Dr. Amy Shroff, above, opened the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New England last year, along with fellow veterinarian Brian Huss. Jennifer James, left, and Lauren Cronin, employees of the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New England treat Beanie, a cat who was struck by a car this fall in Wayland, Mass.
Just like a 'human hospital,' Dr. Amy Shroff's veterinary center offers compassionate care from doctors who love animals
By Christine Walsh
WALTHAM, Mass. ÷ Dr. Amy Shroff has seen a lot of trauma cases come through the doors of her emergency room. Her patients have been electrocuted and attacked. They've suffered from hypothermia and infectious diseases. They've overdosed on rat poison, aspirin and even chocolate.
All of them ÷ cats, dogs and exotic birds alike ÷ receive care from compassionate doctors who love animals.
Shroff is chief of staff at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New England, which opened last year and is one of the area's few 24-hour animal hospitals.
Just like a "human hospital,” the center uses advanced technology and employs a variety of specialists: an internist, two surgeons, a part-time radiologist and a visiting cardiologist. The center has an on-site blood bank for cats and dogs and works closely with its next-door neighbor, the New England Veterinary Oncology Group.
Maintaining a high standard of care and excellent communication with clients is Shroff's mantra.
"We have to be able to see all animals at all hours of the day and night and be able to handle them confidently, efficiently and with lots of TLC,” said Shroff, 38, who owns the center with fellow veterinarian Brian Huss.
The partners poured almost $4 million ÷ most of it borrowed ÷ into buying a 17,500-square-foot warehouse in Waltham's Bear Hill Road industrial park and turning it into an animal hospital. They lease space to the oncology group and a small restaurant.
Despite the sickness and even death that is common to the center, it is an upbeat place with sunny exam rooms. A five-foot tank filled with fluorescent-colored fish, plants and coral brightens the waiting room, where thank-you cards and photos from pet owners hang on the wall. The staff greets animals with an affection many people usually reserve for babies.
Karen Carpenter and her husband, Edward Marram, recently took an unexpected trip to the center. They were driving in Wayland one evening when they noticed a small, black cat that had been hit by a car. When police could not find the cat's owner, the couple raced home, grabbed a carrier and towels and returned to the animal.
Carpenter had never been to the center but knew Shroff through church and, thus, knew where to take the cat. When she arrived, Carpenter expected the animal would be put to sleep because she had suffered such serious head trauma.
Instead, doctors saved the cat and the couple decided to adopt her. After dental surgery to wire the cat's jaw shut and two weeks on a feeding tube, "Beanie” is now eating on her own and running around her new home. Her new owners are grateful to Shroff.
"Both my husband and I were really impressed with the facility and with the attitude of everybody there,” Carpenter said. "I'm just crazy about Amy.”
Shroff, the daughter of a Parsi man from Bombay and a Christian woman from the Midwestern United States, knew when she was a child growing up in New Jersey that she wanted to be a veterinarian.
"Everything in my life has been a steppingstone to try to get to this point,” she said. "I love animals, I love the human-animal bond.”
Shroff began working with veterinarians at age 16. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology at Barnard College in New York and then spent two years working in veterinary hospitals and waitressing at the World Trade Center.
Shroff moved to Philadelphia to attend veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania and came to the Boston area after graduation. She did research for a while, but found herself drawn to the adrenaline rush of caring for animals in an emergency room.
"I love being there at a critical moment and being able to make a critical difference in an animal's life,” she said.
In 1996, after four years of working at a 24-hour animal hospital in Southeastern Massachusetts, Shroff decided to open an after-hours veterinary emergency center. She ran the center on nights and weekends out of a colleague's offices in Needham, Mass. Huss agreed to come in and perform emergency surgeries.
As the after-hours center grew, Shroff and Huss began to think about opening their own 24-hour hospital. They spent two and a half years planning for it, choosing a location right off Route 128 (I-95) that is non-residential and has ample parking.
When they opened the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New England in January 2001, their goal was to provide high standards of care and service. Shroff can now speak about this from personal experience.
Her two Scottish terriers were diagnosed with different types of cancer within the span of a month. Huss performed surgeries on both dogs and each went through chemotherapy at the oncology center.
Hopi succumbed to liver cancer ÷ the dog's second bout with the disease ÷ and was euthanized in July, but Zuni survived spleen cancer and walked down the aisle wearing a bowtie at Shroff's recent wedding. (She married Howard Greenblatt, a computer consultant, on Oct. 19 at their Wayland, Mass., home).
Shroff said she is proud of the nurturing care the center provides.
"These animals are priceless to owners,” she said. "We're helping owners as well as animals. They wouldn't seek a hospital with this level of care if they didn't care.”
Working in the center can be a stressful job, especially since veterinarians deal with five times more deaths than physicians, Shroff said.
"We only treat sick animals here, only animals with problems,” she said, noting that the center may someday offer grief counseling to pet owners and staff. "We talk about it; we try to be sensitive to each other.”
Still, she said, the job is worth the heartache.
"There's more happiness than there is sadness,” she said. "The happy part is what keeps us going.”