Suzanne Green and her dog, Suzi, have made the trip from their home in New Jersey to the Animal Medical Center in New York City many times before.
Suzi, a bichon frise, has lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, she headed for a checkup at the center, which isn't just any veterinarian's office.
"I'm always nervous they are going to find something," Green said.
As you walk through the corridors of the center on Manhattan's Upper East Side, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like a triage scene on an episode of "Grey's Anatomy." The young residents and internists take their business very seriously — as seriously as Americans take their pets.
Jeffrey S. Klausner is the CEO and president of the Animal Medical Center, a nonprofit facility that offers everything from chemotherapy — "we are the Mayo Clinic for pets," Klausner said — to water therapy.
It has an underwater treadmill for patients like Lily, a pug, who was recovering well after having a double hip replacement.
Spend a little time at the center and it's easy to understand why it's such an unusual place. The waiting room is packed with dogs, but this hospital takes all comers, like Bowzer the tortoise who needed his nails cut and beak tended to. Aunt Rose, a 33-year-old feisty yellow parrot, had come by for a sonogram.
"It looks like a diverse liver disease that is not cancer," said Aunt Rose's doctor.
Aunt Rose seems like a most exceptional patient, until you meet Dianne Rochenski and her pet mouse, who had developed a large tumor. Mousey, as she calls him, broke into Rochenski's apartment a few months back and she fell in love. Rochenski was told that it would cost $1,000 to remove the tumor.
"I brought him to work with me today," said Rochenski. "I don't like to spend money on myself for the doctor, but no holds barred for him. Mice are just so misunderstood."
There is no misunderstanding what animals mean to their owners. More Americans have pets than children and more and more they are willing to spend whatever they can on that animal. Twenty years ago the most complex procedure out there was getting your cat de-clawed.
The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association says Americans spent $41 billion on U.S. pets last year. Green, who is a surgeon, says she has spent at least $12,000 on Suzi. As of this checkup Suzi was deemed cancer-free. But if it comes back?
Green says "the dog will let you know" when you've done all that you can. "They will show signs they don't want to eat. Then it's time to make a hard decision," she said.
Until then, Green said, "I would spend any amount. I would mortgage my house."
The Animal Medical Center handles 50,000 patients a year and is open 24/7.
"Veterinarians are often very much like pediatricians. We take their lives seriously," said Nicole Liebman, Suzi's oncologist. "These pets are like their children. We often call them their babies, the owners are mom and dad. This is really like a family. We treat families here."
Researchers at the center — in collaboration with a team at Memorial Sloan Kettering — have developed the first-ever vaccine to treat canine melanoma. Trials are under way on one for humans. While dogs and cats are dying of the same diseases humans are, Klausner says the biggest reason animals are given up is because of behavioral problems.
"You don't sit down and talk to them on the couch, obviously," Klausner said.