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Veterinarians and technicians work at Animal Medical Center of Skokie.

Anatomy of a veterinary facility

by Zack Aldrich
Nov 01, 2011


Zack Aldrich/MEDILL

U.S. domesticated pets in 2011

What do you get when you mix an anesthesiologist, a dietician, a surgeon, a dentist and a hairdresser? The answer is a veterinarian, say folks at the Animal Medical Center of Skokie.

Recently, I shadowed veterinarians and technicians over four days at the Skokie animal hospital, so I had to quietly mask my intrigue at the sight of scalpels and syringes underneath a guise of controlled curiosity.

I am naturally drawn to surgery because surgery reminds us that we are breakable. We’re an amalgamation of tissue and protein and blood, but we forget that fragility as we run out to buy groceries or attend business meetings.

At the medical center, I observed one pup named Maximus, a Shetland sheepdog, who was dropped off in the morning to be neutered and was ready to go home within hours. It’s remarkable how this small creature was induced into sleep, clipped open, tinkered with, sealed up, awakened and back in his owner’s care in time for obedience school (I don’t actually know if he was enrolled in obedience school). Of course, staff ensured he had plenty of time to rest after the operation.

Veterinarian Krysta Stewarts is drawn to surgery because of its transformative power, and she embodies the popular T-shirts in veterinary circles that say things such as “DVMs do it all.”

By 10 o’clock, Stewarts might be an anesthesiologist, ensuring that an animal’s fluids and blood pressure are sustained. At noon, she’s extracting teeth, and by 3 p.m. she’s an internist.

Last week, she put on her surgeon’s hat — actually more of a bouffant cap — to spay a dog. Stewarts met adversity in the form of ubiquitous globs of fat, and she struggled to locate the ovaries amid swaths of cloudy pink Jell-O.

“Tap around the eyes,” said veterinary technician Lauren LaPorte.

The jack-of-all-trades identity applies to the whole staff. In one day, I saw workers operate in a fluid rhythm where each animal got face time with a different person who performed a different task.

LaPorte was assisting the doctor in one of the cautionary measures to ensure that an animal is still properly anesthetized. She held the light source steady, a fiber-optic laparoscope to illuminate the animal’s internal organs, while Stewarts carefully located the ovary and pinned it to the inside of the body wall for its eventual removal.

Fast-forward to three days after the laparoscopic spay, and a German shepherd the size of a small horse makes an appearance. His musk earns him a bath. The comparably small kennel worker walks up to the elevated bathtub with a leashed Dante in hand, and she lets out a small chirp of a sigh.

In another room, Dr. Danylo Butenko cleans out the floppy pancake ears that belong to Dante’s brother, Jason. Years of work with animals apparently leave veterinarians with a keen sense of their patients’ reactions because, after dropping a soapy solution into the pup’s ears, Butenko immediately turns his face away.


The dog’s head propels back and forth, suds and water droplets tumbling everywhere.

“Look at that splatter!” Butenko says laughing, pointing at the upper cabinets and adjacent wall. The remaining impression looks like something out of “Dexter.”

When the kennel worker is finished scrubbing Dante, I ask if it will take years for him to dry. She says it won’t take too long, and she nods her head toward the other side of the room.

“He goes in the dryer.”

I look over. It’s actually a dryer. Like, for clothes. I look at her in horror.

Oh wait. Next to the people dryer there’s a cagelike box with a large fan built in. Probably more preferable.

“Good morning, little man!” LaPorte chimes later in the afternoon as she awakens a kitty from a dental procedure.

Compassion isn’t lost in the staff’s technical responsibilites. LaPorte once turned down a job offer with a research group that induced a pack of dogs into heart failure to ascertain a drug’s effectiveness.

“The whole thing felt so wrong,” she said. “I went home at night feeling like a bad person. I understand the research is necessary. I just personally can’t be involved.”