The Everyday Kennel Staffer and the Extraordinary Ordinary Work

Encina Veterinary Hospital is composed of over 70 employees among multiple teams; Doctors, Interns, Administration, Client Services, Doctor Assistants, Patient Care and Kennel Assistants. Alicia Pickard is one of the team members on the Kennel Assistant team and her wide range of skills and duties are priceless to Encina. Below you will find a piece co-written by Alicia, giving you an insider’s look into the team that is always ready to help in one way or another.

Alicia, a Kennel Assistant at Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek, helps keep a patient calm and still during a bandage change

    As the first kennel assistant to appear each morning at Encina, I’m right on top of my game. I always like to see what’s up for the day first before I begin any task. Once I’ve looked at what the day holds for EVH, I look to the boarders (pets who stay with us for medical boarding while their human is out of town or unable to care for them at the moment) as they are usually the most enthusiastic when asking for some attention and love. First, I feed our medical boarders, supply them with fresh water, clean their kennels and give them clean fresh bedding, dispense and give them their appropriate medications , walk the dogs and spend some time snuggling each of them. Then I make my way to our in house blood donor cats (we have two cats each year who live with us to provide blood to cat patients who may need it and once that year is up, we work VERY hard to find them loving homes that will spoil them silly!). As I take care of one, the other will start talking and purring because I’m the ‘lady who feeds them’ in their eyes. It’s rewarding to be greeted so nicely, even if you know that they’re just in it for the food. Depending on the situation, some boarders may take some extra time if I have to coax or encourage them to either eat or take their medications. This takes patience, a gentle touch and dedication as some pets may be out of their comfort zone while staying with us.

    Once the boarders and blood donor kitties have been taken care of, it’s time to turn on my talents (my favorite part of the day!). For a day, I could be a chef – we make a bland diet of chicken and rice when animals have had medical issues and need to revert to eating something light and easy on the stomach. Chicken is also used to encourage patients to eat their meals and tends to work great. I could be a dog walker; dogs have their own personal needs and sometimes they just need to stretch their legs, enjoy the outdoors, sniff around and have some time to themselves. I’m the person who keeps the treatment room clean; laundry, dirty patient food bowls, tables to floors to the kennels, anything I can reach I can clean. I’m the additional hands for technicians and doctors; count on me for holding a patient during a blood draw, chemotherapy treatment, echocardiograms and ultrasounds, x-rays, nail trims and everything in between. I am also often the person who comforts a pet while getting an injection or any other type of uncomfortable procedure. When I’m not cleaning, cooking, or being an extra set of hands, I help sterilize tools and put together surgical packs for upcoming surgeries. Throughout the day, I find myself utilizing many of my talents to better serve my team and the patients.

    Each day is a little different from the last which keeps me on my toes and ready for anything that the next day brings. The role of the kennel staffer is a broad spectrum of efforts that collected together makes us a strong part of the work force at EVH. I’m happy to be able to always say “yes” when it comes to helping my team!

Big Al's Glamour Shot

Over the Shoulder Smoulder

There was apparently some confusion when Big Al agreed to star in his very own blog post. You see, Alex recently became a big brother to a child of the human variety, and he was under the impression that this blog would be solely about him…just like a baby blog. He has grown to be quite the doggy-diva since becoming an Internet sensation as our premier blood donor. In order to appease him, I have agreed to post a glamour shot of Big Al from time to time just to keep the world apprised of his good looks. So without further adieu, feast your eyes on what I call Alex’s Over the Shoulder Smoulder (patent pending). This alluring stare has been known to garner treats and hearts alike from passerby of Encina’s A-Ward, also known as Tommy’s Ward, also known as Alex’s office.

Big Al, Lifesaver Extraordinaire

Big Al Enjoying a Day Off in the Sunshine

Many people are surprised to see the list of animal blood donors on the board listing our staff members in the Encina lobby. Blood donation just seems so human I suppose, most of us associate it with the emergency room antics of doctors that we see on TV. What many of our clients don’t realize is that with so many specialists on our team, we see a lot of very sick animals that often go through dramatic shifts in health while staying with us. Some of the reasons why we do blood transfusions at Encina include treatments for low platelet count, complications from disease, and blood clotting disorders.

Included in our blood donor list is our most prolific giver of blood, Alex P. Nurre, to whom I affectionately refer as “Big Al”. Alex was rescued by Dr. Peter Nurre, one of our hospital’s co-owners, in 2002 at the age of 1 ½ from the San Francisco SPCA. It was puppy love at first sight for Dr. Nurre, but Mrs. Nurre (a.k.a. Dr. Jenifer McBride, also a talented veterinarian) wasn’t so sure. She was looking for a dog to scare off potential attackers during her nightly runs, and at a very slim 60 pounds Alex wasn’t very intimidating. Eventually Dr. Nurre sold the Missus on Alex’s sleek black physique, and home they went.

Flash forward to today, and Alex weighs in at an impressive 85 pounds (hence the nickname, “Big Al”). The black and white charmer graces us with his presence every day that Dr. Nurre works, and has saved many lives just by being a great blood donor candidate that is readily available. What makes a great donor, you ask? A calm temperament and the right blood type, and according to Alex, his good looks don’t hurt either. There are over a dozen blood group types in canines, and we use a cross-matching kit to determine if a donor’s blood is safe to give to a potential blood transfusion recipient. Alex happens to have a type of blood that does not tend to cause a strong antibody response, in which the patient’s existing blood cells react to and destroy the transfused blood cells, which can be problematic for an already sick dog.

I recently asked Dr. Nurre to tell me the story of Alex’s best “save.” It was hard to narrow it down to one, but about a year ago we had an emergency case in which a dog was rushed in on the brink of death, bleeding into her chest from a necrotic (dead) lung lobe. We had no time to thaw frozen blood, but thankfully Big Al was “working” that day. We were able to draw a pint of blood from him without sedation, which was probably the difference between life and death because the extra time needed to sedate a donor may have been deadly for the critical patient. When we rushed the patient into surgery she still had a pulse (just barely) thanks to Alex’s donation. Dr. Koehler opened her up to find that she had several liters of blood in her chest cavity. He clamped the “bleeder,” removed the problematic lung, and the patient went home the next day. Big Al got an extra meal for his troubles, and we added another tally to his list of lives saved.