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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This veterinarian makes house — and penthouse — calls

The veterinarian Amy Attas holds a patient, Rosie, in New York on June 7, 2024. “I treat every client the same, because each of them loves their pets wholeheartedly,” writes Attas in her new memoir, “Pets and the City.” (Dina Litovsky/The New York Times)

By Elisabeth Egan

If you’ve ever tried to wrangle a hissing, scratching, flailing, selectively incontinent beast into a cat carrier, you’ll appreciate the way Amy Attas practices veterinary medicine: She makes house calls.

Attas has seen it all, from opulent penthouses to homes she describes in her new memoir, “Pets and the City,” as “so squalid I feared for my life just breathing in the air.” She X-rayed a sapphire ring-swallowing terrier. She treated a pornographer’s potbellied pig. Billy Joel was grateful for her attention to his three-legged black pug; Cher, less so, after her rescue dog was diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, contagious between species. Attas writes, “Cher flung her bathrobe open to reveal her iconic body in its naked entirety,” asking, “Does the rash on humans look like this?”

The majority of Attas’ patients — “my patients are dogs and cats; my clients are humans” — belong to ordinary people.

“Whether I’m trimming a billionaire’s cat’s nails or chatting with the building’s doorman about his dog’s limp, I treat every client the same, because each of them loves their pets wholeheartedly,” she writes. “Love knows neither rank nor bank account.”

Last month, Attas talked with The New York Times about her work, her memoir and what she wishes more humans knew about living with (mostly) four-legged friends. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: First things first: Why don’t more vets make house calls?

A: House calls are more difficult than working in a hospital. I often spend 10 hours a day in the back seat of a car. I eat my breakfast and lunch there. You have to plan where your bathroom stops are going to be. However, my patients are less stressed in their homes.

Q: With such a busy schedule — up to 12 calls a day — what made you decide to write a book?

A: I realized when I came home every day and said to my husband, “You will never believe what happened today,” that my experiences were different from other veterinarians’.

Q: When you look back on your career, what’s the first memory that pops into your mind?

A: A new client who had an older dog wanted to set up a series of regular exams so she could be on top of his care. When I rang the doorbell, I didn’t hear a dog bark, and that’s unusual. Then the door opened and there was nobody there. It was kind of eerie. I saw my patient had opened the door by using a pulley in his mouth. From the other room, I heard someone call out, “I’m in here! Butter will bring you in.”

My client had a debilitating disease. When I met her she was a paraplegic; eventually she became a quadriplegic. Butter was her service dog. I finished my exam, and she commanded Butter to bring her pocketbook. The dog had a vocabulary of over 100 words, and was able to be her sole caregiver for several hours during the day so she could maintain her independence.

Q: How did Joan Rivers help build your practice?

A: I was working in an animal hospital, and Joan was a VIP client. One day she came in to get her dog vaccinated and my boss said, “Ms. Rivers, please don’t wait. I can see you right now.” And she said, “That’s OK, I’d rather wait for Amy.” The receptionist saw smoke coming out of my boss’s ears.

When he eventually fired me, Joan called and said, “What is going on?” I asked if she wanted me to tell her quickly or give her the longer story and she said, “I want every detail and I’m going to make sure that everybody else on the Upper East Side of Manhattan knows every detail.”

Q: What should a client look for in a rescue animal?

A: First, I advise patience. When people say, “I think I’d like to have a baby,” they don’t get a baby the next day. Second, what do you want in a pet? Is it a running partner or a couch companion? Third, how much time and money do you want to spend? Do you want a longhaired breed you’re going to have to groom every day? These are things people don’t think about when they see a cute puppy. Finally, you need to connect with this pet. If that doesn’t happen, it’s OK to move on.

Q: You see some of the biggest heartbreaks up close. How do you navigate that personally?

A: As a young veterinarian, I was called upon to put to sleep a pet I’d never met before. The family told him how much they loved him, how important he’d been, how much they were going to miss him. They moved me to tears because they said exactly what I would say to my own pet. When I finished, a senior clinician said, “I promise you’re going to get over this.” I vowed to myself, “The day I get over this, I should no longer be in this profession.”

Q: Why are our relationships with animals so important?

A: Pets have this amazing ability to calm us. Coming home at the end of a stressful day and being greeted by a little creature who loves you no matter what — it makes you feel better. Animals accept us for who we are.

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