I-Team: High Tech Treatments Come to Veterinary Clinic - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: High Tech Treatments Come to Veterinary Clinic

Posted: Updated:

Many pets are living longer these days. That's good news, but it also means cancer rates among pets are going up. Nearly half of all dogs get cancer at some point in their lives. Luckily, there's now a facility in Las Vegas where cutting edge medicine is being practiced to resolve the deadliest and most complicated veterinary challenges.

It's called the Veterinary Referral Center. There's nothing else like it in the state. It's the place where other vets send their trickiest cases.

In every cage and every corner of the center, there's a story that will break your heart. Autumn is usually the orneriest of cats, but the cancer in her liver looks like it has spread to her bones, so she's less of a pistol than normal.

One dog sacked out on the floor is waiting to have his leg amputated so the tumor doesn't spread further.

Sad faces -- scared faces -- dogs and cats on their last legs and others on the mend, looking a bit embarrassed by their hospital garb.

Nearly every case that comes to Veterinarian Dave Mason is a referral from other vets in town. This is where the special cases are sent, the medical mysteries and lost causes, because the center is a cutting edge hospital facility.

"It's exactly the same -- looks the same -- same equipment, same anesthetic, basically the same protocols as well. We pretty much consider that we can do everything the human doctors can do," said Dr. Mason.

That means they have a CAT scan for cats and dogs, digital x-ray capabilities and an MRI machine made especially for animals. "It's actually one of only seven or eight in the country," said Mason.

A pooch on the operating table is getting some screws put in his neck to fix a birth defect that made it hard for him to walk. Just a couple of days after the surgery, he was up and moving around.

The oncology room is the only one of its kind in southern Nevada. For animals like Autumn, the odds are pretty long, but at a minimum, the staff knows how to make her final days as pain free as possible.

"We can cure some of them, but for a lot of them it's to buy more time, keep them comfortable and as good as can be for as long as possible," said Dr. Mason.

The center has its own blood bank too, and has its own blood drives so there's a supply on hand for dog and cat surgeries. Every day, gut-wrenching stories unfold but profound successes as well.

"I haven't had one day as a veterinarian that I wished I did something different. Most of the time, with people's attraction to their animals and the way they are to them, most people leave here smiling, so I think we've done a really good job," said Mason.

One goal is to not even let the animals know they're being treated for something -- therapy disguised as chasing a ball around the backyard.

Xandor is a very special patient -- a member of the Metro K9 Unit rehabbing a torn ACL. Over the next few months, Xandor will get to know Vet Tech Maria Shinas pretty well. The center is filled with shiny, high tech equipment, but it all boils down to caring people who got into the business because they love animals.

"My mind never stops working. Like even this morning, I'm thinking, ‘What do I have to do?'" said Shinas. "It's very satisfying. This is a job we work intimately with the owners. They are right here with us and we show them the exercises to do right here at home and we feel good about it."

As the glass tank fills with water, Xandor can barely contain his enthusiastic moans. He's got a lockjaw grip of a green rubber kitty and seems to think this is a game, not therapy, even when the treadmill starts up.

"When he's at work and out doing his thing, he's a totally different dog," said Xandor's handler, Metro K9 Officer Rick Vorce.

And it's his work that led Xandor to the center. He and Vorce are key members of the nationally ranked K9 unit, who often partner with Metro's SWAT Team. Xander is a 10-year-old Belgian Malinois, a very serious hombre when he's on duty.

"In the six years we've been together, he's found about 80 bad guys, anywhere from people who've committed murder, bank robbers, car thieves, burglars," said Vorce.

While in pursuit of stabbing suspect a few months ago, Xandor got a little carried away and tore his ACL. "He decided to play wonder dog and he decided to jump over my head and said, ‘Look Dad, I can fly,'" said Vorce.

He cornered the bad guy but was lame days later. Vorce took him to the vet, the vet referred him to the center.

"Frankly, if I was in trouble, I'd want him to rescue me. I have a special place in my heart for Xandor," said Shinas.

After a dip and a treadmill trot, Xandor is given a multi-person massage -- we should all have days like this. Then officer Vorce puts him thru some paces in a makeshift obstacle course.

Down the hall, one of Xandor's K9 colleagues is grappling with a different challenge. His name is Rosco, and he's got a nose for trouble.

"When you pass a dumpster, you smell trash. The dog will pass a dumpster and he'll smell every individual odor in there. He'll smell what toppings are on that piece of pizza on the top of the trash. He'll smell the dirty diaper, the tennis shoe," said Metro K9 Officer Scott Murray.

Roscoe, a 10-year-old Springer Spaniel, is a superstar drug sniffer, able to ferret out the most secretive hiding places. Like the other K9 officers, Murray lives with his police dogs. He and Officer Vorce spend more time with their canine partners than with their spouses, and they learn to deal with the good and the bad.

For Roscoe, the news is bad. "I was petting him on the couch one day and I was scratching the back of his leg and noticed a lump," said Officer Murray.

The lump was cancer -- lymphoma.

Veterinarian Andrew Vaughan has been overseeing chemotherapy for Roscoe. The trickiest part for a dog like this one is to make sure the treatment isn't worse than the disease. It's important that Roscoe is able to keep on working, not only for the community, but for himself.

"So much of their life is spent working, so we try to make sure they don't lose that component of their lifestyle because that's what they love doing. That's what they live for," said Dr. Vaughan.

Both Roscoe and Xandor are at an age when some departments retire their dogs, especially dogs that have serious health issues. Officer Murray says there was never a question of getting rid of these two. "Our department is very supportive of hurt animals. They don't just throw them under the bus," he said.

The Vet Referral Center sees a lot of injured police dogs. Some of the treatments and therapies can be expensive, but the alternative could be more costly. "Getting those animals back to work and not having to buy new dogs and train them, it's a huge benefit to the taxpayers as well," said Dr. Mason.

Not to mention that it's great to have these guys around.

Since this story was taped, Xandor is already back at work and tracking down suspects. Roscoe is still taking it easy but his handler says he could be back on the job very soon. The chemotherapy hasn't affected his ability to sniff out crime.

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KLAS. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.