By Karen Jasper

Have you ever wondered how the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) is able to help so many animals? Because of kind, caring people like you, of course—and veterinarians like Dr. Elizabeth Fritzler (pictured) and her colleagues at Lien Animal Clinic in West Seattle, who volunteer their time and expertise to help reunite lost pets with their families, and assist animals who have been the victims of neglect or cruelty.

Good Samaritans bring lost animals to the clinic; any animal not wearing a collar with an ID tag is scanned for a microchip. If the owner is reachable, Dr. Fritzler and her staff keep the animals safe and comfortable at the clinic until the owner arrives. If the animal has no form of identification, or the contact information is outdated, a staff member at Lien contacts the Shelter with a description; a SAS Humane Law Enforcement Officer then picks up the animal for transfer to the Shelter.

Lien also cares for sick or injured animals—those that need immediate care—rescued by SAS. Typically, these are cats and dogs, though occasionally they include other small pets and wildlife. Dr. Fritzler and her staff immediately examine and sometimes need to stabilize the animal to ensure breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are normal; they also administer pain medication when needed. To proceed with further medical treatments, the staff must contact SAS for permission. Sadly, some animals are found in critical condition, and must be humanely euthanized to end their suffering. Other animals need only minor intervention, and can then be transferred to the Shelter. If the animal is wildlife, SAS coordinates with the PAWS Wildlife Center for transfer to that facility.

Many animals stay at Lien for ongoing care, and the veterinary technicians volunteer to take unpaid overnight shifts to monitor them for pain and changes in their medical conditions—and to give them the extra TLC they so desperately need. The clinic keeps in regular contact with the SAS case manager to update her on each animal’s condition, and to determine how to best meet the animal’s needs before the animal is transferred to SAS.

Aiding in investigations of cruelty and neglect

The clinic also plays a key role in cases that evolve into cruelty or neglect investigations. While the primary task for Dr. Fritzler and her colleagues is caring for the animals—the staff documents injuries, wounds, malnourishment, and disease symptoms in a medical chart as they do for their regular patients—they also take photographs which may be used as evidence in court, if a case goes to trial.

Dr. Fritzler or one of her colleagues might be called to testify on behalf of animal victims as expert witnesses, just as physicians do in criminal cases. She is asked to present medical facts—exam findings, radiographs, laboratory test results—and give her professional opinion as to what is the most likely cause of the animal’s condition.

Dr. Fritzler and her staff are always careful not to make assumptions when examining an animal whose condition has seemingly been caused by abuse or neglect. A clinical workup may reveal, for example, that an animal has not been mistreated, but rather has a serious medical condition. This open-minded approach protects both animals and their owners from experiencing additional and unnecessary hardship.

Starting animals on a healthy path

Victims of cruelty or neglect and stray animals brought to Lien find their happy ending after being transferred to the Shelter and adopted by people eager to welcome them into their hearts and homes. Adopters leave the Shelter with a special voucher for a free physical exam by a veterinarian at participating clinics like Lien within a week of adoption.

Lien staff uses these appointments not only to ensure the animals are doing well, but also to educate their new owners about preventative healthcare, proper nutrition, basic behavior, and flea/tick control. They also remind owners to make sure their dogs and cats are licensed and wearing collars with ID tags, and that contact information on the tags and in microchips is updated as necessary.

Because of the compassionate efforts of veterinarians and veterinary technicians at clinics like Lien, and people like you, the Seattle Animal Shelter is able to save animals in need every day.