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Animal ambulance service hits speed bumps

Pat Patera

An after-hours ambulance service for ill or injured pets got off to a slow start after opening a month ago.

Matthew Saylor, owner of PetMedic LLC, invested $3,000 to outfit a wagon with signage on the outside and an array of equipment on the inside. Medical supplies include stretcher, intravenous feed, oxygen tank, and computer database tied into Cornell University’s college of veterinary medicine.

And he got not a single call for service.

The reason, he says, starts with the economy.

“Veterinarians tell me they’ve seen a big downturn in their practices,” says Saylor. “Pet health care is a discretionary item.”

Undaunted, he says, “I must create a market. People don’t know about the service.”

The unusual idea, he says, drew lots of initial media coverage from a press release, and the ambulance is a mobile billboard.

Similar services flourish elsewhere.

Saylor trained at A.M.E.R.S., an animal ambulance service in Antioch, Calif., that fields nine vehicles. Started seven years ago, it’s transported over 6,000 pets.

But while the owner of that company holds a full veterinarian nurse certificate, Saylor has completed the basic EMT training course offered at REMSA. He is allowed to do first aid and CPR; he can continue an IV already placed, but not insert one. (That’s useful when an animal is transported from a surgery center to a clinic.)

His efforts to gain further training were stymied by demand for veterinary technicians. Classes are so full that Saylor wasn’t allowed to audit them.

But Saylor learned how to deal with the potential of hysterical pet owners at his day job in marketing at Willow Hills, a psychiatric hospital.

“Families can be distraught by the time they arrive,” he says.

And his A.M.E.R.S. training included how to care for a fractious animal. “When injured, animals revert to their primal instincts, and display defensive behavior,” he says.

That training also covered how to get paid swipe a credit card up front, via a computer and modem built into the ambulance. He’s also prepared to present owners with hold-harmless and release forms.

PetMedic charges $99 to respond plus a one-hour minimum charge of $49. Critical care transport from one clinic to another costs $79 plus the $49 minimum hourly rate, as does deceased pet removal. Dead animals are taken to Koefran Service on Wells Ave. (Cremation is a separate charge.)

PetMedic responds nights and weekends, when most veterinarian clinics are closed. Saylor takes the furry patients to the Animal Emergency Center on South Virginia Street.

Saylor got the idea for PetMedic in a dream. “I dreamed my dog fell into a vat of mud and I didn’t know what to do.”