Just as humans battle arthritis, allergies, cancer, kidney problems, serious injuries and acute skin conditions, so do cats and dogs, and some pet owners want to have the same access to comprehensive medical care as they would if a human family member were ill. Until a couple of years ago, the closest option for specialized veterinary care was the Louisiana State University veterinary school in Baton Rouge. Now, however, husband-and-wife team Drs. Rose J. and Stephen L. Lemarie can handle the tough cases at Southeast Veterinary Specialists (400 N. Causeway Blvd., Metairie, 219-0444).
The clinic is not a primary care facility; the veterinarians don't dispense vaccinations and conduct annual check-ups. Instead, it's a hospital where primary-care veterinarians can refer cases that need specialized therapy. "We don't do any primary care," Stephen says. "Our entire case load is referrals by primary care veterinarians."
"In this city, up until the past two years, the only specialists in the state were in Baton Rouge," Rose says. "It caused problems for pet owners, problems of getting over there with your sick pet, taking off work, then also LSU is a teaching hospital," with veterinary students who are less experienced. The Lemaries', on the other hand, have gone through years of extensive training as well as lecturing and attending educational meetings to stay current on ever-developing technology and techniques.
"Most of the things we see are cases where a primary care physician doesn't have the equipment or training to do a procedure or to diagnose a disease," Stephen says. "Rose and I are board-certified veterinary specialists in our fields. We've gone through extensive training to be able to perform those procedures and make those diagnoses. We have to keep on the cutting edge. Although we're very specialized, there's a lot of stuff to keep up with, a lot of new developments."
Stephen specializes in dermatology, dealing with skin conditions that impair the well-being of dogs and cats. "The bulk of my work is allergies," he says. "We do skin testing; I have dogs on injections," just like humans take to make them less reactive to irritants. He also sees conditions that look like mange or ringworm, but may be caused by an autoimmune disease. "Many of these skin diseases can look like other things," he says, adding that tracking down the true culprit sometimes takes advanced diagnostics or simply the experience of having treated it before. "A general [veterinary] practitioner may see an autoimmune skin disease once a year," he says. "I see several a month."
Rose, a surgeon, says many of her cases involve orthopedic surgery, back and neurologic problems, spinal tumors, disk disease, respiratory problems, cancer, urinary track obstructions and injuries from being hit by cars. The hospital provides therapies that include chemotherapy, MRI advanced imaging to detect brain tumors, spinal lesions and other abnormalities.
"We can't claim to cure everything," Rose says, "But we'll die trying."
Robert Porter, a licensed massage therapist, joined the staff to help animals regain muscle strength and control while recovering from surgery or trying to manage arthritis. He uses hydrotherapy and massage techniques, which not only conditions muscles but also staves off the depression animals suffer when they're confined to a cage or cannot move around without pain. "We're using it a lot for post-operative recovery ... to help in regaining muscle mass and flexibility," Porter says. "After they get used to it, they feel better and are definitely happier." Southeast Veterinary Specialists is the only hospital in the area to offer hydrotherapy and massage therapy for animals.
Not every pet owner is prepared to go to the inconvenience and expense care for a sick animal they way they would a human; others are willing to try all options available.
"I'm amazed at what these pet owners will do for their pets," Stephen says. "They don't treat them like pets; they consider them part of the family."
So does the staff at the Lamaries' hospital. Animals are taken out of their cages regularly just to be pampered and to make sure they are healing well physically and psychologically and keep extra staff on hand in order to give each patient special attention.
"Despite the specialized stuff we do, our main focus is the patient care," Stephen says. "We try to treat every patient like it was our own dog or cat. You get the same kind of care here as if you were laid up in the hospital."