There are not many people who can say they have reached down a tiger's throat and lived to tell about it — but for Vancouver's Eugene Gorodetsky, it's all in a day's work.
For 20 years, the veterinarian has been travelling across B.C. to relieve pets and wild animals who, mistakenly or not, swallowed a sock, bell or toy — objects that could put their lives in danger.
“It's a very strange little niche,” said Gorodetsky of his winding path to endoscopic surgery.
The trunk of his vehicle is filled with suitcases, scopes and medical tools. Ready to leave Vancouver at a moment's notice as he drives, or sometimes flies, to hundreds of clinics throughout B.C. to perform a surgery that most veterinaries don’t perform.
“My car is my place of employment. I’ve been to about 500 clinics through B.C. — from Kamloops to Kelowna, to Merritt, to Campbell River, to Whistler, to Pemberton to 100 Mile House,” he says.
For the first 20 years of his career, he worked in animal emergency and critical care settings, 17 of them at the Vancouver Animal Emergency Clinic.
At the time, he said he would come across animals who had swallowed foreign objects, but there was no reliable veterinarian who could remove them.
“So I got my first couple of endoscopes and I started playing with them,” he says of the minimally invasive instrument that combines a camera, light and grasping tool to reach down animals' throats and digestive tracts.
"I started doing it more and then I started working less and emergency because I was busy enough as endoscopy.”
He completed specialized training and started focusing his work on endoscopy.
“I have never had a second thought about my choice of career. I like the little niche that I have found and dug for myself,” says Gorodetsky.
Using a scope, Gorodetsky goes through the mouth into the esophagus and then the stomach and small intestine of the animal to remove whatever object is stuck inside.
“I have removed a few 1,000 foreign objects, quite diverse and quite variable, from various creatures,” he says.
On an average week, he now performs 12 to 15 procedures on animals. Not only does he remove objects that aren’t supposed to be there, but he also collects samples from inside the animals for inflammation, infection and cancer.
“Yesterday, in the morning I was in Nanaimo. In the afternoon. I was in Vancouver. So there was a bit of travel involved as well. Driving, flying — whatever,” he says.
Due to licensing restrictions, he only practices in B.C. But that hasn't stopped people from travelling to him so he can take care of their four-legged family members.
“On occasion, I get patients that come here... some from Alberta and Washington,” he says.
From lizards to bobcats and ducks, he’s worked on almost every animal imaginable.
“I had a patient named Moses who was a duck that swallowed a full-size knee-high sock,” he says. “I’ve worked on a pig … a couple of horses over the years, but the smallest one was a 35-pound miniature horse foal that was 10 days old named Georgia who ate a bunch of wood shavings.”
Besides household pets like dogs and cats, Gorodetsky also has worked on leopards and lions as patients.
“I’ve removed a full-size towel from a Labrador,” he says. He says he got a great kick out of “removing a penny from a bearded dragon.
“There was a Chinese water dragon who swallowed a bell and you could actually hear the bell if you shook him."
The vet says he always works at a clinic as he needs the space and support of the staff to perform his procedures.
The most common thing he removes from an animal is small toy balls from large dogs.
“Please don’t give little balls to your Labrador because chances are he or she will meet me sooner or later,” Gorodetsky says.
The most unexpected foreign object swallowed down an animal? Well, surprising it's a toupee.
“I haven’t removed one. I have removed two.”