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Ownerless Animals Need Medical Care, Too

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The co-owner of a for-profit animal hospital is starting a nonprofit charity to treat animals with no owners.

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Not long ago, a family walked into the C.A.R.E. Hospital for animals with a puppy that was sick, but by no means dying.

The family couldn’t afford the treatment, and asked the veterinarians to put their pit bull down.

But the vet just couldn’t do it: The dog’s tail was wagging.

“He still had puppy breath,” said Dr. Trish Lane, co-owner of the for-profit hospital.

Instead, the 24-hour specialty hospital at 301 E. Haley St. treated the dog for infectious respiratory disease, and absorbed the cost.

While the resulting treatment cost just $400, charity jobs like this add up: The hospital loses at least $50,000 a year this way, Lane said.

To better help the hospital handle the costs of such jobs, Lane has spearheaded a nonprofit organization that will raise money for providing treatment for injured wildlife, abandoned animals and pets from responsible families that can’t afford necessary care.

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Called Shiva’s Center, the nonprofit group has finished jumping through myriad bureaucratic hoops—such as obtaining permission from the IRS and assembling a board of directors – and is now ready to start raising money.

“I just never want that aspect to be taken away from the hospital,” Lane said of C.A.R.E.’s habit of providing charity treatment. But “it’s just not good business.”

C.A.R.E. Hospital—which stands for "California Animal Referral and Emergency"— is remarkable for its similarity to a medical center for humans. Perhaps nowhere in the country can such an extensive specialty hospital for animals be found in so small a city.

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Undoubtedly the result of living in a city with an unusual amount of wealth and fondness for pets, C.A.R.E. boasts specialty units in areas such as oncology for cancer patients, dermatology for animals with allergies and internal medicine for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes. It even has an emergency room, as well as centers for acupuncture and pet-loss support, the latter of which is headed up by Lane, a certified psychologist.

The four-year-old hospital – which Lane acknowledges is thriving financially – employs a staff of 50, and purchases expensive equipment such as a dialysis machine for treating diabetes ($20,000) and an ultrasound machine for detecting tumors ($70,000).

Such services and equipment are typically paid for by the customers – the pet owners. The rest is charity.

For instance, because the hospital is open 24 hours, it’s the go-to place to drop off injured wildlife critters like owls, hummingbirds and seagulls during the off hours. This is because the other local animal clinic that treats such animals, the Wildlife Care Network in Goleta, is open only from 9 a.m. till dusk Monday through Friday. (Despite their similar names, the two organizations have no relation.)

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Often, members of the C.A.R.E. Hospital staff fall in love with and adopt a homeless animal.

Tina Rector, head of the oncology unit, took in a cat whom the staff had nicknamed “Lieutenant Dan,” in honor of a character in the movie "Forrest Gump" whose legs were amputated.

When Rector first laid eyes on Dan, he had endured the worst day a cat could have: First, he was hit by a car, then, he was mauled by a dog.

“He had bite wounds, and was covered in motor oil,” Rector said.

It appeared the Dan would have to lose a leg – hence the nickname. But the surgery was so successful he was able to keep all four.

Lane herself has adopted two dogs from the hospital. The most recent, an Italian greyhound-chihuahua mix named Deuce, came to the hospital with two broken front legs. His owners couldn’t pay for his treatment; they wanted him euthanized.

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Lane and her life partner, Dr. Deanna Purvis – the hospital’s chief of staff and another co-owner – took him in. Now, Deuce has a new home and a metal plate in each front leg. The cost: $3,000 for each leg.

The expense of caring for ownerless animals can get even more astronomical.

Take the case of an 11-month-old kitten that was hit by a car in mid-September. (Staff members had estimated his age by examining his teeth.)

Although a good Samaritan brought the wounded feline into the hospital, the cat had a collar, so the staff figured an owner would emerge. As a result, the veterinarians started administering treatment, which at first seemed manageable. But as the days passed, an owner never came, and the cat’s health problems spiraled out of control.

Initially, the cat was treated for contusions and a broken leg. Then he developed a respiratory infection. Later his abdomen started swelling, and a kidney began leaking. As if all that wasn’t enough, a procedure to remove the pin from his leg sent him into respiratory distress, triggering a hernia in his diaphragm.

All told, the cat underwent three surgeries, and received IV fluids as well as antibiotic and pain medication. The total bill: $10,000.

But this cat, too, found an owner at the hospital. While nursing him back to health, oncology and emergency technician Kim Terry fell in love.

“He ate baby food off my finger,” said Terry, who named the cat Holstein for the bovine-like qualities of his fur pattern. “Nobody came to look for him, so he’s mine.”

But even when a staff member adopts a stray animal, the hospital foots the bill for care. Without starting a successful nonprofit organization that can raise funds to keep alive the practice of saving stray animals, Lane said, the goodwill policy will have to end.

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“That means looking into his eyes as he’s wagging his tail and killing him,” she said, motioning toward her new dog, Deuce.

To learn more or make a donation, visit the Web site for Shiva’s Center.

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