Porcupine Problems and Gorilla Mating Glitches

Jason Berg of The Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers explains his special practice.

When did you know you wanted to be a vet?
Around four or five. I was a shy kid who was enthralled by animals. I would catch all types of turtles, frogs, lizards, snakes, possum, and muskrats and take care of birds that fell out of trees. 

Who has been your most memorable pet?
I’ve had two favorite dogs. One, a black Labrador named Josh, I got when I was 10. He was my buddy, my right-hand man. The other was Sir Alfred, a half-Basset, half-Scottie research dog I adopted at vet school so he wouldn’t be euthanized. 

Is it harder to get into vet school than medical school? 
Yes, it’s pure numbers. There are many fewer vet schools than there are med schools. Out of the 1,000 applicants to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine this year, they took 100.  

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How does your hospital differ from a regular veterinary practitioner?
We are both an emergency hospital, open 24/7, as well as a referral hospital for specialty medicine. If you bring your pet to your general practitioner and he needs a specialist or more advanced treatment, they will refer to us. We offer board-certified veterinarians in such specialties as oncology, dermatology, surgery, dentistry, cardiology, neurology, et cetera. 

What are some of the more unusual treatments your hospital offers?
We’re the only vet hospital in the country to have a CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System to provide non-invasive radio-surgery to treat cancer. Normal radiation requires 15 to 20 treatments, for each of which the animal has to be anesthetized; this only requires three, thus also eliminating the side effect of radiation burn. People are also surprised to learn we offer such treatments as stem-cell therapy, orthopedic surgery, and even underwater treadmills for rehabilitation.

What types of animals do you treat?
Most are dogs and cats, with exotics on emergency only. But we work with the Bronx Zoo so we’ve seen a sea lion, monkeys, porcupines, lizards, a kangaroo, and a gorilla.

Wow—a gorilla?
I was called to the zoo to do a hearing test on a gorilla. They were worried he was deaf and they wanted to put him in with a female to mate them, but if he couldn’t hear the female say ‘no’ in gorilla language, there could be a big problem. Turns out he was deaf and so I effectively cut off his sex life for good and made him a bachelor forever. He hates me to this day. 

What procedures would people be most surprised to learn are done on animals?
Probably cataract surgery, kidney dialysis, and brain surgery.

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What’s the most significant change you’ve noticed in your 17 years of practice?
MRIs have really changed the way radiology is done—it’s a lot more precise. When I started out, there weren’t more than three or four vet hospitals in the country with on-site MRIs, and now more than 50 percent of specialty hospitals have them.

Tell us about one of your most unusual cases.
I had a French bulldog rescue with hydrocephaly or water on the brain. They did a phenomenal job of raising money for the surgery on Facebook—the dog had 2,000 followers—so we put in a drain, or shunt. But then half the brain collapsed and, though we’d never done this before, we had to put in another shunt and so they raised more money. The dog is back to normal and chasing chickens in rural Pennsylvania. 

What’s one of your favorite stories to tell?
About the time I did spinal taps on two porcupines—both had different neurological diseases. He was poking me as I was poking him. How did I get through the quills? Very carefully. 

What percentage of dog owners do you think sleep with their dogs on their beds at night?   
A lot—I’d say 75 percent.

Do you think that number is higher in Westchester?
Yes, definitely. 

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