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Harrison is a familiar sight having previously been cared for by the hospital's surgery, neurology, internal medicine and dental teams. Image Credit: AP

New York: Waddling in with lime-green booties on his front paws, Harrison, a beloved seven-year-old French bulldog, is a familiar sight at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City.

“Between myself and surgery, the neurology team, the internal medicine team, the dentistry team — so Harrison has a large crew here taking care of him,” said Dr. Daniel Spector, senior veterinarian during a visit in March. He added the rehab team to the list later.

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Harrison doesn’t have an overall diagnosis beyond being a French bulldog — an increasingly popular breed prone to health problems. His human, Manhattan resident Grace Kim, said they come to AMC for “top notch” care, the coordination between teams, and the ability to get referrals in-house for something like a dental procedure, which brought them in recently.

Located on Manhattan’s east side, the animal hospital and its more than 130 veterinarians logged nearly 60,000 patient visits in 2023, as one of a handful of centers across the country equipped to manage the most complicated medical cases, which clinics with fewer resources cannot handle.

While most patients pay out of pocket, AMC offers multiple initiatives to cover charity care, especially for rescue animals and working dogs. In 2022, the hospital donated $4.4 million in care through very specific programs like the Kiki White Umbrella Cockatoo Avian Fund and the Honey Bunny and ROU German Shepherd Fund, which help families with limited financial means care for their birds, rabbits and German Shepherds, and broader programs like the Buddy Fund, which supports animals with cancer.

The price of veterinary services have increased in recent years because of inflation , but also because of advances in care.

AMC is certified at the Veterinary Committee on Trauma's highest level, reflecting the resources the hospital has on site, from a blood bank to anesthesiologists, as well as its around-the-clock staffing.

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Jacinda Ramos, left, comforts Peanut, her domestic short haired cat as a member of the surgical team, draws blood in the surgery prep room. Image Credit: AP

The same day Harrison visited the surgical suite, Lynx was brought in by a rescue group. The short haired cat from Brooklyn had a groin wound no other clinic had been able to heal for many months.

“We get to take extraordinary care of rescue animals,” Spector said.

The veterinary staff take Lynx out of her carrier and turn her over to get a view of the wound, holding her to snap a photo as they debated how to proceed. No one was scratched. No voices raised — not even Lynx's.

Downstairs in an office off the waiting room that is lined with tile mosaics and wooden molding carved with animal shapes, Spector told Jennie Anne Simson, of Brooklyn Animal Action, that he planned to remove the wound entirely, “lifting” the infection out. Simson had applied for funding from AMC and the hospital confirmed one of its charitable funds would cover the $5,500 that Lynx's treatment will cost.

The hospital, which as a nonprofit provides training to veterinarians in specialized care, has raised more than $100 million since 2019 to expand and entirely reconstruct its facility, including the newly opened surgical suite.

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A Rottweiler in the surgery prep room at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center. Image Credit: AP

“What that means is that we’ve been able to do this complete expansion and renovation without taking out a mortgage," said Helen Irving, president and CEO of AMC. "Which means that as a nonprofit, all of our moneys that we do make from operations can directly go back into caring for the animals.”

Donors to the renovation include Elaine and Kenneth Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, who have long had dogs, with a preference for golden retrievers — and some cats.

“At the moment, we have a dog that’s in cancer care. He’s one of our rescues,” said Elaine Langone, who is vice chair of the board of trustees for AMC. “Without them, he would not be here.”

She said the AMC is just one of the organizations they are fortunate enough to give to — in this case out of love and respect for the many animals they've lived with. The Langones have also given major gifts to Kenneth's alma maters, including hundreds of millions of dollars to New York University's medical and business schools and tens of millions to Bucknell University. Kenneth Langone also served on the boards of both institutions.

While more pet owners have insurance now , most veterinary care is paid for out-of-pocket, meaning that access to even basic care, much less complex care, is out of reach for many households, said Dr. Emily McCobb, associate clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

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Members of the surgical team prepare to remove a tumor from a dog at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center. Image Credit: AP

“The cost of care because of all the technology innovation just continues to increase. The costs are real," said McCobb. "And it can cost thousands of dollars to obtain even something like a dental cleaning. It’s not affordable for most people.”

That means that up and down the spectrum of care, from the smallest clinics to the most advanced hospitals, veterinarians work to develop multiple options for an animal's family , said Dr. Kelly Hall, executive director of VetCOT and an associate professor at Colorado State University.

Pointing to research demonstrating the power of human animal bonds, she asked, “I have story after story of clients where an animal has literally saved their life, for various reasons. So, how do you put a value on that contribution?”

Irving, the CEO of AMC, points to the hospital's charity programs as one of its responses to the lack of affordable care , while also urging pet owners to pay attention to their animals and stay up to date on the basic care.

At the end of his visit, Harrison was cleared for the dental operation he needs, which AMC estimated would cost around $3,000. Kim, his owner, thanked Spector, praising AMC for its extensive coordination. And she gave thanks for her pet insurance.