Meet the NorthStar VETS Team: Dorothy Jackson DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)

Dorothy Jackson, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology) is a doctor in the Oncology service at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, she talks about how she got into veterinary medicine, the types of cases she sees, and what she loves about working at NorthStar VETS.

Today’s patient: Taylor Blair
We caught up with Dr. Dorothy Jackson, who was examining one of her patients, Taylor Blair. “She’s an older Springer Spaniel and is still considered a hunting dog. She can still hunt while doing chemotherapy. She’s under chemo for lymphoma, one of the more common cancer diseases we see in dogs and cats. She presented for enlarged lymph nodes, and now with chemotherapy she’s feeling better and the lymph nodes are gone away. It’s not a disease we cure, but we can put in remission to where she can go out and hunt and do her normal routine.”

How Dr. Jackson got into veterinary medicine
oncologyDr. Jackson’s passion for helping animals started as a child. “As cliche as it sounds, I have always loved working with animals. When I was growing up, I wanted to either be a veterinarian or a marine biologist, and I thought about a lot of other career options, but I got a job in high school with a local veterinarian and loved it. As I was going through veterinary school, I really liked the aspects of Oncology and working with clients to give their dogs and cats good quality of life for as long as we could. After veterinary school, I went through my internship and residency to become specialized to do that. Undergrad and veterinary school were both at Mississippi State University. I was born and raised in the South. I did two internships, one at the University of Missouri, and a specialty internship at a private practice in Atlanta. Residency brought me north. I did part of my time at the University of Pennsylvania, and the rest at a private practice in Connecticut. When I came up north for that, I stayed in the area, enjoyed it, and eventually ended up here at NorthStar VETS.”

The types of cases Dr. Jackson sees in Oncology
Dr. Jackson continued our conversation by talking about the kind of cases she sees, and she sees a variety of different cancers in pets. “I see mostly dogs and cats here at the hospital. There’s a new therapy for melanoma that horses are responsive to as well, so I do make a few farm calls for them. Typically, lymphoma is the most common thing we see, but we see bone tumors, splenic masses, splenic tumors, abdominal tumors, and most of the cases we see here now can be controlled with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is in the works, so eventually we’ll be seeing things like incompletely excised skin tumors where we follow up surgery with radiation therapy.”

What Dr. Jackson loves about working at NorthStar VETS
The team at NorthStar VETS works together closely to provide world-class care to its patients. “One of the biggest draws is not just the medicine we provide, but the people here. It’s a great working environment. The days in Oncology are not always happy days and we have our rough days here and there, but having people you can work with to get through those times and being able to work closely with the Surgeons, the Internists, and the Radiologists to provide the best care we can for these patients is good.”

“Don’t let the word ‘cancer’ scare you, because there are definitely options out there.”

Dr. Jackson and the team at NorthStar VETS are always available to help you and your pets. In her final words to us during this interview, this was the most important thing she wanted pet owners to know. “If you ever have any questions or concerns, definitely give me a call. I always tell owners, ‘Don’t let the word cancer scare you, because there are definitely options out there.’ If you’re not sure what you want to do, at least come in, chat, and we can figure out the best option.”

Learn more about the Oncology service at NorthStar VETS

Dorothy Jackson, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)Dorothy Jackson, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Originally from the South, Dr. Jackson attended Mississippi State University for her undergraduate studies and veterinary school. Following veterinary school in 2009, she completed a rotating internship at the University of Missouri followed by a specialty internship at Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Atlanta. Dr. Jackson was lucky enough to obtain both academic and private practice experience during her residency, training at the University of Pennsylvania and Veterinary Cancer Center in Connecticut. Following her residency, Dr. Jackson obtained board certification in Oncology and worked at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital for 2.5 years before joining the Northstar VETS team.

Being an Italian from the South, Dr. Jackson loves food. She loves cooking new recipes and trying new restaurants with her girlfriend…another Italian. When not traveling to new places, they enjoy their time at home with their 3 cats who keep them quite entertained.

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Meet the NorthStar VETS team: Gaemia Tracy, DVM

Gaemia Tracy, DVM is a doctor in the Neurology service at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, he talks about how he got into veterinary medicine, the types of cases he sees, and why he chose to work at NorthStar VETS.

How Dr. Tracy got into veterinary medicine
We caught up with Dr. Gaemia Tracy, who was running a test on one of his patients. Dr. Tracy recently joined the team at NorthStar VETS and works in the Neurology service. “I first wanted to become a veterinarian just from having a dog when I was little and going to veterinary appointments and seeing what they did with her. I watched them work with her and they let me follow them around a little bit, and that’s what piqued my interest. I ended up going for my undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, veterinary school at Ohio State, an internship in Charlotte, North Carolina at Carolina Veterinary Specialists, and a Neurology residency in Jacksonville, Florida.”

Why Dr. Tracy came to NorthStar VETS
Dr. Tracy heard about NorthStar VETS and joined the staff here a few months ago. “NorthStar VETS is an awesome hospital! I read about it, was intrigued by the hospital design of the year award in 2012, the hospital of the year award in 2013, and just reading up on it and following it. I also know they’ve been getting good reviews here. I really like that everybody works together for the good of the pet. That’s the bottom line. Whatever is best for the pet is what everybody’s mantra is. There’s no selfishness, no egos, everything just working together to make pets and pet owners very happy.”

What veterinary Neurologists do
Dr. Tracy continued our conversation by talking about the unique expertise he brings in Neurology to NorthStar VETS. “Veterinary Neurology is about working with diseases of the brain and spinal cord. Pretty much, any pet that can’t walk correctly due to weakness or disconnect between the brain and spinal cord is what we see. We also see seizures, ataxia, and difficulty walking. We treat patients either medically or surgically.”

What makes Dr. Tracy tick
Dr. Tracy is looking forward to the chance to help you and your pets. “I just like helping animals and pet owners as well. I know that the human-animal bond has been pretty strong in my life and I like to promote it in other peoples’ lives and make their best friend happy and healthy.”

Learn more about the Neurology service at NorthStar VETS

Gaemia Tracy, DVMGaemia Tracy, DVM
Gaemia Tracy was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Tracy attended The University of Pennsylvania and graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts (Biology) degree. While there, he played baseball and Sprint Football. He attended The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine from 2008-2012. Immediately after graduating veterinary school, Dr. Tracy completed a rotating small animal medicine and surgery internship at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Tracy then completed a Neurology and Neurosurgery residency in Jacksonville, FL at North Florida Neurology with Dr. Andrew Hopkins and Dr. John Meeks as his mentors. Dr. Tracy completed his residency before joining Northstar VETS.

Dr. Tracy’s professional interests include IVDD, spinal surgery, management of seizures and inflammatory diseases of the brain and spinal cord.

Dr. Tracy currently lives with his wife and their two cats, DD and Bunny. In his free time, Dr. Tracy enjoys taking in any baseball game, and cheering for the Buckeyes and Steelers!

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Meet the NorthStar VETS Team: Shiara Arulpragasam, DVM, CCRP

Dr. Shiara Arulpragasam is a Veterinary Surgeon at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, she talks about how she got into veterinary medicine, her love of Great Danes, and what she looks for in a great veterinary specialty hospital.

Dr. A confesses her love of Danes
We caught up with Dr. Arulpragasam, who was showing us her dog between appointments. “This is Ajax, he’s my dog. He’s a two-year-old Great Dane. We just adopted him about a month ago. His previous owners developed really bad allergies and so he needed a home. I ended up with a previous Great Dane that was rescued from the shelter and she was just the sweetest dog, and now I just think I can’t be without one. They’re goofy, and sweet, and there’s just more of them to love!”

How Dr. Arulpragasam got into veterinary medicine
Dr. Arulpragasam recently joined the Surgery team at NorthStar VETS, and gave us some background on how she got into this line of work. “Obviously, I’ve always been an animal lover, as most of us veterinarians are. I actually wanted to be a surgeon before I wanted to be a veterinarian and I was planning on going to medical school when I was in college. My roommate wanted to be a veterinarian and was telling me about it, and when I figured out I could be a veterinary surgeon, that was what made me switch career paths. So instead of applying to Tufts Medical School, I applied to Tufts Veterinary School, and here I am now!”

What Dr. A looks for in a great veterinary specialty hospital
Dr. Arulpragasam continued our conversation by talking about her job application process out of school. “You know, I was looking for a place where there were multiple surgeons so there would be a really good group to learn from as well as to work with. I also appreciate having other specialists, and NorthStar VETS is just a wonderful, state-of-the-art facility that blew all the other places out of the water that I applied to. I was really happy to end up here, and I’m from the northeast, I’m from Connecticut, so it was perfect for my family as well.”

The types of cases a veterinary surgeon sees on a daily basis and why she does what she does
NorthStar VETS sees more than 400 cases each week, and Dr. Arulpragasam can see a wide variety of patients. “I’ll see anything from something with the GI tract, or orthopedic like a torn ACL, as well as some neurosurgery like back surgeries.” Dr. Arulpragasam is looking forward to helping you and your pets. In her final thoughts during our interview, she commented on what she gets out of her work. “You know, it’s great to make the dogs and cats better, but when pet owners come to you with tears in their eyes and say ‘You know, this dog (or cat) is everything to me. I’m so grateful,’ that really means a lot to me.”

Learn more about the Surgery service at NorthStar VETS

Shiara Arulpragasam, DVM, CCRPShiara Arulpragasam, DVM, CCRP
Dr. Arulpragasam (“Dr. A”) is originally from Connecticut and is excited to return home to the northeast and join the NorthStar VETS surgical team. Dr. Arulpragasam earned her Bachelor of Science at Tufts University in 2007. She stayed at Tufts University for veterinary school and obtained her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2011. She then completed a small animal rotating internship at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Arulpragasam went on to complete a small animal surgery internship at the University of Florida followed by a three year small animal surgery residency at the University of Tennessee. While at University of Tennessee, Dr. Arulpragasam obtained her certification as a canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP). Dr. Arulpragasam’s interests include minimally invasive surgery, wound management and reconstructive surgery, congenital portosystemic shunts, cardiothoracic surgery and physical rehabilitation for orthopedic and neurologic conditions. She is trained in both the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) and Lateral Extracapsular Suture techniques for cranial cruciate ligament injury.

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Meet the NorthStar VETS team: Tammy Anderson, DVM, DACVIM

Dr. Tammy Anderson is a Veterinary Internist at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, she talks about how she got into veterinary medicine, the kinds of things she does most commonly for pets and the words her mother said to her that changed her life.

How Dr. Anderson got into Veterinary Medicine
We caught up with Dr. Anderson while she was checking on her patients. Dr. Vygantas was originally a nurse, before she found a passion for working with animals. Here is how she tells her story. “I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a little child. People used to tease me because I would gather any kind of animals that I could. I think I’m a thwarted biologist. I went to nursing school because I admired my mother, and I was wild when I was quite young (Dr. Anderson gives a mischievous wink) and couldn’t get through vet school. After doing nursing for about five years, I decided that I really needed to go back to school. I listened to Tracy Chapman’s song, ‘If Not Now, When?’ and had my epiphany of my lifetime which was to go back to school. I went back to school while doing nursing, which was great. I still love nursing. I like working with people, and as an internist, we get to do that all the time. As corny as it sounds, I still do like helping the animals.”

“I went to school at Ohio State, then did my internship at Michigan State, then did my residency in Internal Medicine in Tennessee. New Jersey is my home, I graduated from Wall High School, so I love the people here in New Jersey.”

DSC_4379The words Dr. Anderson’s mother said to her that changed her life
Dr. Anderson has been practicing medicine for more than twenty years, specializing in Internal Medicine. She went on to tell us a powerful personal story that really touched us. “My mother became a nurse in 1959 because she wanted to work for a veterinarian down the road and she found out that he would hire a nurse in his office. She always wanted to be a veterinarian, but back then, women didn’t really go to vet school. When I graduated, during the white coat ceremony where we give our oath, I was walking down the aisle and I saw that she was weeping like a baby. Afterwards, I said, ‘Mom, what was that about?’ and she said, ‘I always wanted to be a veterinarian.’ and she never told me until I graduated. That was the first time that she told me. “

What it takes to be a veterinary internist
Dr. Anderson gave us some background on the kind of training it takes to become a veterinary internist. “Internists are people who are trained for an additional three-to-four years specifically in medicine where we deal with difficult cases. My first year of vet school, Dean Fenner said to us students, ‘Some of you are going to want to do medicine, some of you are going to want to do surgery’ and the minute he said ‘medicine,’ (medicine referring to the type of cases that are puzzles and interesting to work with) I knew I was going to be away from home longer than four years. It took me about ten because I stayed at Tennessee and did some teaching, which I very much enjoyed, but I was home-sick and wanted to spend time with my family.”

NorthStar VETS sees more than 400 cases each week. Dr. Anderson and the team at NorthStar VETS are always available to help you and your pets 24/7. Dr. Anderson gave us her final thoughts. “Here we do more than just the medicine. We do a lot of outreach, a lot of continuing education, and to me, it isn’t just a career, it’s a calling. I know that sounds very corny, but I really think it’s true. One of the benefits for me is that I really enjoy people. So being able to help pets allows us to help people. And even in a case where the outcome is terrible, you can be gentle with people, and be knowlegeable, give them information, and help them feel good about their decisions.”

“The people here are really easy to work with. My clients are great, but by the time they see me, they are really devoted to their pets as I am to mine and so I really respect the group of people that we have. Most people respect the job that we do, and I really love working with other veterinarians. I count some of them as friends and almost all of them as fond acquaintances (she gives a big smile) and that’s really important to me as well.” Dr. Anderson will continue to provide world-class veterinary care to her patients.

Learn more about the Internal Medicine service at NorthStar VETS

Tammy Anderson, DVM, DACVIMTammy Anderson, DVM, DACVIM
Dr. Anderson is a New Jersey native who received her veterinary medical degree from Ohio State University in 1995. She completed her small animal internship at Michigan State University in 1996, and her residency in small animal internal medicine at the University of Tennessee in 1999. She remained at UT as an assistant professor of small animal medicine until 2001, when she returned to New Jersey and entered private practice. Dr. Anderson joined NorthStar VETS in 2004.

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Signs That Your Pet Needs Immediate Care pet may require emergency care due to trauma from an accident or fall, for example, or other life-threatening situations such as illness, choking, heatstroke, an insect sting, or poisoning. These are some signs that you should seek veterinary care immediately:

  • Change in body temperature
  • Difficulty standing/walking
  • Disorientation
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pale gums
  • Paralysis (apparent/sudden)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Weak or rapid pulse

This excerpt is from our Pet First Aid Handbook. To learn more about what to do in a pet-related emergency, download the NorthStar VETS Pet Emergency Handbook.

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How to Shop for Pet Insurance

When it comes to pet insurance, one thing that’s important to consider, preferably before you’re dealing with an emergency, are the costs. As you can imagine, medical care can get expensive and pet insurance can be a smart investment. Pets are living longer and being diagnosed with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer – even heart conditions. Then there are the torn ACLs and broken bones that can happen at any time.

Good pet insurance gives you peace of mind. Yet, there are so many types of pet insurance, how do you choose? When can you buy it? What do you need to know?

Like any insurance, you don’t want to wait until you need it, because then it will be too late. Instead, you’ll want to compare policies during a time of calm and preferably while your pet is younger. It’s generally less to insure younger pets. Plus, some policies have age limits and won’t insure pets past a certain age.

Here are a few things to know about pet insurance:

  1. If your pet has a pre-existing condition and you want to switch policies, make sure your new policy will cover your pet. Many won’t, so be sure to ask or read the fine print before you make the switch.
  2. If you have more than one pet, ask if there are discounts for multiple pet households. Many insurance companies will give discounts for more than one pet.
  3. Are you limited to certain network providers? If so, do you know who they are?
  4. Pet insurance that covers routine office visits might actually cost you more in the long run than paying out of pocket. Many such providers have higher premiums.
    Here’s how you can evaluate the age of your pet vs. the cost of the routine care vs. the premiums. If your pet is young and healthy and the premiums are high with routine visits, you’ll probably save money by simply paying your veterinarian outright and choosing a policy that covers only serious illness or accidents.
  5. Is there a co-pay or does the insurance company reimburse you? (Usually, you’ll pay the fee at the hospital, fill out a form with your insurance company and they’ll reimburse you.)
  6. Are certain treatments limited? While the medical field is always changing, you want to have an idea of what is covered and what isn’t. Some insurance providers cap you at a certain amount. Yet, if your bill is greater than that amount, it won’t cover everything. This is where it pays to shop around and know what you will be entitled to should you need to use it.
  7. Are there breed restrictions? Some companies won’t insure certain breeds.

With all the array of providers, there’s certainly one to fit your needs. It’s a good idea to compare 3 or 4 policies and ask for recommendations from your family veterinarian and other pet professionals. NorthStar VETS has posted links to different pet insurance providers on its website. Also, Consumer Affairs compares pet insurance in this post.

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How to Say Goodbye

As an oncologist, I discuss end of life decisions with clients on nearly a daily basis.

Euthanasia is one of the hardest decisions we have to make as a pet owner. You can read about my own story with my cat, Rocco. It is the most selfless act that we can do as guardians for the joy our pets give us.

consolationThe question I get asked often is: How will I know when it’s time? I have 3 different approaches to answering this question.

  1. For me, and for some people, it is an emotionally-driven experience. We just know. We look at our pet and can see in their eyes that they have given up or that the chance of them recovering is so unlikely that euthanasia becomes a more realistic option.
  2. Some people need a list. I would say have 10 items on this list: when s/he stops eating, when s/he stops being able to control her/his eliminations, when s/he stops greeting me at the door, when her/his tail stops wagging, when s/he does not want to play anymore, etc. Once they stop doing 3 things on this list, consider if there is something wrong. If they stop doing 5 things on the list, take a moment to decide if they have a quality of life.
  3. Another approach is to put “B” for bad day or “G” for good day on a calendar. If over a predetermined time period, if there are more “B’s” than “G’s” then it may be time to reevaluate.
“It’s not easy when the time comes to euthanize your pet. Yesterday, I was faced with that decision. The doctor and staff at NorthStar VETS were compassionate and caring to our needs and allowed us to face this with the utmost dignity possible. Thank you all very much.”

The healthiest decisions have included all members of the family. I have been amazed over the years by how resilient kids are when it comes to this decision and grieving for pets. They often do better than we would ever expect. Studies have shown that children need closure, some kind of physical act to say goodbye. This could include writing a card to the pet in heaven (if you believe), burying their ashes, or making a craft project to remember them. For people of all ages there are many online forums and we have a grief support group at NorthStar VETS.

Books to consider for children:

Many of our clients have expressed sentiments like this one from a recent pet owner. “It’s not easy when the time comes to euthanize your pet. Yesterday, I was faced with that decision. The doctor and staff at NorthStar VETS were compassionate and caring to our needs and allowed us to face this with the utmost dignity possible. Thank you all very much.” I urge my clients to euthanize when quality of life is severely diminished, but not yet at a critical point. It is difficult to watch your own pet suffer, make the frantic drive to your veterinarian’s office and have to rush to make a decision for which you were not prepared. I, personally, have done this.

What I have found to be most important is to cherish the good times you have had and focus on the happy memories. When you think back on your pet, what did they do that will make you laugh or smile? You should celebrate the time you have been blessed with.

Please do not be afraid to talk to your veterinarian if you need advice or are concerned about your pet and their quality of life.

Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)Jennifer Kim, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Dr. Kim grew up in New York and received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania. After two years at the National Cancer Institute performing cancer genetic research, she attended veterinary school at Tufts University. Dr. Kim completed a rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, New York, and an oncology internship at Cornell University. She began at NorthStar VETS as an emergency clinician in 2005 and returned in 2010 to treat oncology patients after completing her residency in medical oncology at Michigan State University School of Veterinary Medicine. In her free time, Dr. Kim is an avid foodie and knitter.

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Meet the NorthStar VETS Team: Kristina Vygantas, DVM, DACVO

Dr. Kristina Vygantas is a Veterinary Ophthalmologist at NorthStar VETS. In this blog post and video below, she talks about how she got into veterinary medicine, the kinds of things she does most commonly for pets and one of her favorite cases…Snow Leopards!

How Dr. Vygantas got into Veterinary Medicine
We caught up with Dr. Vygantas while she was checking on her patients. Dr. Vygantas was originally pre-med, before she found a passion for working with animals. Here is how she tells her story. “In second year of college, we had a class called comparative anatomy where we dissected a cat, and my wheels got turning. I decided I would much rather be a veterinarian and work with animals and their people in THAT way, rather than practicing medicine on people primarily. My college didn’t have a program in veterinary science, so I just went with the pre-med students and I was the only veterinary student there, but I was able to get in, thankfully. I went to school at Cornell where I spent four years. After that, if you’re interested in specializing, additional training is needed. So after Cornell, I went south, to the deep south, to Auburn. I spent a year there doing a general rotating internship. I was lucky enough to get an Ophthalmology residency at Auburn University. I spent three years there and then have been in private practice ever since.”

eye-exams2The most common types of things Dr. Vygantas treats
Dr. Vygantas is an Ophthalmologist, working on the eyes of all kinds of animals. She went on to talk about the kind of work she does today. “We are lucky enough to treat all species, but just treat eye disease. Though mostly we’re working on dogs and cats, but I see horses and zoo animals, exotic animals…every species but one…the human. We see mostly dogs and cats, and a lot of the diseases we see in veterinary medicine are similar to what people would get. So that includes glaucoma, cataracts, injuries, corneal abrasions, dry eye, and retinal disease. There are a lot of similarities, but then there are also some very significant differences between human ophthalmology and veterinary ophthalmology. It’s interesting to compare and a lot of our MD colleagues find it really cool to see what we’re doing and we learn a lot from them also. It’s a nice interchange of information.”

One of Dr. Vygantas’ favorite cases – Snow Leopards
NorthStar VETS cares for and treats animals from a number of zoos in our area. Dr. Vygantas told us about one of her favorite exotics cases. “One medically simple experience that was rewarding for me personally was working on some snow leopard cubs. They are an endangered species and as a result are very highly inbred. These cubs were born with some eyelid abnormalities and we were able to correct those before the animals grew up and keep their eyes as healthy as possible. What’s interesting is that when you’re working with adult species of some of these big cats, you don’t get to interact with them very much because they’re under anesthesia. But while they’re still cubs, you get to hold them while they’re awake and interact with them before they’re dangerous. That was a really unique and special experience for me.”

Dr. Vygantas and the team at NorthStar VETS are always available to help you and your pets. Dr. Vygantas gave us her final thoughts. “I really enjoy working with the clients and seeing how much they love their animals and what their animals bring to their lives and I obviously love their pets. It’s really awesome to be able to treat so many really sweet animals.”

Learn more about the Ophthalmology service at NorthStar VETS

Kristina R. Vygantas, DVM, DACVOKristina R. Vygantas, DVM, DACVO
Dr. Vygantas is a graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University. She completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery as well as her residency in ophthalmology at Auburn University. Dr. Vygantas became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists in 2001. She was in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama, for four years prior to joining NorthStar VETS in 2005. She also served on the board of the exam committee of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. Her special interests include corneal surgery and wound healing as well as equine ophthalmology.

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The Human and Animal Blood Drives at NorthStar VETS

NorthStar VETS had successful human and animal blood drives in 2016 at each of its locations. The need for blood is year-round, but this story today will give you a lot of insight into the kind of good that comes from these events.

Why These Blood Drives are Important
Ellen and her dog, Orson, came to the NorthStar VETS blood drive in Robbinsville so that they could both donate blood. Orson, a three-year-old, was adopted from Greyhound Friends of New Jersey and Ellen has had him for about nine months. the NorthStar VETS blood donor program allows dogs and cats to donate blood to help other sick or injured pets. Ellen knows how important this is when she said, “When there’s a need for blood, it’s dire. When a pet is in need of emergency care, this is a great place for the pet to be. To be able to be a part of that and give back to the community and have a superhero give blood to help other animals is great.”

What the The NorthStar VETS Blood Bank for Dogs and Cats is About
Dr. Hammer, Medical Director for NorthStar VETS in Robbinsville and head of the NorthStar VETS Blood Bank for Dogs and Cats, explained the program. “Just like people need blood when their blood counts get low, so do cats and dogs. And cats and dogs actually get blood from other cats and dogs. Our blood donor program is a volunteer program where healthy cats and dogs give their blood so that we can use it for dogs and cats who are sick.”

The blood donor program is a simple two-step process, screening pets before they donate. Dr. Hammer continued. “The first part is the screening process where we make sure that your pet is up to date on vaccines, is healthy, weighs a certain amount, and is able to give a certain amount of blood. After that, we do an examination and an extensive blood screening panel on those pets and if everything looks good, then they become part of our blood donor program. At that point, we call people in on a regular basis to have their pet give blood. We store that blood until we need it, and then it goes to our sick patients.” Most breeds of dogs and cats can donate, as long as they are over 50 pounds for dogs and 10 pounds for cats.

greyhoundWhy We Love Greyhounds
Greyhounds have a number of unique qualities that make them ideal for this role. Dr. Hammer described them in this way, “They have a very calm temperament, they are very sweet animals, they also have a higher red blood cell count than your average dog. When we make a particular product called packed red blood cells, they have more of those red blood cells. They are also more likely to be universal donors, which means that their blood can be given to lots of different dogs with different blood types.”

What’s in it for the Donors
The program is free for donors, and pets get a number of benefits as well. Maria is with Greyhound Friends of New Jersey and has been an active participant in the program. She said, “First, they get a medical exam by a veterinarian every time they come here, they also get a discount on blood in the future should they need it, and when they’re done, they get this lovely bandana and a bag of treats. But obviously, the best part of them being a blood donor is that they’re saving lives. Our organization homes about 250 greyhounds a year, and now our dogs are paying it forward by donating blood and saving lives, and that’s really the best part.”

Paying Tribute to One of our Original Donors
Our June blood drive in Robbinsville was held in honor of Sonalee Abbate. Maria of Greyhound Friends of New Jersey, who knew Sonalee, told the story. “Sonalee was a pet of the Abbate family and she was an absolutely wonderful dog. She was actually part of the original Greyhound Friends of New Jersey and NorthStar VETS partnership, part of the original super heroes. Unfortunately, Sonalee passed about a month ago. She got the very best care, but unfortunately, she’s no longer with us and so NorthStar VETS decided to have this blood drive in memory of Sonalee. So we have a lot of greyhound owners who came down here today to have their dogs screened in memory of Sonalee. She will always be part of our organization, and she will always be part of our hearts.”

Thanks to these donations, NorthStar VETS can continue to provide world-class care to pets in need. Maria concluded, “I just want to thank NorthStar VETS. They provide absolutely amazing care for our greyhounds. They have the most wonderful staff, doctors, technicians and receptionists. We are very lucky and grateful to have the partnership between Greyhound Friends of New Jersey and NorthStar VETS.”

Blood DonorThe Red Cross is also an Important Part of the Drive
The American Red Cross hosts a blood drive for people at NorthStar VETS alongside the dog and cat blood drive, with dozens of donors stopping by. Omar Javier, with the American Red Cross, explained how important these drives are for people. “With one pint of blood, we can save up to three lives, because with each bag of blood we collect, we can use the platelets, we can use the red cells, and we can use the plasma. That could be three different lives saved from one donation.”

We caught up with Ellen after she and Orson made their donations. “Everything went really well today. I think Orson really enjoyed being around the staff, the people here are wonderful, really warm and caring and it was just a great experience for all of us.”

The NorthStar VETS Blood Bank for Dogs and Cats is always looking for new donors. To learn how you can get involved, visit

Kimberly Hammer, VMD, DACVIMKimberly Hammer, VMD, DACVIM
Dr. Hammer received her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2000. She spent a year at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine for a small animal internship and returned to the University of Pennsylvania for a two-year residency in small animal internal medicine. She earned board certification from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 2004. She has a special interest in interventional radiology/endoscopy and minimally invasive procedures. Her other interests include endocrinology, gastroenterology and hematology. She currently serves as the medical adviser for the NorthStar VETS blood bank. She joined the NorthStar VETS team in September 2007.

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NorthStar VETS Buddy Pet Oxygen Mask Initiative

Buddy’s Story
Buddy3Dr. Steven Berkowitz, Emergency and Critical Veterinarian at NorthStar VETS, recently visited the Florence and Chesterfield Fire Companies. The brave firefighters from these townships rescued a service dog named Buddy from a condo fire back on February 21. Buddy was brought to NorthStar VETS due to his extensive injuries from the fire. Dr. Berkowitz picks up the story from here. “When Buddy came, he had pretty significant burns on his body as well as serious smoke inhalation. He had trouble breathing and was very uncomfortable. We quickly got him some nasal oxygen therapy and pain medications and starting treating him immediately for his smoke inhalation and burns. Twenty percent of his body’s surface area was covered in burns and he really was affected by the fire. Due to all his injuries and smoke inhalation, Buddy was not able to make it through his ordeal, even though he fought hard for 24 hours. He was tough, as was his family. In response to this, we at NorthStar VETS decided that we wanted to help local heroes in the area (the firemen) by delivering masks that will be able to be used in first response for smoke inhalation pet victims and we’re doing it in the name of Buddy. I can’t think of a better family. Buddy is a great dog. His owner is a veteran from the war. I can’t think of two better heroes to be associated with this. They are amazing.”

What the The NorthStar VETS Buddy Pet Oxygen Mask Initiative is About
NorthStar VETS has donated a number of specialized kits to firehouses across the area. Dr. Berkowitz explained what was in the kits. “Each kit contains three differently-sized oxygen masks that will provide higher quality and quantity oxygen than first responders can provide with masks designed for humans. The masks they use now provide flow-by oxygen. With the new masks, first responders can place the pet oxygen mask over the pet’s face and place their muzzle into the mask which plugs into a standard oxygen line and oxygen source that first responders already have on their rigs. Some of the other things included are first aid supplies such as gauze, sponges, a slip leash (which is important for pets missing their collar and for pets when a clip-on leash is not handy), and a cooling blanket. The blanket is really helpful to pets when they have burns by keeping them nice and cool and helping with some of the discomfort associated with skin burns.”

Reaction from First Responders who Received the Kits
Chesterfield Fire Company Recieving Award from NorthStar VETSAndrew Popso, Fire Commissioner for Florence Township, gave us his reaction to receiving the pet oxygen masks. “NorthStar VETS actually beat us to the punch and saw a need. They took this idea and ran with it, which is fantastic. My father, a very good man, always said, ‘It’s easy to hurt somebody. If you want to do something great in life, learn how to heal.’ And I think that is what NorthStar VETS did. They presented something to this town, and it’s a very generational town, that will spread by word of mouth and everyone will hear and know that their ‘loved one’ will be taken care of as well. We know of a lot of people that try to go back into the building as well as people in motor vehicle accidents that concern themselves with their animals, and now this is another step in being able to provide that service them.”

These masks will allow firefighters to better help pets in an emergency. Kyle Asbrand, Fire Chief of the Chesterfield Hose Company, also gave us his reaction. “We treat pets in house fires like a normal human. We give them oxygen through non-rebreather masks that we would treat a human with as well. At that point, we do the best we can with the blow-by oxygen. Now with these new oxygen masks, it’s going to help us deliver more oxygen immediately to the animals whether it’s a cat or dog and it’s another tool in our toolbox that we can add to our truck.”

What this Initiative Means for Pet Owners Like You
Dr. Berkowitz explained a little more about how the masks work better for pets. “The air you and I are breathing now is about 21.7 percent oxygen by law of physics. When we have an oxygen line going to a patient via flow-by, we can get to about 23 to 24 percent. With these pet oxygen masks, we can get as high as 40 to 50 percent oxygen. This is tremendously beneficial to a patient that has carbon monoxide or cyanide poisoning from a house fire.”

Andrew Popso continued by detailing what this means to pet owners. “We can now not only support patients and victims that we normally deal with, but now we’re going to have the opportunity to provide better care for the animals. For me and my family, we grew up around animals and have always had animals. I look at my pets as if they’re children of my own.”

Buddy’s New Legacy
The Buddy Pet Oxygen Mask InitiativeBuddy was a service dog to a local veteran and a loving family pet, and this memorial will allow him to continue helping others. Dr. Berkowitz summed it up. “To be able to help a dog like Buddy and his family is amazing. And especially to have this initiative named after Buddy, who was a war veteran’s dog. It’s great.” And Kyle Asbrand added his additional remarks as well. “The guys are so happy that NorthStar VETS realizes and appreciates how much we do and try to do for everybody, and were able to come here to us and present us with this award. It’s another thing that helps motivate our guys to keep training hard and do good work.” Andrew Popso agreed. “To take a positive out of a negative tragedy is fantastic. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

NorthStar VETS will provide additional masks to other first responders in the area in the months ahead.

Steven Berkowitz, DVMSteven Berkowitz, DVM
Dr. Steven Berkowitz attended St. Georges University and did his clinical year at the University of Illinois. Berkowitz joined NorthStar VETS after serving as the Chief of Emergency and Critical Care at another specialty hospital. Prior to that, he completed a three-year residency in Emergency and Critical Care medicine at the Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus, NJ. His residency was completed at one of only a few recognized veterinary trauma centers in the United States. Prior to his residency, he was a staff Emergency Veterinarian at Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, NY as well as serving as an emergency doctor at Animal Emergency and Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ for 3 years. Dr. Berkowitz can be seen on seasons 5 and 6 of “Animal Precinct” on Animal Planet, which was filmed during his internship at The Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital of the ASPCA in New York City.
Dr. Berkowitz has special interest in the management of metabolic and endocrine derangements, trauma, as well as management of the septic patient.

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