February 05. 2013 9:00PM

Windham veterinary hospital to teach how to prepare for a pet emergency

Union Leader Correspondent

Victoria Anctil, a veterinary technician at Rockingham Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Windham, checks the vital signs on her mohawk-wearing poodle as Norman, the resident cat, supervises. The hospital will host a pet first-aid class early next month. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

WINDHAM - Life is never boring with pets.

Whether it's a dog that snacked on something potentially toxic or a cat in respiratory distress, knowing what to do in times of emergency is a vital part of being a pet parent, according to Dr. Christina Barnett, medical director at Rockingham Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Windham.

With that in mind, the local veterinary practice will offer its first ever community pet first-aid class early next month.

Led by longtime veterinary technician Victoria Anctil, the course will cover such basics as emergency signs to watch for, pet CPR, basic wound care and how to handle various unexpected instances that may arise. Participants will leave with some basic supplies for a pet first aid kit, along with a list of other useful items to have on hand.

"We'll talk a lot about the best ways to keep pets safe, and let people know how to safely handle an animal that's been injured," Anctil said.

Barnett said plans for the class have been in the works for the past year.

She said staff at the animal hospital became concerned after realizing a lot of clients tend to wait too long before deciding to bring their pet to the hospital.

"Usually when people ask us if maybe they should have brought their dog in earlier, the answer is yes," she said.

Emergency staff has responded to a variety of tense situations, but the majority of calls received from pet parents tend to follow instances of pets eating something they shouldn't have.

"Whether it's toxic plants or chocolate ... or some human medication that's been left hanging around, it's important to know what to look for," Anctil said.

Often times when a pet owner is taking multiple medications, it can be a game of elimination when trying to determine what substance a pet accidentally consumed.

Other problems tend to stem from old age. Dogs and cats can suffer from renal failure, arthritis and other maladies of the twilight years.

"The key is to learn how to recognize signs of an emergency," Barnett said.

Using a hands-on approach, class participants are encouraged to bring their well-behaved dogs along with them so they can get familiar with their four-legged friends' vital signs.

Staff members are hoping the course becomes a regular part of the happenings at Rockingham Emergency Veterinary Hospital.

The pet first-aid class will take place Thursday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Though the class is free of charge, participants are encouraged to donate $20 to the Mackie Fund, which assists injured stray or homeless animals that might otherwise go without needed emergency care.

Named after Mackie, a Boston terrier who was treated at the clinic in 2010, the fund was started by the deceased pooch's caring owners, who wanted to assist other pets in need. There's no shortage of needy pets at the local animal hospital.

In May 2011, emergency staff rescued a stray kitty named Axle after he hitched a ride in a commuter's engine compartment. The errant feline sustained some bad burns, but fully recovered and was later placed in a loving home.

Several years ago, the hospital staff also adopted an outgoing tabby named Norman after his owners could no longer afford the special cat food Norman needed to treat a urinary tract condition.

Norman has since become a mascot of sorts for the veterinary hospital, reigning freely over the waiting room and comforting pet owners in times of distress.

For more information or to register for the upcoming pet first-aid class, call the animal hospital at 870-9770. Though the initial class is limited to 20 or so participants, plans for future courses are currently in the works.