Monday July 9, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Lenard Perry chuckles when he's told that the Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital on West Housatonic was described as "state of the art" when he opened it 50 years ago this month.

"It was brand new and sparkling clean," he said.

State of the art is a relative term. What's current today can quickly become obsolete, especially when changes in technology seem to occur overnight. That's especially true in the field of veterinary medicine. A majority of the equipment that is used to treat animals now wasn't even invented in 1962.

"Having an X-ray machine 50 years ago was a big deal," said veterinarian Dr. John Rey nolds, who purchased the Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital from Perry when he retired in July 1996. "Today you can't be a veterinary hospital without an X-ray machine.

Like other local animal hospitals, the Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital has undergone great changes over the last 50 years. Reynolds moved the business from a house on West Hous atonic Street to a medical style building that he built on a hill behind the original location in 2003. The new building allowed Reynolds to expand his practice to add boarding facilities, a retail center and a grooming salon in addition to a modern hospital. It's similar to a human hospital, with smaller versions of some of the same equipment that doctors use to treat people.

"We can do just about anything that they do," Reynolds said, referring to human doctors.


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Records of humans using herbs to treat animals have been found in China as far back as 4,000 B.C., according to the National Agricultural Library, but the modern veterinary treatment of domesticated animals really didn't begin until after World War I. Vets began treating dogs and cats as a means of economic survival when agriculture became more automated and utility uses for horses began to disappear.

Today, the pet care industry is a big business. Americans spent approximately $47.7 billion on pet products and services in 2010, an increase of 4.8 percent over 2009, according to the American Pet Product Association. Pet ownership has grown from 56 percent of households in 1988 to 62 percent, which includes 71.4 million homes, according to the APPA. Around 46 percent of the households that have pets also have more than one. Either dogs or cats can be found in at least one of every three homes in this country that owns pets.

"The biggest change in the last 50 years has been that pets are playing a much more intimate role in people's lives," Reynolds said.

According to an analysis of the pet care industry by the online site Franchise Help, the number of baby boomers buying pets when their children go off to college combined with the highest number of single-family households in the country's history has amounted to a "veritable pet-buying frenzy." Dog and cat ownership continues to expand by 4 percent every year.

"As we become more disconnected as a society here's a relationship that you can have in your house that's unconditional love," Reynolds said. "Most pets give you unconditional love. That has dramatically changed in our society."

Combine those factors with an increase in the amount of disposable income, and it's not hard to see why the medical treatment of pets keeps improving.

"People want us to help their pets more than they did before," Reynolds said. "And, they're willing to spend money on them. You look at what people are willing to spend on an antique car or boat, or whatever their passion is. When your passion is pets people will put their resources toward helping because of the emotional bond."

When he opened the facility 50 years ago, Perry said he treated normal fractures and sprains, spayed and neutered pets, and administered to common problems like bite marks.

"They do a lot more medically and surgically than they did in my day," he said.

As a general practitioner, Reynolds can now provide ultrasound treatments, do blood work, and even perform microscopic surgery.

"Look at how human medicine has progressed," he said. "We tend to follow."

Reynolds said pet medicine remains slightly behind human medicine because vets can't always afford to purchase state-of-the-art equipment when it comes on the market.

"We probably lag a little behind the human profession because we can't use the equipment until the costs come down," he said. "When digital X-ray machines came out they probably cost $200,000 or $300,000. Now it's $30,000 to $50,000. That's doable for our profession."

Reynolds, who employs a staff of 40, also has facilities for boarding animals at the Shaker Hill Pet Resort, which is located in the same building as the hospital. Like medical care, boarding for animals has also changed,

"Now, we have hotel rooms," he said, referring to the size of the eight foot-by-eight foot spaces that he has available for boarding purposes. "They have a regular room and beds."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow