Dogs competing in Westminster’s various events usually arrive in peak condition, their eyes shining, their coats shiny, their laps around the ring perfectly trained. But with thousands of dogs competing on some days, some canine competitors get sick or injured just like other athletes.
When they do, veterinarians from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca and Cornell University Veterinarians in Stamford, Conn., are on hand to provide rapid medical assessments and provide basic first aid.
Usually, that’s all that’s needed, said Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, an emergency and critical care specialist who was manning the makeshift veterinary clinic on Monday. “Most of the things we see, fortunately, are broken toenails and muscle strains,” he said.
The veterinary team has other simple services such as cleaning minor wounds, applying bandages and treating allergic reactions. “No one breaks their leg, but we can put splints on and control the pain,” Mazzaferro said.
They get canine emergencies every now and then. In previous years, Mazzaferro said, the team has seen one dog with a twisted stomach and another with an infected uterus, both of which are life-threatening. In those cases, on-site veterinarians referred owners to local emergency hospitals.
Veterinarians sometimes find themselves treating two-legged patients, especially during agility competitions, when dogs and their human handlers are needed. Go on a slippery obstacle course at times. “We’ve seen handlers get wiped out, so they’ll come to us for an ice pack,” Mazzaferro said.
Last year, a young handler dropped a box on his leg just before entering the show ring for a junior showmanship competition open to children between the ages of 9 and 18. The girl needed stitches, but Mazzaferro cleaned and bandaged the wound so she could compete first. “She told her Mom said, ‘I’m in the vet tent, they’re taking good care of me,'” Mazzaferro recalled.
For veterinarians, Westminster is a fun opportunity to see rare dog breeds, Mazzaferro said. But as a pug owner, she has her own rooting interest, she admits: “I always say, ‘May the best pug win’.”