On-the-go veterinarians travel with sick pets

LOS ANGELES - Designer Jill Zarin had to take a cross-country business trip, but her dog Ginger was sick. She couldn't leave the Chihuahua behind, so she hired a vet to go with them.

In stepped celebrity veterinarian Dr. Cindy Bressler, who launched JetSetVets this year to meet pets' needs in the air. Bressler has a house call practice in New York and the Hamptons. She took on two partners to start JetSetVets: Los Angeles and Beverly Hills veterinarian Patrick Mahaney and Blue Star Jets, a New York-based company that promises to have a small, medium, large or jumbo jet ready to go anywhere in the world in less than four hours.

Together, they are believed to be the country's only private-jet, ride-along-vet, concierge-pet service.

The vets will dispense medicine, change dressings, monitor IVs and drips and handle any other in-flight medical care a pet needs. The company will also prepare animals for trips, apply for travel documents and work with veterinary hospitals as needed in emergencies.

Surgery is out — the plane will make an emergency landing and the medical team will get the pet to the nearest animal hospital — but other alternative treatments are available, such as acupuncture, massage, laser treatments and even an on-flight chef to prepare specialty meals.

A producer who was traveling to Los Angeles with his epileptic dog hired Bressler to come along in case the dog had a seizure and needed medication. The dog had only one seizure and it lasted only a few minutes.

One client's cat was diagnosed with cancer. It needed radiation only available in Colorado, so the cat's New York owner, his assistant, the ailing cat, the cat's feline companion and Bressler made the trip. At the hotel, the cat's owner had the presidential suite remodeled to resemble his New York apartment and hired the hotel chef to cook the cat gourmet meals when chemotherapy and radiation treatments zapped its appetite. The owner even had his cat's litter airlifted to Colorado so it would be familiar.

Bressler returned after 10 days with the cat, she said.

Zarin, who spent four years as one of the "The Real Housewives of New York City" and is now a designer for Skweez Couture Shapewear, met Bressler on that recent business trip. Zarin said she was worried 9-year-old Ginger would lose weight and have problems with altitude.

"Imagine if she lost 10 or 20 percent of her body weight. If she started vomiting or got diarrhea, she could get very sick very quickly," she said.

During the seven-hour, one-stop flight from New York to Los Angeles, Bressler treated Ginger for hemorrhagic gastroenteritis with an IV and medication. Bressler has since become Ginger's regular vet, though the dog hasn't been that sick since.

"My dog is the most important thing to me and flies with me everywhere I go," Zarin said. On commercial flights, Ginger is at Zarin's feet under the passenger seat in front of her.

In the past decade, Zarin and Ginger have each logged about a quarter-million commercial and private sky miles, Zarin said, and Ginger likes her carrier so much that she sometimes curls up in it in the closet when they are home.

Bressler started Hamptons Canine Concierge last year. She is also the concierge vet at several hotels, including the Pierre, Mandarin Oriental and Gramercy Park, while Mahaney is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and a certified veterinary journalist. He writes about pet health in Patrick's Blog and several other online ventures and does vet work in Iquitos, Peru, and remote villages on the Amazon River.

He's still awaiting his first flight.

Todd Rome, president of Blue Star Jets, said the company has no size limit on animals. The company has flown horses, exotic fish and monkeys and even transported seals once.

The company, which has been around for 13 years and is the world's largest air charter broker, has done over $1 billion in sales, Rome said.

While the service is in a class by itself, so is the cost. Renting a jet can cost between $1,000 and $12,000 an hour. Bressler and Mahaney charge $200 an hour. Nurses, chefs, medical equipment, drugs, and other services, as well as added jet-related costs, are extra.

Most times, Bressler said, the best flights are those when nothing happens.

A few years back, one of her clients had a dog about to give birth. The woman had to travel from New York to Los Angeles and back several times and wanted the dog with her.

"We flew back and forth on her private jet five times to monitor the dog in case she went into labor on the plane," Bressler said. "Fortunately, the puppies can call glamorous New York City their birthplace instead of the airspace over Oklahoma."

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