Fishkill ambulance specializes in animal patients
Michelle Scarchilli remembers the first call to VetMedics, the pet ambulance and house-call company she launched in 2012 in Fishkill.
It came from a family whose dog had given birth. A longtime veterinary technician, Scarchilli checked the condition of the puppies and instructed the owners on the need to keep them warm and nursing.
More calls came: a gravely ill, 237-pound mastiff who needed to be transported to a hospital at 3 a.m.; a goat with pneumonia who needed to be driven to Cornell University’s vet school for treatment; a dog hit by a train in Orange County; canines sick from eating marijuana edibles.
In 2018, Scarchilli found herself face first in a hole in Beacon, burrowing to rescue an over-eager dachshund who literally went down a rabbit hole in pursuit of a bunny and became stuck nearly 4 feet under.
In a world where our emotional attachments to pets can be as strong as the bonds between humans, the VetMedics ambulance has become a savior to distressed owners. “To be a part of an animal healing and see it live on is awesome,” Scarchilli said.
She was working at a veterinary hospital when, inspired by complaints from pet owners about the difficulty in transporting large dogs for care and a lack of options for seniors who no longer drive, she considered creating a pet ambulance. “I bought a Ford Transit van and outfitted it with everything that we thought an animal with an emergency situation may need,” she recalled.
Most requests are still for emergency transport, including animal hospitals transferring patients to other facilities for higher levels of care or specialized tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). VetMedics also receives requests from people who prefer to have terminally ill pets euthanized at home.
In addition, Scarchilli and her three technicians provide routine care, such as taking animals to check-up and grooming appointments, and make house calls, such as to administer medications.
It all began with that original Ford Transit; Scarchilli opened its back doors to reveal the tools of the trade: hydraulic gurneys, an oxygen tank, IV pumps, inflatable Ambu bags and muzzles because “hurt animals are pretty protective of themselves,” she said. “It’s like a little hospital on wheels.”
Joe Steinfeld, a former psychiatric social worker employed by the state Office of Mental Health at the Fishkill and Downstate correctional facilities, found that out. He befriended Scarchilli when she worked at the East Fishkill Animal Hospital, where he took his dogs.
After he retired, Steinfeld joined VetMedics. He drives; helps carry large dogs, like the mastiff; and assists when the ambulance transports animals with “temperament issues.”
His first emergency call came while he was having coffee with a friend. A hospital needed to transport a dog that had been gored by a deer. “How she kept the dog alive, I still don’t know,” he said.
Another call brought VetMedics to Forrestal Heights in Beacon. A tenant had died and his two parrots were loose and needed to be caught. One had attacked the medical examiner, said Steinfeld, who volunteers for Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center in Hunter.
Scarchilli said requests for transportation increased during the pandemic, when people stuck at home began acquiring more dogs, cats and other pets. Scarchilli said the pandemic also stands out because they responded to more emergencies involving dogs that had eaten marijuana edibles — “the chocolate chip cookies and the brownies left on the counter.”
“They can become lethargic and, depending on the type of drug, or the amount, they can become agitated,” she said.
When the owners of these pandemic purchases returned to work, they began calling VetMedics to walk their dogs and sit with their pets, said Scarchilli. That led her to launch a sister company, the Walking Dog Co.
Another sign of growth is a larger Ford Transit sitting at VetMedics’ headquarters. Already emblazoned with the company name, logo and phone number, it is being outfitted with electric wiring before being put on the road. When finished, Scarchilli and her crew will have amenities lacking in the original van, like a ceiling fan, more lighting
and a body-warmer.
“We will be able to actually stand up and move around,” she said.
VetMedics can be reached at 845-202-7200 or vetmedics911.com.