What it’s like inside a cat show, a veterinary ER, and more

A pet detective’s day-to-day and a dog whisperer’s training camp

0815_petwhatlike01_rchapman_oneuseonlyWhat it’s like inside a veterinary ER
In a critical case, you can spend a lot of money in the first 30 minutes. The owner is frantic and may not make the best decisions, so the technician discusses the costs while I’m with the pet. I’m not so worried about a broken leg. I’m assessing the critical things: Do we have trauma to the chest? Massive blood loss? Once we know how bad it is, that’s when we tell the owners what we think they need to do.

We see a lot of animals hit by cars and respiratory distress in cats, which are susceptible to asthma and other lung ailments. We see a decent amount of dogfights, especially where big dogs have shaken little dogs. We see dogs with bleeding tumors. The hardest are cases where we fight for the pet for weeks, we get to know the owners, and then we have to say goodbye. We see very old pets that we feel bad hospitalizing and keeping away from their owners if it’s getting close to the end. Sometimes you have to say to yourself: It’s not my fault that I don’t know what’s going on with this dog right now. It’s not my fault that it can’t breathe.
—Veterinarian Stacy Stacy, 38, Decatur, as told to Charles Bethea

What it’s like inside a therapy animal visit
Nurses coo “Hi, Peoples!” when my five-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier and I walk down the halls of Emory Midtown’s heart ICU. We visit units here twice a week for an hour at each—longer would stress out the dog too much. I call out, “Do you want a doggy visit?,” then Peoples hops up and accepts lots of petting.

I was in a unit like this seven years ago after a quadruple bypass, and I know how much these animals uplift patients. Afterward I was depressed, and my doctor told me to find a passion. I started volunteering through Pet Partners, a national therapy animal organization, and founded the Atlanta chapter in 2011. Now we have 45 teams of owners and their dogs. I’m not a doctor, but I always tell patients, “Peoples says you’re going to be fine.” —Dan Barnhill, 62, founder and president of Atlanta Pet Partners, as told to Tess Malone

What it’s like inside a “dog whisperer” training camp
I’m from Hungary and when I was growing up, dogs ran in flocks by the Danube and lived in ruins. A lot of us kids started to catch and try to find homes for them. That’s how I learned about aggressive dogs.

A lot of people don’t understand that when you adopt a dog, you don’t start training right away. You have to work on the relationship first: play keep away, keep quiet, do nice things, walk around in safe areas, interact with the dog before you try to correct. They really just want to be left alone at first. Why would it listen to you yell if it’s been dumped four times before?

I’m not judging anybody else’s training methods. They can all have a good result. But aggression cannot usually be fixed with aggression. We try to keep it positive as long as possible. I still get nervous [with a new dog], though. That’s why I think I’m so good at this. I read dogs very well and know what I can and cannot do. And they do the same. I tell people that when the same dog [starts to] look smaller to you, then you can start training. —Zsolt Menesi, 56, trainer at Frogs to Dogs in Kirkwood, as told to Charles Bethea

0815_petwhatlike04_rchapman_oneuseonlyWhat it’s like inside a county animal shelter
It’s awful every time we have to euthanize a dog. But I’m thankful for the ones we can save. LifeLine Animal Project, the managing organization that runs the shelter, does a great job of
working with rescues and fosters, so we can get dogs out of the shelter alive. Their goal is to make every shelter no-kill by 2016. We even have a Dog for the Day program that allows people to borrow one of our dogs for a few hours. It’s a fabulous way to relieve the dog’s stress, and it leads to a lot of adoptions. We average between 200 and 250 dogs at a time, but of course, every staff member has their favorites. We’re usually partial to the ones that are in pretty bad shape when they arrive.

I remember a little shepherd mix named Stix who came in underweight and terrified. He got adopted but was returned a few months ago when he nipped someone. We figured out that Stix just has anxiety and needs to be in a calmer place, so he lives in my office. Hopefully he’ll be adopted soon, because he’s an awesome dog. The other manager keeps a wall of photos of the dogs he couldn’t save, as a little memorial to remind us that this work is worth it for the ones that we can help. —Helen Boyd, 42, kennel manager at Fulton County Animal Services, as told to Shelly Wallace

0815_petwhatlike02_rchapman_oneuseonlyWhat it’s like inside a cat show
I always compare it to Toddlers & Tiaras. Persians are a labor of love. Bathing and blow-drying a Persian is a two-and-a-half-hour process. The day of the show, it’s mostly touch-up grooming: combing to make sure all the hairs lie straight, putting white powder under the eyes. You’ll see all these cats in the show hall with coffee filters around their necks, like a bib, to prevent them from messing up their coats. Still, personality does play a part in the judges’ decision. I used to tell Seleena [her award-winning Persian], “That’s why you don’t bite the judges.” You can train a cat to get used to a bath, but you can’t teach them good behavior. —Jean Dugger, 59, regional director of the Southern region of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, as told to Kristin Kellogg

What it’s like inside a fancy grooming business
I’m always on Pinterest looking for inspiration. I recently used a stencil to put green flames on my basset hound. Still, some owners don’t realize what can and can’t be done. I had a lady once tell me, I don’t want her to look like a shih tzu. Well, unfortunately, she’s a shih tzu. She showed me a picture of a Yorkie and I had to explain that this breed has a completely different bone structure and hair texture. Everyone thinks I just come in and play with dogs all day, and that’s so not the case. It’s a super dirty job. We do get bitten. I pick hair splinters out of my face and hands all the time. But when my regular dogs run up to me and get so excited—that makes it all worth it. —Roxanne Durand, owner of Doggie Style Atlanta grooming salon and boutique, as told to Myrydd Wells

0815_petwhatlike05_rchapman_oneuseonlyWhat it’s like inside a pet detective operation
Maybe 20 years ago, this guy was putting up a “lost” sign on my street in tears. I thought it was a child, but he was missing a cat that was on diabetes medicine. It would be dead in 24 hours. I raised tracking dogs, and I said, Let me get one of my dogs. I let it smell something the cat sat on, and the dog went into a yard and started barking at a deck. I told the owner, Your cat’s under here. This guy gave me an envelope with a considerable amount of money in it. The very same day, I came home with a $1,000 check for finding another cat. At first, I just picked up the newspaper and found people offering rewards. Nowadays, I’ll get calls: My indoor cat got out two days ago. Help!

I just made $4,500 the other day, returning a dog to a housewife in New York. But most folks start with my $80 profiles: a detailed plan with maps designed to find your lost pet. You fill out 11 questions for me, and I get a feel for what’s going on. I’ve been doing this for over 18 years. Every time somebody says Hey Ace!, I put a dollar in the bank. —Pet detective Carl Washington, 58, Augusta, as told to Charles Bethea

Illustrations by Ryan Chapman.

A version of this article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.