New York vet Ge­orge Korin is a rare animal – a vet who makes house calls to pet own­ers

New York vet Ge­orge Korin is a rare animal – a vet who makes house calls to pet own­ers. His clients in­clude leg­endary Broad­way pro­ducer Liz McCann and Yoko Ono

The Irish Times - - Front Page -

Ge­orge Korin is one of only a hand­ful of vets who make house calls in New York City. He is a neigh­bour of mine in Green­point, and I asked if I could tag along for a few days while he vis­ited his pa­tients. Korin is Cana­dian; his par­ents are Ukrainian. He grew up in Toronto and stud­ied ma­rine bi­ol­ogy be­fore grav­i­tat­ing to­wards vet­eri­nary medicine.

Our first ap­point­ment is with Eric, a lawyer, in Tribeca, to see his three cats: Sey­mour, Leo and Mojo. Korin’s clients range from the su­per-wealthy to reg­u­lar peo­ple. He is pres­i­dent of a char­ity, nysave.org, which pro­vides sup­port for peo­ple who can’t af­ford the treat­ment their pet re­quires.

As soon as we ar­rive in the apart­ment there is a flurry of move­ment as the cats make them­selves scarce. The apart­ment is roomy and tidy but all around are chil­dren’s books and toys. I know Ir­ish peo­ple have no in­ter­est in prop­erty prices, but I sup­pose the best way to es­ti­mate the value of a pent­house apart­ment in Tribeca is to pick a num­ber be­tween one and nine and then keep adding ze­ros un­til you run out of pa­per to write on.

Eric greets us and chats with Korin about the cats. I mooch around, look­ing at the paint­ings on the wall and try­ing to spot the cats. Eric’s wife and kids are out and there is an au pair sit­ting at the din­ingroom ta­ble on her phone. Eric is dressed in “works-from-home ca­sual” and I follow him as he ousts Sey­mour from his hid­ing place. Sey­mour makes a break for it, run­ning straight into my arms, so I am mak­ing my­self use­ful.

Eric has called Korin be­cause there seems to be some­thing amiss with Sey­mour’s en­ergy. We wrap him in a towel and Korin draws some blood and ad­min­is­ters ra­bies shots that he is due any­way. He feels the cat’s blad­der to see if it is full enough to draw urine. Cats aren’t too keen on pee­ing in a cup, so draw­ing urine means a nee­dle in­serted into a full blad­der. Sey­mour’s is empty, so the test is de­ferred.

Korin has a won­der­ful touch with the an­i­mals. He lays one hand on them and they are calmed. He ex­am­ines the other two cats, gives them two ra­bies boost­ers and we are on our way. Korin sus­pects that the be­havioural changes are down to Sey­mour’s age, but he says that Eric is an in­tu­itive guy and he still thinks that the tests are worth run­ning to be sure. Eric’s sus­pi­cions prove well founded – the blood work showed early signs of a re­nal dis­or­der.

Tony awards

Korin’s next pa­tient is Mr Sushi, the cat of leg­endary Broad­way pro­ducer Liz McCann. McCann has mul­ti­ple Tony awards un­der her belt and I am keen to meet her. Her apart­ment over­looks the Hud­son and is filled with el­e­gant art­works and draw­ings of a life well spent in the theatre.

On her man­tel­piece is a small shrine/ urn con­tain­ing the ashes of her late beloved cat Daisy. Mr Sushi, a grey tor­toise­shell tabby, wan­ders around list­lessly. He has been vom­it­ing and is los­ing weight.

Korin con­ducts a quick exam, while I hold the cat. Mr Sushi’s teeth don’t look great but he is old. His coat is drab, not shiny. He is clearly un­well. Korin goes out to the car to get some medicine and I chat to McCann about her cur­rent pro­duc­tion on Broad­way, In­de­cent by Paula Vo­gel. Although it was nom­i­nated for a slew of Tonys (win­ning two: best di­rec­tor and best light­ing de­sign), McCann is afraid it may have to close. Broad­way has be­come a cold place for plays about ideas, she fears. (I went to see In­de­cent a few nights later and the cast an­nounced after the cur­tain call that they would be con­tin­u­ing the run for an­other twelve weeks, so a small vic­tory for ideas . . .)

Korin comes back and ad­min­is­ters some steroids. He asks Liz to dis­cour­age Mr Sushi from eat­ing hu­man food. McCann protests that it is hard, that he joins her for meals and steals food from her plate. She might have Broad­way at her feet but Mr Sushi has the mea­sure of her.

Over the years Korin has treated many pets with fa­mous own­ers; the most mem­o­rable was per­haps Yoko Ono’s cat. He re­calls a lit­tle tremor of awe on first see­ing John Len­non’s fa­mous white grand pi­ano. Early in his New York ca­reer he also treated no­to­ri­ous Mafioso John Gotti’s dogs.

Some of Korin’s clients spend a lot of money on their age­ing pets to ex­tend their life, some­times by just a few months. Korin is not that ex­pen­sive. There is a flat fee of $100 for a house visit, and then there is a charge per ser­vice. The fees for the calls I ac­com­pa­nied him on ranged be­tween $185 and $888. A house call is less stress­ful for the pets and much more con­ve­nient for the own­ers than a trek across town. As we drive around from house call to house call, Korin is con­stantly on the phone to the ad­min­is­tra­tor of nysave.org talk­ing about cases pend­ing, fundrais­ing and New York vet­eri­nary pol­i­tics.

Home-worker garb

On to Cen­tral Park west. A beau­ti­ful pent­house apart­ment over­look­ing the park. It is now noon and the tem­per­a­ture is around 34 de­grees. Larry, a man in his late 50s, greets us in fa­mil­iar home-worker garb – a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. His 13-year-old daugh­ter Is­abel re­clines on an arm­chair be­side the air-con­di­tioner, which is go­ing full blast. She has a fleece blan­ket over her, and is tex­ting her friends and do­ing home­work. The pa­tients are a dog, Ri­ley, and two cats, Ti­gre and Ru­fus. The dog, a lab/col­lie mix, wears a con­i­cal col­lar. He has an open sore on his paw, per­haps an in­fected bee sting, that he has wor­ried into a nasty-look­ing fes­ter­ing sore. While Korin treats Ri­ley, he and Larry talk about tick-borne dis­eases – the mild win­ter in New York State meant there was an early wave of tick-borne dis­eases that Korin saw at the animal hos­pi­tals he at­tends. Pet-own­ers need to be ex­tra vigilant – there are ticks in Cen­tral Park that can be hazardous to dogs.

One of the cats, Ti­gre, has an eye in­fec­tion. Korin thinks he has an in­do­lent ul­cer, which means that the ul­cer has healed over, leav­ing in­fec­tion locked in­side a lit­tle pock­mark on the cornea. Korin washes away this scar tis­sue in the hope that it will heal again and the in­fec­tion can be cleaned out. He will re­turn in a week and, if it hasn’t worked, Ti­gre will need a visit to an oph­thal­mol­o­gist.

On her man­tel­piece is a small shrine/urn con­tain­ing the ashes of her late beloved cat Daisy. Mr Sushi, a grey tor­toise­shell tabby, wan­ders around list­lessly. He has been vom­it­ing and is los­ing weight

Larry would qual­ify as fis­cally con­ser­va­tive but so­cially lib­eral – he would fit com­fort­ably into Fine Gael in Ire­land. He doesn’t like Trump but was not too keen on the al­ter­na­tives

All dur­ing the exam Larry’s phone keeps beep­ing. His daugh­ter Is­abel is tex­ting him from the com­fort of her arm­chair to fetch her crayons. She doesn’t want to move as she has cre­ated a per­fect mi­cro­cli­mate where she lays. Larry tells her to get her own crayons but I am pretty sure after we are gone the crayons will be de­liv­ered or the texts will keep com­ing.

While Korin writes up his notes Larry tells me he is an in­vest­ment man­ager. He has an­other apart­ment down­stairs which func­tions as his of­fice. As with all con­ver­sa­tions these days, our talk turns to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Larry would qual­ify as fis­cally con­ser­va­tive but so­cially lib­eral – he would fit com­fort­ably into Fine Gael in Ire­land. He doesn’t like Trump but was not too keen on the al­ter­na­tives.

Korin has saved the best, and worst, un­til last. Po, a husky, just six months old, is on the brink of man­hood in dog years, a man­hood that sadly will never come. Po is for the snip, and not just a va­sec­tomy, Po is hav­ing his tes­ti­cles removed and I get to watch. Po be­longs to Korin’s brother-in-law Mike Wells who has trav­elled down form Bing­ham­town so that Po can be taken care of by Korin.

The pro­ce­dure will take place at the Long Is­land City Vet­eri­nary Cen­ter. Po has been ken­neled at the clinic overnight and he has been se­dated. I chat to Erin, a vet at the clinic about the chal­lenges faced by city pets. They can suf­fer from stress and there is more and more de­mand in New York City for anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion for pets.

Roam free

Korin chimes in that cats in par­tic­u­lar can be very hard to di­ag­nose and that they may ac­tu­ally live longer in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. Where they can roam free, they just wan­der off, lie down and die with­out ever be­ing di­ag­nosed. Korin feels that some­times an­i­mals are med­i­cated for be­hav­ing nat­u­rally and not the way their own­ers want them to. It is a tricky sit­u­a­tion for a vet, be­cause if they don’t med­i­cate there is a chance the an­i­mals could be eu­thanised by their un­happy own­ers. ( I don’t say this out loud but the thought hangs in the air.)

There is a myr­iad of food prod­ucts for pets in the clinic. The pack­ag­ing boasts “pro­duces a small, firm stool”. In New York City nearly ev­ery­body picks up after their dogs, and, hav­ing dog-sat for a friend, I can at­test that a small, firm stool is prefer­able to a more ab­stract ex­pres­sion­is­tic piece of work when you are the pooper scooper.

But I di­gress. Po awaits his fate. Ge­orge scrubs and dons a gown and gloves. Alex, a nurse, who is to be Po’s min­is­ter­ing an­gel, lifts him out of his ken­nel and brings him to the op­er­at­ing ta­ble. I ask if he is shown any dog girly mag­a­zines be­fore the op­er­a­tion so he can have one last erec­tion. I get pity laughs. Alex ex­plains that it is bet­ter for the dog. If he is in a dog run with neutered dogs and he still has his tes­ti­cles, all the neutered dogs will smell his pheromones and at­tack him. Life can be very stress­ful for un-neutered dogs. I keep my ado­les­cent jokes to my­self.

Po is spread­ea­gled, bound to the op­er­at­ing ta­ble. He breathes through a tube, a ster­ile cloth is placed over him with an open­ing where the ac­tion will take place, Korin clamps the cloth un­til it is po­si­tioned to his lik­ing. Alex ad­min­is­ters oint­ment to his eyes to pro­tect them from dry­ing out dur­ing the pro­ce­dure and watches blood oxy­gen, heart rate and blood pres­sure on a mon­i­tor.

Korin makes the in­ci­sion just in front of the tes­ti­cles and cuts down through a few lay­ers of skin and mus­cle, he clamps off blood ves­sels, so there is very lit­tle blood. Then he squeezes one of the tes­ti­cles with two fin­gers forc­ing it out of the sack, like a giant black­head.

It re­quires some con­sid­er­able ef­fort, but then out it pops in all its pink and blue veined glory. Korin cups two fin­gers un­der it lift­ing it up, ex­pos­ing a long cord (which I guess is the vas def­er­ens – Leav­ing Cert bi­ol­ogy there), he clamps the cord and then cuts with a scis­sors. It takes a few cuts to cut through veins and sinew. He sews up his hand­i­work, stuffs it back in­side and then re­peats the process, soon both in­ert tes­ti­cles lie on the blue ster­ile sheet­ing. Korin closes the in­ci­sion, leav­ing a very small, neat wound.

Alex be­gins to re­vive Po. She is coo­ing to him, stroking his ears and face. Po stirs. Alex con­tin­ues her lul­laby, nuz­zling his head and whis­per­ing in his ear. Po lifts his head. He is like a car­toon ver­sion of a stoned dog. His eyes are glazed, and his tongue lolls out of one side of his mouth, his head flops around as he tries to fo­cus on his sur­round­ings. Alex keeps up a con­stant stream of stroking and coo­ing as she brings him back to his ken­nel. She then kneels be­side him, sooth­ing him back to sleep.

It strikes me that very few hu­mans re­ceive such a ten­der, lov­ing rein­tro­duc­tion to con­scious­ness after surgery.

Post­script: Ti­gre, Larry’s cat with the ul­cer in his eye, may need a corneal grid ker­a­to­tomy. Mr Sushi re­sponded to the reg­i­men of steroids an­tibi­otics and B12 in­jec­tions, and Po is on the mend.

Clock­wise from above: New York vet Ge­orge Korin; Po, a husky who is be­ing neutered for his own safety; Eric with Mojo the cat; and Korin at work

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