When veterinary nurse Niccole George heard the sobs on the phone, she felt incapable of doing her job because the collapsed Great Dane’s owner was too frail to bring the dog to her.
That was the phone call that inspired George and her partner Gareth O’Connor to start PetMedics, a 24-hour pet ambulance service for pet owners unable to get their animals to help when an emergency arises.
“I had felt so bad for her and wished there was something that I could have done,” George, 24, said of the Great Dane. “So that’s where it all came from. We knew there was a market for it and we knew a lot of people needed that service and it was a way we could help out.”
With financial support from a non-profit organization for young adults the couple bought a van. But they had to be more innovative when it came to equipping the vehicle with pet-sized medical tools.
O’Connor drafted in a box-making company in Melbourne to make a pet stretcher using thick tarpaulin, while George flew to the US to pick up an oxygen chamber from an emergency veterinary conference.
Resuscitation devices were easier to acquire, as only the connections were different from those for humans.
By the time the service, which generally charges A$85 (US$59) call-out fee, was ready to roll late last year, all that was needed was demand.
George and O’Connor said the round-the-clock service has been busy despite the global financial crisis, which has seen some pet owners abandon their furry friends or cut back on veterinary care as the credit crunch bites.
In the last six months, Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has recorded an almost 100 percent increase in the number of dogs and cats surrendered at its southwest Sydney shelter compared with the same time last year.
“We have had an increase of people stating that they are surrendering their pets as they have to make a choice between feeding and caring for their human family and their animals,” shelter supervisor Karen Schlieper said.
“In the first months, it was one or two calls a month. But in the next few months, it increased. Now we get over two calls a day,” O’Connor said.
Often the ambulance is called by owners who are so upset about their sick pets they are unable to drive it to an animal hospital or even explain what is wrong with it.
“Sometimes we get there and they can barely speak, they can only point and we go and help their pet,” O’Connor said.
While most of the pets George and O’Connor transport are dogs, cats and birds, the company has also received distress calls to save more unusual pets such as a chicken, a goat and a turtle.
“I think pets are for a lot of people that consistent source of affection and loyalty,” George said.