Animals seem to talk to this doctor

July 29, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The sign on the door says "Open door slowly. Watch bird on duty."

Instead, a little gray kitten eagerly answered the door at the Feathers, Scales and Tails veterinary hospital. The black crow that likes to sunbathe by the door had been temporarily distracted in the back.

Such a menagerie -- including an iguana pretending that the large, green plant in the window is a South American jungle -- is common at Dr. Thomas Ryan's establishment in the Fairground Village Shopping Center in Westminster.

The month-old animal hospital won't turn away Fido or Fluffy for treatment. But Dr. Ryan admits that his particular interest is exotic animals, from birds to reptiles to ferrets.

"Our name describes all the types of animals we care for," he said. "Feathers would be the birds; tails is the traditional dogs and cats; and scales would be the reptiles. About half my practice is dogs and cats, and the other half is exotics.

"The only thing I don't do is farm animals."

Veterinary medicine classifies as an exotic pet anything that is not a dog, cat or farm animal, said Dr. Ryan, a 1983 graduate of the veterinary program at the University of Parma in Italy.

"I've lived all over the place -- New York, Ireland, England, Italy," Dr. Ryan said. He has worked in zoos around the world, including the London Zoo, the Ross Park Zoo in New York and a zoo in Dublin, Ireland. "I've got one bird that speaks Italian and English."

Living in various countries was what drew Dr. Ryan to exotic species to begin with, he said. As a child, he raised all types of birds, iguanas, dogs, cats and rabbits, fostering his love of animals.

"They use ferrets in Ireland for hunting," Dr. Ryan said, explaining how he acquired that particular animal. "They put a bell around their neck and send them out to drive rabbits from their holes."

His assistants are also personally familiar with exotic animals. Gina Rostaranzo owns and breeds birds, and Karen Sies has raised various types of reptiles from infancy, he said.

"Before you know what's not normal, you have to know what's normal," Dr. Ryan said. "If a ferret is having a seizure, it's often low blood sugar. If an African Gray [parrot] is trembling and having seizures, it may be low calcium.

"You have to know what's going on and what [type of diseases] run in species."

Dr. Ryan said he considers education of a pet's owner almost as important as caring for the animal itself.

"People buy exotic pets and they have no idea what they are doing," he said.

So, he has prepared handouts for clients ranging from nutrient needs in puppies to calcium deficiencies in iguanas.

"A lot of [iguana] owners come in and the animals are malnourished because they don't know what to feed them," Dr. Ryan said. "They will give it lettuce, and there's no nutrients in lettuce. The animals end up with broken bones because the have no calcium."

Six years ago, Dr. Ryan came to Maryland to work with a large, multiperson veterinary practice in Reisterstown. But an urge to strike out on his own brought him to Carroll County and his current location.

"Where I worked before, there was a different practice philosophy, and I wanted to run my own hospital," Dr. Ryan said. "I was a salaried employee, and there was no advancement."

He said he chose to locate his office in Westminster to remain close to many of his clients and patients from Baltimore, Littlestown, Gettysburg and Frederick, as well as Carroll County.

About 80 percent of his current clients were owners of patients in his Reisterstown office, Dr. Ryan said.

"If I moved into Baltimore, I'd be farther away and would alienate some people," he said. "This way, I'm in the middle of everybody."

In addition to being one of few Carroll County veterinary hospitals to work with exotic animals, Dr. Ryan said, his is the only county facility to use state-of-the-art intensive care unit cages to treat animals.

About five of the heated, climate-controlled cages in various sizes sit in Feathers, Scales and Tails' back room. Each has its own oxygen supply, and scaled food and water containers attached to the cage door let the veterinarian know exactly how much the animal is consuming, Dr. Ryan said.

Medication can be administered traditionally or vented into the cage with the air supply, he said.

"That's particularly good for cats with pneumonia," Dr. Ryan said of the vaporizing treatment. "Placing [the animals] in oxygen-rich, heated cages speeds recovery."

Dr. Ryan is an adviser to Friends of the Wild, a group that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife.

"I see a lot of wild animals, like injured water fowl," Dr. Ryan said. "We have all the state permits to do rehabilitation here."

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