They Help Horses, Don’t They?

The world recently held its collective breath as Barbaro, the three-year-old Kentucky Derby winning racehorse, suffered a horrible mishap at the Preakness Stakes.

How to get help? Barbaro was quickly rushed to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center to receive the best possible care.

"When we saw the awful tragedy that occurred at the Preakness, I knew the Jacksons (Barbaro's owners) would be bringing the horse to our large animal hospital, so I called the chief operating officer there and told her to begin to mobilize everyone," recalls Barry Stupine, vice dean for administration and finance at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

"Our chief of surgery, Dean Richardson, was out of town, so I told her to bring him back right away. I also called the university's chief of police, and said to mobilize police officers and security guards because of the mob scene that had already started."

With everything in place, world-renowned surgeon Richardson began the painstaking task of inserting 27 screws around Barbaro's right hind ankle during the eight-hour surgery.

"Despite massive amounts of analgesics and antibiotics, you could see he was uncomfortable," he continues. "His life was hanging by a thread. And in the stall next to him was a mare who had just given birth, and I realized I might well be seeing life and death right in front of me."

But as time goes on, says Stupine, "Barbaro seems to be holding his own, so now we can only hope for the best. So far, he's received almost 5,000 e-mails and many flowers from well-wishers, and children have brought carrots and apples to feed him. Barbaro is having the best care here, as the Jacksons, who love him, knew he would."

Indeed, he adds, "most animal lovers we see would do anything to save their pets, because we know our pets would do anything for us."

Pet Projects
According to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet ownership in this country is currently at its highest level, with 63 percent of all U.S. households owning a pet, which equates to more than 69 million households. According to the APPMA's National Pet Owners Survey, Americans own approximately 73 million dogs, 90 million cats, 139 million freshwater fish, 9 million saltwater fish, 16 million birds, 18 million small animals and 11 million reptiles.

"That steady increase in pet ownership confirms that a growing number of us are realizing how pets truly enhance our lives," says Stupine. "Pets not only provide unconditional love and affection, research now shows they also provide significant health benefits."

For example, according to Stupine, the long-term survival rates of heart attack victims who had a pet have been shown to be significantly longer than for those who did not. He says that "it's the emotional feeling of having that dog at home, like a loved one, someone to care for, someone who needs you. We have known for years that the company of a pet can be of benefit in a variety of ways. Nobody knows for sure why this is so, but we do know it happens."

Data has also shown that widows who have cats are better off medically during the first year, which is a critical stress time, than widows who do not. Many hospitals allow pets to come in to enhance the lives of patients.

"We also know that when you just pet a dog, you can see your blood pressure go down," adds Stupine. "And children with pets have greater self-esteem than children without pets, even more evidence that having a pet is good for you."

At Penn's hospital, all kinds of animals are treated.

Describes Stupine: "Eighty percent of our patients are canines, 15 percent felines, and 5 percent are what we call special species, including ferrets, rabbits and snakes. In fact, we have had five patients by the name of Larry the Boa. Last year, we had patients from 4l states because I believe ours is the finest veterinarian hospital in the world."

In his spare time, Stupine is consultant to the president of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has served as president of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington. But no matter what else he does, he never stops caring about critters.

"The bond between human and animals is real. I see it here at the hospital every day, from people from the highest socio-economic class to people who can barely make it. They will do anything for their animals … and vice versa."

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