Specialists say most of their patients are referred by general practice vets. “Most pet owners are going to go to local veterinarians,” says Dr. Mimi Arighi, a board-certified large-animal surgeon who directs Purdue’s highly rated Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “They may not ever have a problem that needs specialty care. But if they do, usually it’s their regular veterinarian who refers them.”
Specialized facilities don’t usually offer basic wellness care, and specialists work with a pet owner’s primary vet to determine the best approach and treatment, says Lisa Perius, executive director of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association. “Specialty care may be needed if your animal’s disease is uncommon, complicated, difficult to diagnose after standard testing or requires a special procedure,” she says.
Gardner and Gronfein say their longtime vet, Dr. Christine Heinz of highly rated Broad Ripple Animal Clinic & Wellness Center, referred them to Circle City and VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center for specialty treatment needed for their dogs. They’ve also sought care at Purdue.
Two Pekingese, Sophie and Lily, who’ve since died, experienced eyelid problems due to the breed’s bulgy eyes. Gardner estimates that over several years, she and her husband spent at least $5,000 on ophthalmology services at Purdue and VCA. Four years ago, Max, their bichon frise, barely survived a puppyhood case of parvovirus that cost $3,000 in intensive treatments at Circle City. The virus is highly contagious and often fatal, and doctors gave Max only a 10 percent chance of living, Gronfein says. “He really did have
a private-duty nurse, his own room, and an oxygen tent,” he says.
Almost two years ago, Ernie, a rescue they believed to be a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, received a diagnosis of kidney cancer. Surgery by a former VCA oncologist, which cost about $3,000, revealed widespread cancer. With a cure unlikely, the couple decided not to pursue chemotherapy and relieved Ernie’s suffering by euthanasia.
Walter, their arthritic 12-year-old Pekingese mix, recently received injections of stem cells, originating from his own body fat, to treat joint pain and restricted mobility. The Broad Ripple couple chose that $2,500 procedure over twice-weekly laser treatments used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain because they would have cost $400 a month and needed to continue indefinitely. “We’re about ready to retire, so that was not going to happen,” says Gardner, who, like her husband, works as an associate professor of sociology at IUPUI. The stem-cell treatment, performed by Heinz at BRAC, almost immediately reduced Walter’s pain and improved his mobility. “In terms of range of motion, he’s like he was when he
was 4 or 5 years old,” Gardner says.
Angie’s List member Michael Lindorff of Carmel estimates that over about 20 years, he’s spent thousands of dollars on specialty pet care for three adopted dogs, who’ve since died, as well as routine care for a younger dog and more than a dozen foster dogs. Lindorff says he’s always trusted his longtime regular vet, Dr. Kerry Sweeley of highly rated Carmel Clay Animal Hospital, with his animals’ routine care and for occasional referrals to specialists for more serious conditions. “It all starts with a veterinarian who realizes the need and also has the ability to provide you with a good reference,” Lindorff says.
His previous pets — Chloe, a basset hound, and Greta and Whisper, golden retrievers — went to Circle City and VCA Advanced Veterinary Care at separate times for various conditions before succumbing to cancer. Lindorff estimates he spent about $5,000 for diagnostics and medication for bone cancer that killed Chloe in 1999. Greta underwent a $2,000 surgery to remove eyelid cancer about seven years ago before dying of back cancer in 2009. For Whisper, Lindorff spent nearly $4,000 at VCA in 2009 for leukemia treatments and $8,000 to remove his spleen. The dog died at age 12 of hemangiosarcoma, a widespread and aggressive cancer.
His current dog, Jake, also a golden retriever, remains healthy at almost 6 years old, and Lindorff says he’ll do what it takes to ensure his pet stays that way as long as possible. “We strongly believe in giving dogs the best medical care,” he says.
Rick Rumler, an Angie’s List member who lives in Lawrence, says he pays top dollar for his Australian shepherd’s care. He spent about $2,000 for Dr. Dana Graham at highly rated Carter Veterinary Medical Center in Carmel to treat the 10-year-old dog’s diabetes. While Graham isn’t a specialist, Rumler says he wouldn’t hesitate to pay for one if Graham recommended it for Murphy. “He’s a special dog,” Rumler says. “I’ve had him since my son, Seth, was 6 months old. When my boy was 2, a humongous raccoon started to growl at him while he was riding his trike. Murphy hit that raccoon so hard it died. We love him. He’s awesome.”