Pet ER

updated 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

It's a hospital where doctors shamelessly nuzzle their patients and no one barks "Professional misconduct!" At Manhattan's eight-story Animal Medical Center, the largest private small-animal hospital in the United States, more than 60,000 pets are treated—and nurtured—each year. Tabbies and turtles, ferrets and iguanas—they're all carried into the AMC to have bones repaired, tumors removed or just the tartar scraped off their teeth. "These animals aren't just dogs and cats—they're members of the family," says Kevin McAbee, one of the center's 80 veterinarians. "That line between animal and person is getting cloudy."

FIVER GOES UNDER THE KNIFE
"I like fixing animals because they're innocent bystanders," says Dr. Justin Greco (right, operating on Fiver, a gray domestic shorthair cat who was hit by a car but is recovering). "You can't judge them like you might a drug addict or a cigarette smoker. They can't make their own decisions." For post-op care, the animals head for "the Beach," where they're placed under a heat lamp to bring their body temperatures back up to normal (between 100 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit for most animals).

TIPPY COUGHS IT UP
The red-eared slider turtle has a growth in its throat and seems to be gasping for air, so vets Laurie Hess (left) and Jason Syrcle pry open its mouth with a tongue depressor to take a look. Once Hess swabs Tippy's throat with a long Q-Tip, a wad of dead tissue the size of a walnut falls to the floor. "Mouth rot," Hess declares before sending the turtle home with a prescription for antibiotics. "It's common in all reptiles."

COCO WARMS UP
The Yorkshire terrier pup (with owner Tara Bradley-Greenberg) needs knee X-rays because Coco's weak joints have been popping out, a common problem for the breed. "You can tell she has pain," says Bradley-Greenberg. But that doesn't stop Coco from making new friends in the waiting room or crawling into a bunny's cage and waiting there until her name is called. After vet Jason Fusco recommends surgery, Bradley-Greenberg says no problem: "We'll do whatever she needs."

LUCY DODGES DEATH BY SWEETS
After downing a box of chocolate—a toxin, not a treat, to dogs—the Chihuahua arrives shaking after having thrown up. Vet Jessica Chavkin (right, with colleague Elizabeth Challen) gives Lucy activated charcoal to absorb the poison. "We want to make sure she can eat without vomiting," says Chavkin. Mission accomplished: Lucy is discharged after an overnight stay.

A CAST PARTY FOR BOB
The orange tabby cat (with Jessica Chavkin, V.M.D.) comes in to have the last cast removed from his front paws, both of which were broken in a three-story plunge from his owner's apartment window. The hospital inserted metal plates in his paws to keep them together, and now Bob's medical bill is creeping toward $8,000. "I'm in debt," says his owner, Brooklyn software developer Jaybill McCarthy, 27. "But what are you going to do? [The AMC] was able to put him back together. Anywhere else would have written him off. He's definitely used up six or seven lives. Now he has a good life ahead of him."

NIKKI AND ALEX GET A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
The 4-month-old pair of white-bellied caiques ace their first checkup with resident bird expert Katherine Quesenberry, D.V.M. The half-hour exam includes scrutinizing their feathers to check that the patients aren't picking at them and testing their blood for diseases, since birds can pass certain infections to their human owners. Personality also counts, says the vet: "You want to make sure they're friendly, because this species is [supposed to be] charming and fun-loving, not aggressive."

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