TARTU - It was every pet owner's nightmare. Olga and Peeter Vassiljev's cat Bernie was nine months old when he fell from a fifth floor window onto a concrete walkway. "I was crying my heart out when the clinic nearest our home told me that the best they could do was stabilize Bernie, and that we needed to seriously consider putting him to sleep," said Peeter.
Anyone who has ever loved a pet knows the distress experienced when his or her pet is seriously injured. Even more heartbreaking is the knowledge that, although the technology needed to ease the animal's pain or even save its life exists, it isn't accessible to the pet owner.
This was a very possible scenario in Estonia up until autumn of 2004 when a completely renovated clinic opened its doors: The Estonian University of Life Sciences Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences Veterinary Clinic. It's a mouthful to remember, but it's worth writing down if you have a pet, as the Vassiljev's found out.
"Luckily we didn't give in and went to ask for a second opinion," said Peeter. At the clinic, Bernie's fractured right front limb was fixed with a nail. The fractured head of the hip joint was removed to allow fresh bone to form a new pseudo hip joint. Recovery took two months.
Although a noteworthy veterinary clinic was operating at the same location prior to 2004, this state of the art clinic is designed to offer care and treatment for the more complicated and life threatening cases. Its renovations were financed by the Estonian government in cooperation with Poland and Hungary.
Thanks to the highest technological equipment available and dedicated doctors and personnel 's nine doctors, five interns, two registration personnel and 6 medical assistants 's many pets like Bernie that would have otherwise been put to sleep are now happily and healthfully bouncing through life.
The majority of animals benefiting from the facility are small animals, primarily cats and dogs; less frequently birds, rodents, snakes and amphibians, but large animals are also welcome.
Within the three operating halls, the most complicated operations conducted are: operations in which the chest cavity is opened, such as heart surgery. This procedure is frequently done on puppies and is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which are puppies' extremely small organs. Also challenging are severe bone fracture repairs 's shattered bones are reassembled with nail and plate systems. And lastly, spinal cord injuries. Amazingly the clinic is now seeing one or two spinal cord injuries a week.
The clinic also sees many patients with genetic heart disorders 's some coming from as far as Latvia 's since it is the only official clinic in the Baltics where genetic heart disorders in dogs are diagnosed, observed and treated. Other services offered are diagnoses and treatment of neurological diseases and nerve damage, blood tests, dental care, acupuncture (yes, seriously) and physiotherapy, meaning the use of exercise to regain strength and mobility in one's recovery.
But remaining state of the art means constantly planning ahead. Currently there are future plans to perform surgery for hip prosthesis.
Since the clinic is affiliated with Estonian University of Life Sciences, it offers more than help to animals that would otherwise be put down. The clinic is also a teaching facility equipped with separate rooms, with live feeds from the operating rooms, allowing students to observe procedures, and ensuring that well trained veterinarians can offer better care for animals in the future.
One of the more interesting cases at the clinic was a two year old dog, weighing in at 45 kilograms who, like Bernie, also fell from a high window. The dog was immediately diagnosed with not only the predictable multiple fractured limbs but also suffered from two collapsed lungs. Sedation was not an option since he couldn't breathe. The lungs were inflated and the dog was stabilized for one week before an operation to repair bone segments with plate systems was performed. Three months later the dog was breathing easy and walking again, and another pet owner has avoided distress.
Chalk up another victory to medical science.
Estonian University of Life Sciences
Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences
Tartu, Kreutzwaldi 62
Special thanks to Peeter Vassiljev and his wife Olga, a veterinarian, for their help with this article.