IT'S SUNDAY NIGHT in the emergency room at Greater Buffalo Veterinary Services clinic at 4949 Main St., Amherst, and a "red alert" has just arrived. The patient, a 2-year-old hit by a car, has a large L-shaped laceration in her side.
The medical team quickly evaluates, cleans and tapes the wound. Antibiotics and intravenous fluids are administered to stabilize her condition.
The patient is Pepper, a German shepherd and beloved pet of Joseph and Patricia Lesinski and their two children. She had wandered from her fenced yard in West Seneca through a gate that was left unlatched.
Within hours, she's recovering from surgery and resting comfortably under the watchful eyes of the staff at the emergency clinic.
"After the accident, I thought, 'This is it,' " Joseph Lesinski said. "She was in rough shape. My wife called our vet and a recording informed us to contact the clinic."
"This will turn out fine," said Dr. Giovanna Sorresso as she scrubbed for the surgery. "The X-rays show no lung damage, although there are exposed ribs."
Wearing a blue surgical coat and cap and long plastic gloves, she enters the operating room, where two animal health technicians, Jennifer Dueringer and Julie Sterman, are preparing an anesthetized Pepper for the operation.
Forty-five minutes later, receptionist Susan Dickie tells Mrs. Lesinski that the dog is doing well and that she can be picked up in the morning for transfer to her regular veterinarian in Orchard Park.
On the night of Pepper's surgery, a dozen cats and dogs were being treated for ailments ranging from dehydration to intestinal infections, seizures and lead poisoning.
Bags, a male bulldog, was alert and on his feet, recovering from surgery to remove a jagged stone he had swallowed.
Bags' owners, Richard and Johanna Mabee of Buffalo, had been to the emergency clinic before with a cat that had an asthma attack.
"You don't have to go to Shea's for drama," said Will Kayatin, a receptionist. "We see plenty of emotion right here. People have fainted and many tears have been shed."
Earlier that week, a Caesarian section was performed on a boxer who had been in labor for 24 hours. "She arrived at 3 a.m. and gave birth to 10 puppies -- five males and five females," said Jeff Peters, a veterinary assistant. "During the operation, the owners went out for coffee. When they got back, they took the whole family home."
A recent Good Samaritan act had a happy ending when a woman out for an evening stroll discovered a newborn kitten on the sidewalk. "She rushed it to us with the afterbirth still attached," said Pat Edmunds, the clinic's hospital manager, who adopted the stray. Temporarily named Dinky by the staff, the kitten is being bottle-fed.
Many pet owners know of the clinic's existence through their veterinarians, but others, such as Claudia Krysztof of Buffalo, learn about it by word of mouth.
"My cat Snowy was bleeding and I ran to the drugstore to see if they could recommend something. The druggist told me about the clinic, said Miss Krysztof, a telephone operator.
As it turned out, Snowy, an 11-year-old white-haired female with striking blue eyes, was diagnosed as having a bladder infection. She was catheterized, had lab work and intravenous therapy and went home with antibiotics.
The $103 bill was well worth it, Miss Krysztof said. "Snowy's like a little person and shares in everything I do."
Cost is a consideration, but not the dominant factor when it comes to saving the life of a beloved animal. The bills for Pepper and Bags approached $400 each for emergency treatment, surgery and post-operative overnight care. But "our chief concern was that Pepper would recover," Lesinski said.
The clinic is open weekdays between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.; from noon Saturday until 8 a.m. Monday, and on all major holidays.