In the animal hospital, rows of polished pine pews with high backs line the narrow waiting room—the staff call it The Bus—in an animal-friendly design that gives each pet and owner a measure of privacy. Head-Trauma Harry, the office cat and a former patient, is draped languorously over a computer keyboard at the central check-in desk. Watts’s dogs—the Mom, Dad, and daughter in a family of chocolate Labs—hang out in a large pen out back.
With a staff comprised of three veterinarians and several veterinary nurses and technicians, Pleasant Bay is prepared to deal with most any routine or emergency health situation in dogs and cats. The treatment room holds two long steel tables, each with direct overhead lighting. Surgeries are performed in an adjacent operating room. Another narrow area just off the treatment room holds cages of all sizes. This is where pets are kept overnight to recuperate from injuries and surgical procedures. A little white fluff ball of a dog pushes her nose against the cage. Russel-Belle, a young Bichon, was spayed yesterday and is now ready to go home.
Veterinary assistant Linda Hill carries in Holly, a young brown dog with a permanent frown creasing her brow. Holly is here for a nail clipping, and she’s muzzled. “I’ve been bitten before,” Linda explains. “There’s a sharp learning curve in this business. You learn quickly to read an animal’s signals.” Linda lifts Holly up to the treatment table and quickly clips her nails. It takes just a few minutes, and Holly is back down on the floor, happy again with her muzzle off.
“Pain in animals wasn’t always a consideration,” Watts explains. “There’s a pain scale now that rates an animal’s pain from one to 10, based on a variety of factors such as temperature, responsiveness, activity, and aggressiveness. Animals are like people: they heal faster when their pain is managed.”
Snuffy, a 17-year old golden Persian cat is the next appointment of the day. He’s been vomiting for the past three days, explains Franca Eldredge, Snuffy’s owner. Snuffy lies down on the exam table and Watts begins a thorough examination. Snuffy has previously had kidney disease, and Watts is sensitive to Franca’s concerns about the older cat. Snuffy meows when Watts begins to examine his arthritic lower spine. Franca alternately scratches Snuffy’s ears and smooths his fur during the exam. “It’s going to be very hard to put him down,” she admits, her eyes wet with tears. “I was afraid this was it. I look to you for guidance; I just don’t want him to suffer.” Watts tells her that there is nothing dramatic, nothing imminent.
“Lots of patients ask that question: How will I know when it’s time?” Watts says. “We talk about quality of life, and I tell them it will be like a light bulb turning on one morning—they’ll know it’s time.” He says about two-thirds of his clients opt to stay with their pet during euthanasia. “It reflects a change in how we feel about our animals nowadays.” The bond between people and their pets makes their care a priority. “These are family members,” Watts says.
High and low-pitched barking can be heard from The Bus. It’s late morning and people and their animals are waiting. Watts turns and heads back to the examination room.