Maybe a horse kicked him.
Maybe he got his leg caught in a door.
The only thing Renee Gumbs knew when she got her hands back on the Great Dane puppy she had sold to a couple on a farm in California is that his right rear leg was shattered, and his life was in danger.
Enzo would never be a show dog, not now. But the bigger question was whether she would have to put him to sleep.
As little as a decade ago, it would have been no question at all: Enzo would have died. An injury that severe and the cost to try to repair it was beyond most people’s means. But today, technology and disposable income have met at a crossroads.
“You don’t even think about it. You just call and schedule the surgery,” Gumbs said. “Nowadays, anything you can do for a person, you can do for an animal.”
About $5,000 and months of rehab — yes, rehab, in a pool and on a treadmill — later, Enzo is the spoiled, beloved pride of this Palm Beach Gardens Great Dane breeder. And although Gumbs has the means — the guesthouse and three-car garage of her Intracoastal home have been converted into air-conditioned kennels, complete with full-size beds and a staff of seven to care for her dogs — average families are also taking advantage of medical advances.
Because dogs and cats aren’t just pets anymore. They’re members of the family.
Nationally, pets are living longer, according to statistics by Banfield Pet Hospitals. The average dog lives 11 years — 11.3 years in Florida, according to information from more than 2 million dogs seen in their hospitals last year. Cats, which live 12.1 years on average nationally, have an 11.8-year lifespan in Florida.
“Veterinary medicine has changed over the years, and it’s driven by public demand, no question about it,” said Dr. Robert Roy, who three years ago built a $7 million, 33,000-square-foot facility for Palm Beach Veterinary Specialists that is one of a handful popping up across the state to give our pets human-quality car.
These specialty pet hospitals dwarf most human clinics. Veterinary cardiologists perform open-heart surgery, oncologists treat cancers with chemotherapy and radiation, orthopedists repair knees and joints, even dermatologists and ophthalmologists treat pets for skin and eye disorders.
“Ten years ago is caveman medicine compared to what we can do today,” said Dr. Ken Simmons of Lake Worth’s Simmons Veterinary Hospital, who operated on Drake, the late former sheriff’s K9 who was shot four times during a robbery last year. “My clients are people with ‘furry family members,’ and they come in expecting that their pet is going to get the kind of care they would expect for their kids — dermatology, gynecology. They want it all.”
Simmons took herculean steps to try to save Drake — even flying the dog in his own plane to University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine — but the dog died. Today, a bronze statue of the police dog stands at Simmons’ clinic.
As for Enzo the Great Dane, he got his knee reconstructed by Roy, whose clinic looks like a satellite human hospital, complete with a staff of more than 85 people, including 20 specialty veterinarians and radiologists.
In his facility, Roy has installed a pacemaker in a beagle, overseen a dog’s cataract surgery, and directed chemotherapy for cats. The occasional exotics come through the doors, from iguanas to turtles and parrots. But a nearly endless stream of dogs and cats with advanced medical needs keeps the staff working 24 hours a day.
“It’s really a comprehensive facility for pets,” said Roy, 55.
From the outside, on the corner of Kirk Road and Forest Hill Boulevard, it looks like a medical campus, lined with palm trees and neutral stucco walls. And even through the sliding glass doors it looks like any human hospital, with dark wood, granite, cool fluorescent lighting and generic furniture, and the smell only of disinfectant.
The hospital is sprawling: There’s an auditorium for lectures, four operating rooms, a human-caliber MRI machine, a human CAT scan machine for actual cats. High-tech X-ray machines give instant results on iPads. They’ve done arthroscopic surgery and regularly do open-heart and brain surgery to remove tumors.
In the fall, they’ll add a linear particle accelerator, so the vet oncologists will have the latest technology to blast cancers with radiation as well as chemotherapy.
“Pets are such an integral part of people’s lives down here,” said Michele Tucker, who oversees the medical operations and has worked for Roy for 12 years. “They have a different perspective of a pet within a family, and that’s why we can have a facility like this.”
For those who travel across the state so their pets can be treated here, the hospital has a family room with a pull out bed, flat-screen television and a private entrance. Outside, there’s a memorial park where owners who have to make end-of-life decisions for their pet can have them euthanized outdoors, under the blanket of nature, rather than the cold interior of a hospital.
In short: Now, there’s almost nothing they can’t do to treat a sick pet like a sick person.
They do not act as a primary care veterinarians. They make an exception only to care for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s K9 unit dogs. Instead, they rely on local vets to refer their specialty cases here, working hand-in-hand with vets in the community.
And vets trust Roy with their most sensitive pets and pet owners.
On a recent Wednesday, Gumbs’ personal assistant, house manager and longtime friend Karen Lake brought one of the prized Great Danes, Anastasia, for surgery to correct a malformation that has been causing her chronic urinary tract infections.
It’s a painful, debilitating condition that has required rounds of medical injections that added up into the thousands of dollars. They have been told Anastasia may not be able to beat the condition, and euthanasia is still a possibility.
“We’re willing to give it another try,” said Lake.
The costs aren’t so great that many families aren’t willing to try. Many facilities, such as Roy’s, offer zero-interest loans.
Only the most complex cases involving microsurgery and radiation treatment go to the state’s gold-standard of pet care, the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital in Gainesville.
At that $58 million facility, they treat more than 16,000 pets and small animals every year with everything from acupuncture and holistic treatments to traditional surgery, radiation and rehabilitation.
Back at the Gumbs’ estate, it’s a full day as veterinary tech Tina Cluney helps their miracle baby, the 150-pound Enzo, for a therapy swim in the pool to continue strengthening his rebuilt leg.
Today, Enzo wears a blue bandanna that reads: “Love Rescued Me.”
He nuzzles his muzzle into the crook of Cluney’s arm, and she tells him what a good boy he is, the scar on the back of his leg a constant reminder of what love and medicine can do.
“Every day, we’re grateful for his life,” she said, looking into his lively brown eyes.
Prozac for poodles?
What if your dog or cat seems depressed or starts peeing on the pillowcases?
There’s a treatment for a pet’s mental illness, too — and it’s not very expensive, according to Dr. Ken Simmons of Simmons Veterinary Hospital in Lake Worth.
In 2007, the FDA approved Prozac, the antidepressant often prescribed to people, to treat “canine separation anxiety.” It’s one of many drugs now being prescribed by vets to treat behavior issues like aggression, anxiety, compulsive disorders like tail chasing and even bad bathroom behaviors.
Simmons says generic Prozac works well — and it’s no different than giving insulin to a pet that’s diabetic.
“Some animals get their seratonin locked up, and Prozac releases the seratonin,” says Simmons, who treats more dogs than cats with the drug. “Cats don’t tend to be bred for money. When man gets involved in creating pets in his own way, you see more medical issues, even bad mental health.”
And what if you’ve got an old dog who suddenly seems to have dementia? There’s a drug for that, too, Simmons says.
When his 13-year-old golden retriever Jessie started “acting daffy,” he gave her Anipryl, an anti-dementia drug for dogs that costs about $30 a month. “It makes a phenomenal difference.”