As any animal lover can tell you, pets rarely choose the optimal time to have a problem. Just ask Lorena Dinger. She was headed from Seattle to Portland to visit family with her asthmatic cat Molly in tow when disaster struck.

As they passed through Olympia on that hot summer day, the combined effects of heat and loud, jarring sounds from ongoing construction projects started to take their toll. Molly began panting heavily, more heavily than her owner had ever seen. “She has an inhaler that we use all the time,” says Dinger. “I used it and it wasn’t helping.”

Olympia Pet Emergency
Dr. Blair Burrgen is used to dealing with crises, with both animals and anxious pet owners. Photo courtesy: Olympia Pet Emergency

Looking for the nearest emergency vet, Dinger discovered Olympia Pet Emergency and brought Molly into the clinic. The staff immediately went to work, treating Molly but also alleviating her owner’s stress. “I was so scared and I felt terrible for bringing her on this trip without any sedatives,” she says. “I’m very attached to this cat.”

Such issues are all in a day’s work for the staff at Olympia Pet Emergency. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week including all holidays, the clinic is designed for crisis situations. In medical terms, while most veterinary practices are like general practitioners, with long-term relationships and appointments, Olympia Pet Emergency is like the ER.

“We see people when either their regular vet doesn’t have time to see them or something happens overnight,” says practice manager Ted Westby. “People show up at one in the morning with a dog that’s been attacked by a raccoon or has a face full of porcupine quills. Maybe their dog or cat wasn’t feeling well and all of a sudden it got bad, so they show up here.” The practice doesn’t take appointments or do more routine procedures like spays, neuters, or vaccinations.

Sundays are typically peak days, as are holidays like Christmas Eve and 4th of July. “Memorial Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving are really busy,” says Westby. “We see more emergencies during Thanksgiving than any other time because of the length of the holiday.”

Olympia Pet Emergency
The staff are trained to establish trust very quickly with pet owners in emergency situations. Photo courtesy: Olympia Pet Emergency.

The nature of the practice means that clients are always, to some extent, in crisis mode, presenting the staff with a special set of challenges. “Often the clients are panicking or emotionally distraught,” he continues. “The team members are remarkable. They’re very compassionate and they find a way to stay calm and develop trust very quickly. That compassion and level-headedness is really important.”

The staff treats a range of issues, says Westby. “We get a lot of porcupine quills, a lot of dog fights, and a lot of ‘blocked’ cats, meaning they can’t urinate. Sometimes we deal with foreign bodies where a dog has eaten some crazy thing like a rock or twenty socks.”

Recently, the biggest issue has been marijuana toxicity. “We always saw it a little bit, but now that it’s legal we’ve seen a real increase,” he says.

Westby’s brother David, a veterinarian working in a day clinic at the time, founded the practice in 1996 after seeing the need for an emergency pet service. “He saw that vets were doing all of their own night calls and he knew from being in a day practice for himself about the challenges of being on call,” says Westby. “He wanted to alleviate for them what he hadn’t been able to alleviate for himself.”

With that in mind, Dr. David Westby contacted all of the vets he knew in the general area that he planned to service. “He talked to them about what he wanted to do and what his philosophy was,” says Westby. Ever since, local veterinarians have regularly referred clients to Olympia Pet Emergency.

For Dinger, learning of the existence of Olympia Pet Emergency was a lifesaver. When she brought Molly in, the first thing the veterinary staff did was put Molly into an oxygen tent and calmed her down. Next came a sedative and a steroid injection, plus enough sedatives to last for the rest of the trip to Portland and the return journey.

Olympia Pet Emergency
When Molly the cat suffered an asthmatic attack en route from Seattle to Portland, Olympia Pet Emergency saved the day. Photo courtesy: Olympia Pet Emergency

She also learned that Molly’s attack had probably been triggered by anxiety. “Just like with humans, there’s a strong connection between stress and asthma,” says Dinger. “It was really hot and there was all that road construction. She was stressed and nervous about being in the car.”

Dinger remains grateful for the level of care she received. “They did a fantastic job of explaining the situation to us and we were able to continue the trip and use the sedatives they gave us for the trip home,” says Dinger. “We made it home just fine.”

For more information about Olympia Pet Emergency, visit or call 360-455-5155.


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