From slipped discs to colds, Israels vets learn to heal

REHOVOT, Israel — A paralyzed llama was no longer useful to the Italian circus recently touring Israel.

So the long-necked creature was left at the country's only veterinary school, where it is fed, petted and hung from a ceiling sling for half- hour periods in the hopes that it will regain use of its atrophied legs.

The llama is among 7,000 creatures treated each year by the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine in Rehovot. One of Hebrew University's 12 schools, Koret is the only veterinary school in the country.

The Koret school is connected to Israel's Veterinary Teaching Hospital where cats, dogs, horses, lizards, rats, camels and cattle are treated for everything from snake bites to dermatitis. At this school, treatment goes beyond merely setting broken bones; residents and doctors ply everything from eye to back surgery. Weeks ago, for example, the school's spinal surgeon operated on a dachshund, hoping to relieve pain from the long dog's slipped disc.

The hospital also houses Israel's only surgery facilities for horses. Operating on the large animals requires not only a padded floor on which the animals can fall after being anesthetized, but a special radiology machine to X-ray through an equine's dense chest bones.

Such equipment is expensive. The radiology machine alone costs more than $300,000.

Many of Israel's wounded animals have a San Francisco foundation to thank for helping with their care. For years, the Koret Foundation has supported the school, contributing the initial $2 million for construction in 1984 and donating more than $1.2 million since then. In addition, starting last year the foundation endowed a faculty-student exchange program with the veterinary school at U.C. Davis.

"We're trying to replicate the American system" of veterinary schooling, which includes training for veterinary specialists, says Hylton Bark, director of the teaching hospital. Bringing in American faculty promotes this effort.

In many ways, the school also emulates a hospital for humans. There is a blood bank, mainly used for dogs that have been hit by cars. The bank is stocked mostly with the blood of the faculty's own pets, periodically volunteered for blood donation. An emergency room is always open and a lab is available for pathology and blood testing.

Milling around the school are a number of adopted pets, like the llama, which have been left at the hospital by their owners.

Perhaps the dearest to the students is Tova, a medium-sized brown dog. She arrived at the hospital paralyzed in her hind legs after being hit by a car. Instead of putting the sweet-faced dog to sleep, however, the residents tried one last operation on her spine, mitigating her paralysis. Now, Tova walks around the campus with a slight limp only sometimes apparent in her gait and she's the darling of faculty and students.

On a recent Monday afternoon, a group of residents in green scrubs greeted Tova, petting her scruffy head. Many of the school's students have grown up on farms, and Bark jokes that they are sometimes "more comfortable with animals than humans."

Unfortunately, the Koret school can't accommodate everyone who wants to be a veterinarian. Not only is space limited at the school, but there is also a concern that the Israeli market will be saturated with too many vets.

"There are many vets here [in Israel]. More vets than we thought," says Uri Orgad, head of the veterinary school. "There was a big wave from Russia."

Veterinarians from Eastern Europe are often retrained, licensed or given continuing education through the school.

The abundance of veterinary students in Israel has increased the overall caliber of students at the Koret school, which accepts about 30 students a year. In fact, the school now boasts one of the highest grade point averages of incoming students at Hebrew University — higher than the medical school.

And treating sick animals isn't the school's only aim. In joint projects with other countries, the Rehovot school is conducting research on a variety of topics. Currently, the school is investigating causes of lameness in cattle, infectious diseases in dogs, animal retro-viruses and udder infections.