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A NIGHT IN THE LIFE at the emergency pet clinic

April 14th, 2014 2:26 pm by Tony Casey

A NIGHT IN THE LIFE at the emergency pet clinic

Ashley Ison, Robin Ashley, Dr. Sara Phipps and Anna Perkins discuss how to help Cash the cat.Tony Casey/Johnson City Press

The staff at the Airport Pet Emergency Clinic see the good, the bad and the ugly at their Blountville location directly across from the Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

Offering operating hours opposite to the schedules of general veterinarians, the clinic sees emergency situations — ones that don’t always end so well. 

“Emergencies are awful for everyone,” said licensed technician Robin Ashley, pointing out that pet owners coming to the facility are often unprepared, sometimes both financially and emotionally, for the unexpected problems with their pets.

Each and every staff member at the facility, Ashley said, has at least one pet of their own and understands the stress such emergencies can put on the owner. 

“Peace of mind is priceless,” Ashley said.

She and her coworkers strive to maintain a spotless clinic that can handle a wide range of possible ailments, from bone breaks caused by car accidents to urine blockages, a more common emergency.

Dr. Sara Phipps was working on a recent night when several emergencies came through the door, including a fluffy dog named Kipper who fell into a watering hole and needed immediate attention, and a black cat named Cash who was suffering from pain likely caused by a urine blockage. 

After administering pain medication to both animals, Phipps and the staff worked with the owners of the two pets to figure out the best plans of action.

“We try really hard to offer care that fits everybody’s financial situation,” Ashley said.

Working out the finances just goes with the job, Ashley and Phipps said. 

Ashley takes each pet’s situation to heart, she admits, and says it’s not uncommon for the staff to have to excuse themselves for a quick cry in some sad situations.

X-rays, Ashley said, will often turn up an inconvenient truth about the tendencies of dogs.

“Dogs eat lots of wonderful and creative things,” she joked, saying the real-time looks inside animals often reveal stones, pennies, plastic, batteries, wood, and frequently, the white, fluffy insides of stuffed animals.

The clinic also has a surgery room where Phipps and the other doctors on site, Mike Hahn and Lynn Welch, can handle situations that require an endoscopy or ultrasound. Right next door is the treatment room, which includes a full pharmacy and lab for the frequently required bloodwork.

Flanking the treatment room are rooms where pet owners can sit and wait or consult with the doctor. There’s also an isolation room, used if there’s a chance of a communicable disease being present.

The multitude of emergency services are well needed, as there’s rarely a dull moment when it comes to pets and what they can get into. Weekends often are busiest at the facility. People will notice an issue come up with their pet and monitor it for a few days only to find out it worsened. Coupling that with the owner’s typical 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-through-Friday job schedule and the weekend is often the only time to bring a pet in for care. 

The only one of its kind in the area, the APEC often even sees emergency situations from neighboring North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. A trip of a few hundred miles, Ashley said, is not uncommon.

Many staff members bring their own animals to the clinic, which can offer some comfort to those coming in for treatment of their pets. 

Grover, a great dane, sleeps in a comfortable, cushioned bed behind the counter. Customers have come to love Grover as well as the two semi-famous cats at the clinic — Fred and Bob. Fred, Ashley said, has an uncanny ability to know when someone is suffering through their pets’ injuries and always pops in to comfort where it’s needed most.

House pets aside, APEC has the right staff for the job, too, with assistants like Ashley Ison, from Weber City, Va., who has been working the clinic as her third job for two years. She admits she’s in the wrong line of work and would have loved to pursue helping pets more professionally. 

“This is the job I love,” Ison said. “I do two other jobs. The other one pays the bills, but I love this one.”

While the pay might not be as much as her other position, Ison said her heart is in her work to help the animals that come in.
“I hate that we have to be here, but I’m glad we are,” she said.

Jessica Carter is in the same line of work for similar reasons. She works at APEC because she wants to make a difference in animals’ lives.

“I’ve worked in a shelter for four years,” Carter said. “I felt like I wasn’t doing as much good. Here, I always feel like I’m doing a lot more good, even in cases that don’t end so well.”

Hours for the clinic are 5:30 p.m.-8 a.m. through the week and 24 hours a day on both Saturday and Sunday. More information about APEC can be found at

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