1.56 per gallon. Back then, if your pet needed after hours emergency care, you called your veterinarian, often waking him from a sound sleep. In order to improve emergency care for pets and ensure some sleep for veterinarians, Sheldon Rubin, DVM, of Blum Animal Hospital organized a group of his peers to start Chicago Veterinary Emergency Service (now called Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center), which opened 35 years ago on Labor Day in 1978.
At that time, there were very few dedicated emergency facilities for pets anywhere in the country. Even a major city such as Chicago lacked an emergency-only facility within the city limits. “I knew that pets and their caregivers could be better served with a dedicated emergency facility, and that veterinarians could begin to get a good night’s sleep if we had an emergency facility that was open when family veterinarians were closed,” Rubin says.
Working together, a group of 20 Chicago veterinarians built an emergency facility that would be open on nights, weekends, and holidays—whenever primary care veterinarians were closed. The facility was equipped with everything family veterinarians offered in the event of an emergency.
“In the early days, the services we offered were not all that different than what family vets offered. The biggest difference was that we were open on nights and weekends,” says Jerry Klein, DVM, supervising veterinarian of Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center. “When we first opened, we gave veterinarians time to sleep, and we gave them and their clients a sense of security. They knew that pets would be well taken care of if an emergency arose during off hours.”
In 1978, emergency facilities, just like family veterinarians, had to rely heavily upon a pet’s history and basic tests to determine what problems they were facing. Often, a veterinarian’s experience and intuition was key to successfully diagnosing and treating sick or injured animals.
“Today, things are very different,” Klein notes. “More so than ever before, we have the ability to give pet parents answers to their questions and options for treatment of their beloved pet.”
Emergency facilities are now more likely to resemble a human hospital than a local veterinary clinic. For example, emergency facilities such as Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center and Premier Veterinary Group (formerly Animal Emergency & Treatment Center, or AETC) offer advanced diagnostics and medical care such as MRIs, CT scans, heart monitoring, oxygen chambers, and an in-house laboratory and blood bank.
Today, in addition to emergency and critical care, centers offer a full-range of veterinary specialists on-site. Board-certified veterinary specialists are available in specialty areas such as cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, oncology, neurology, and surgery.
“The partnership between our ER and our specialists is terrific,” Klein says. Specialists at emergency care facilities like Chicago Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Premier Veterinary Group, and others are available to consult on emergency cases, and the emergency and intensive care units are available to support patients under the care of veterinary specialists.
Depending on the pet’s condition and the caregiver’s wishes, the result is care that is as extensive and effective as that afforded to people. Spinal surgery, blood transfusions, root canal, high-blood pressure treatment, cardiac care, and complete cancer diagnosis and treatment are just a few examples of the care available today in emergency facilities.
In addition to changes in technology and specialty care, there have also been changes in people’s expectations about the care of their pets. Pet parents want answers and options for treating their pet. In the past, the main question was often, “Is my pet in pain?” when determining whether to try to extend the pet’s life. Today, caregivers want to know more. “Fortunately, our resources and expertise have developed right along with the expectations of pet parents over the past 35 years,” Klein says.
“When I first envisioned a dedicated emergency facility for pets, I knew that it would be good for animals,” Rubin says. “I never expected that we would become the comprehensive emergency, critical, and specialty care facility we are today. And, I certainly didn’t expect that we would be open 24 hours, every day of the year. It’s great to see pet care make such remarkable strides.”