The Doctor Dolittle of the Upper West Side

(AP Photo / Alexander F. Yuan)

At the New York Times, Andy Newman covers a day in the life of Dr. Anthony Pilny, veterinarian at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in Manhattan. Dr. Pilny’s practice routinely involves bowel-obstructed bunnies, lame ducks, and feisty, festering iguanas, just to name a few of his pint-sized patients.

The center, on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is the city’s only exclusively exotic animal hospital. “Exotic” in the veterinary trade simply means all pets except cats and dogs. The center treats anything else that comes in the door and weighs under 50 pounds. Most of the patients are rabbits, rodents, lizards or birds, but they can get pretty exotic: kinkajous, alligators, flower horn fish and prairie dogs. So can their problems.

The duck was out cold on the table in a basement operating room, a breathing tube stuck down her bill. Dr. Pilny sliced open her abdominal cavity and rooted around.

Dino has other health issues. Her egg problems led to calcium deficiency, weak bones and a fractured leg. She could no longer walk.

“She can crawl around on towels, but otherwise we have to carry her everywhere,” said her owner, E. J. Orbe, a ballroom dance instructor from Paterson, N.J.

Some people might hesitate to invest $1,200 in gynecological surgery on a lame duck. But Dino has a job: She’s a seeing-eye duck for another of Mr. Orbe’s ducks, Penguin, who is blind. “She finds food and water and makes noises, and Penguin would come over and start eating,” Mr. Orbe said.

Inside Dino, Dr. Pilny was hacking his way through a sea of yolky blobs. “It’s just a very extensive, severe amount of schmutz in here,” he said to the veterinary technician, Kristine Castillo. A clamp on Dino’s webbed foot fed her vital signs to a monitor. Her heartbeat pounded through the cheap speaker like a tom-tom drum: thwap-thwap, thwap-thwap.

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