A veterinary technician helps prepare a French bulldog for diagnostic testing.
Sally Hamidi is teasing her tiny French bulldog, BeBe, who has just had an ultrasound to try to find out what ails her. A technician shaved the 7-year-old dog’s stomach to perform the test. “BeBe, you got a little bikini wax for summer, didn’t you?” Hamidi, 41, a real estate agent, says in a soothing coo. “What is wrong with you? I wish you could tell me, stinky face.”
Nearby, Diane Rehm, the lauded NPR host, is packing up to go home with the sweet-natured, long-haired Chihuahua she loves so much that she wrote a 2010 book about him: Life with Maxie. Maxie’s snout is gray with age now, but Rehm, 79, wraps him in a green and white striped towel and cradles him like an infant.
NPR legend Diane Rehm cradles the dog she loves so much that she wrote a book about him. “He has such sweetness that he makes me feel sweet,” Rehm wrote in Life with Maxie. “He makes me kinder to everybody around me.”
Across the room, Basanti Kayoumy, 74, of Bethesda, is bereft as she scrolls through photos on her iPad of Zeus, her beautiful blue-eyed cat. Every morning for more than a decade, Zeus has jumped on her bed to wake her. One recent morning, he didn’t appear. Kayoumy went looking and found Zeus limp.
He’d had a stroke, and his prospects for recovery are slim. Kayoumy is reluctant to say goodbye. “His eyes are telling me that he wants to keep fighting,” she says. Kayoumy, who is retired, is waiting for her partner to arrive to help her decide whether to euthanize Zeus today. “He is special,” she says. “When we pray, he always comes and sits with us. When we say ‘amen,’ Zeus says ‘meow.’ Every time we say ‘amen,’ he says ‘meow.’ ”
The sunny waiting room at Friendship Hospital for Animals on Brandywine Street in Upper Northwest D.C. looks like any other bustling veterinary clinic, except for the fancy coffee machine in the corner and the occasional appearance of a local celebrity like Rehm, a longtime client. But with 56 full-time veterinarians and a total staff of 208, Friendship is one of the largest private veterinary hospitals in the country. It sees about 250 patients a day.
Friendship is the only veterinary facility in the Washington, D.C., area to offer a complete continuum of care—from pet vaccinations to 24/7 emergency services and specialty care in areas such as oncology, radiology, anesthesiology and dental care. On a given day, veterinarians may be performing an endoscopy, administering chemotherapy, removing a tumor, or simply giving a pet a massage to relieve pain. For Friendship’s clients, that means the convenience of getting all their pets’ veterinary care under one roof. It also means that clients often have more options for care right at their fingertips when a pet is sick.
More and more, people are providing their pets with the kind of medical care they’d want for any member of their family. “People value pets differently than they used to,” says Dr. Peter Glassman, who owns the hospital. “I like to say dogs have moved from outside to inside to on the bed.”
After a recent addition, Friendship Hospital for Animals has expanded to more than 16,000 square feet. This room is a central hub and the first stop for most pets. Vets and veterinary technicians give routine vaccinations and checkups here, along with preparing pets for diagnostic testing or routine surgical procedures.
Glassman, 67, graduated from Sidwell Friends School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went to work at Friendship in 1978, right out of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. At the time, Glassman was one of three veterinarians on Friendship’s staff. A few years later, when his boss retired, Glassman bought the animal hospital. His oldest son, Mathieu, joined the practice in 2011 as chief of surgery.
Since the 1990s, vet schools have been graduating more specialists, and options for buying pet medical insurance to help pay for all that specialty care have improved, Glassman says.
At Friendship, 12 of the hospital’s 56 vets are specialists, and two veterinary dermatologists are slated to join the staff in the fall. They will do many of the same things dermatologists do for humans, such as screening for skin cancer and treating skin ailments caused by allergies.
Friendship’s growing roster of veterinarians frequently collaborate on challenging cases, Mathieu Glassman says. One of his recent patients, a cat, needed surgery to remove an aggressive cancerous tumor. But the cat had a heart problem that made anesthetizing it—either for surgery or radiation treatments—high-risk. Friendship’s anesthesiologist designed a mix of nerve blocks, light anesthesia and pain medications that allowed the surgeon to remove the tumor safely, Glassman says.
The hospital, which recently added a second floor, offers advanced diagnostic testing options, including an MRI, which costs between $1,600 and $2,200 per session, and CT scans that run from $450 to $1,100. Among its new treatment options is hydrotherapy, which costs $85 per session if purchased as part of a package.
A Dachshund undergoes an MRI under the supervision of Dr. Nicole Karrasch (right), who sedated the dog to keep him immobile during testing, and two radiation techs.
Friendship attracts clients from throughout the region, especially the close-in Montgomery County suburbs and Upper Northwest D.C. “We are fortunate to live in this area, where people are educated and for the most part fairly affluent,” Peter Glassman says. “[But] not all of our clients have deep pockets. Some want to have elaborate services. Some don’t see the value in that.”
Stephanie Reich, 41, sees value in anything that keeps her two rescue dogs healthy and comfortable. When Casey, a Labrador mix, had tumors on her liver, Reich immediately authorized emergency surgery to save her. Reich found Friday, a pit bull mix, abused and emaciated in her Capitol Hill neighborhood. He has since had two surgeries to repair damage from old injuries. Now he’s undergoing an indefinite course of acupuncture to relieve his arthritis pain. “He is a sensitive boy, emotionally and physically, and he doesn’t tolerate medications well,” says Reich, who works in governmental affairs. “He takes to the acupuncture very well. He’s much more comfortable. His limp is less severe and his gait is more even.”
On a recent morning, Friday sat on a padded mat on the floor of a rehab room upstairs at Friendship while Dr. Nicole Karrasch, 30, inserted acupuncture needles along the dog’s back.
Karrasch is a veterinary anesthesiologist, which required four years of additional training beyond veterinary school. She became interested in adding pain management to her practice after adopting a dog with hip dysplasia while she was still in vet school.
Friday, a rescued pit bull mix, gets regular acupuncture to try to relieve the pain of his arthritic joints. The pooch, his owner, Stephanie Reich (right), and Dr. Nicole Karrasch don sunglasses to protect their eyes while Karrasch uses a laser to try to increase Friday’s pain relief.
Friday is cooperative. Throughout this acupuncture session he alternately licks his doctor’s face and his owner’s. He doesn’t even try to shake off the dark sunglasses Karrasch places over his eyes to protect them while she uses a laser device designed to enhance his pain relief.
In this same room, a treadmill sits inside a huge glass tank. The tank is designed to fill slowly with water during hydrotherapy rehab sessions. “This guy is not going to like the water treadmill,” longtime Friendship client Christopher Wall says as he cradles Roper, his family’s 8-year-old Jack Russell terrier.
Wall, a lawyer who specializes in international trade and lives in Upper Northwest, is picking up Roper after surgery to repair the terrier’s torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. “We were playing catch with a ball and it just snapped,” Wall says. “They basically put a plate connecting the upper and lower leg to stabilize it. What else was I going to do? He’s part of the family.”
Specialized care can be costly. Augustus “Augie” Urschel, 24, sits in the waiting room poring over a multiple-page bill for his cat, Slinky. Urschel adopted the cat with a former girlfriend. The girlfriend left. Slinky stayed. When the cat stopped urinating recently and required emergency care, the bill exceeded $1,600.
A golden retriever is given oxygen before surgery.
“It’s hard,” says Urschel, research coordinator for Economists Incorporated in downtown Washington. “I only had a few hours to decide what to do.” Urschel and Slinky live in a group house in the District. Slinky’s vet bill exceeded Urschel’s share of the monthly rent. A pal talked Urschel into launching a Kickstarter campaign. Friends and friends of friends covered Slinky’s tab in an hour. “He’s the most social cat I’ve ever met,” Urschel says. “He behaves like a dog. He’s very vocal and playful.” Urschel beams as a technician hands him a carrier with Slinky inside. Urschel’s voice grows tender. “Hey, you little fuzzy idiot,” he says to the cat. “We are going home.”
Ben and Natischa Volpe are running out of time. Their young and healthy Chihuahua, Rico, is paralyzed. They suspect that a worker who entered their apartment without warning when they weren’t there might have kicked him. Neurosurgery that might allow Rico to walk again costs $8,500 to $10,000—and must be paid up front, the couple says. Waiting, hoping to hear options other than spending thousands they can’t afford or letting him go, they comfort each other and their dog.
It takes two veterinary technicians to steady and soothe a dog who is having his blood pressure taken—and doesn’t much like it.
Rico sits swaddled in soft blankets as the couple tells their story. The first time they saw Rico was on Craigslist. He was so tiny that someone had photographed him propped inside a boot. That was three years ago. They had just gotten married. Adopting Rico was a test to see what kind of mom and dad they might be. They are, as it turns out, doting parents.
“The thing about Rico is he’s emotional,” Ben, 30, says.
“He can read what you are feeling,” says Natischa, 29. She is trying hard, for Rico’s sake, not to cry. But that’s impossible.“He sleeps between us on our pillows,” says Ben, a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. “He snores in my ear all night. We’ve been treating him like a son.”
Ben Volpe tries to comfort Rico, his young Chihuahua who became suddenly paralyzed.
Other waiting room tales are less heartbreaking. Carrie Beaudreau, 46, wrangles Hope Samurai Princess, her family’s beagle-hound mix. Hope has an upset stomach; Beaudreau thinks she ate something that didn’t agree with her. “The first week we had her she ate a pan of brownies, and we brought her here,” she says. That was three years ago. “This morning she is sick, but she was still trying to eat my son’s breakfast.”
April Witt lives in Bethesda with her husband and two rescue dogs: a sweet Labrador retriever and a bossy hound.