A small, firm stool is preferable when you are wielding a pooper scooper
A day in the life of New York vet George Korin is a rare animal – a vet who makes house calls to pet owners
New York vet George Korin
George Korin is one of only a handful of vets who make house calls in New York City. He is a neighbor 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.
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.
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.
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 micro-climate 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.
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.