The Doctors Whose Patients are the Quacks

For most people, a conversation about your pet is one about a cat or a dog. According to the¬†American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2012, more than 43 million American households — 36.5% of all households — were also home to at least one dog. Cats were found in approximately 30% of all households — in about 36 million households — making them the second-most popular pets in the nation. Fish, if you consider them pets, are a distant third, appearing in only 7 million households.

All those pets — well, not the fish, but the cats and dogs? They need health care. Specifically, they need veterinarians, and there’s good news: there are approximately 100,000 vets across the country. If your dog gets sick or your cat starts doing weird things, you’re probably not too far from help.

But what if your pet is something weird, like a duck, iguana, or even an alligator? What do you do when they fall ill?

These types of pets are much less common, but in many places, there are vets who specialize in so-called “exotic” animals. Typically, they define “exotic” as anything other than a dog or cat, but in the case of the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine, you’re more likely to see a scene like the one below. Billed as New York City’s “only exclusive avian and exotic veterinary hospital” per their website, the Center takes animals of all species and ailments — so long as they don’t bark or meow.

Take, for example, the duck pictured above — it’s featured in this New York Times article profiling the Center. Dino — that’s the duck’s name — is the pet of a New Jersey-based ballroom dance instructor. In 2015, per the Times, “lost her ability to form eggshells, and unlaid eggs built up inside her,” and required surgery to remove those unlaid eggs. The procedure cost $1,200 — a lot for a pet duck, for sure — but as the Times notes, Dino is the seeing-eye duck (really) for one of her owner’s other ducks. So in this case, you’re saving two ducks with one surgical procedure.

The Center isn’t unique, but often, the cases they deal with are. As above, the Center doesn’t take dogs and cats, but “treats anything else that comes in the door and weighs under 50 pounds” again per the Times. That means, at times, the animal may not be in the city legally. While the Center’s three veterinarians¬†didn’t go into detail — apparently, doctor/patient confidentiality, in their minds, applies broadly, they also don’t care about whether the pet can be in the United States lawfully. If it’s weird, they’ll treat it, legal or otherwise.

Want to learn more? The New York Times story (here’s the link again) has a few really great images, including a practitioner demonstrating how to give medication to a hedgehog who recently came out of surgery, and also has a 2:20 video about the Center and featuring Dino the duck.

Bonus fact: If you grew up in the United States, you probably also grew up playing the game “Duck, Duck, Goose.” But if you grew up in Minnesota, you might not have. For reasons unclear, many Minnesotan kids play a variant called “Duck, Duck Grey Duck.” (The rules are basically the same, but instead of saying “duck” the tapping kid adds a color to the duck — e..g “yellow duck” — and instead of saying goose, the child says “grey duck.”)

From the Archives: The Apartment Not Too Far From 88th Street: Yes, there have been people in Manhattan who have had alligators for pets. (Well, one person, at least.)

Related: Iguana Bites.