This Former Vet Tech Is the Hero Every Pet Parent Needs in an Emergency
Albert Sanchez’s Veterinary Ambulance of Southern California brings pets to accessible emergency vet care when they need it—any time of day or night.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
As Albert Sanchez puts it, he has “had some very surprising success stories.” The former full-time veterinary technician and owner and operator of Veterinary Ambulance of Southern California now spends his days (and nights) transporting pets to life-saving vet care. His expertise? Giving pet parents a little comfort during their animals’ most heart-palpitating emergencies, like this one:
Once, Sanchez had to transport a 20-year-old cat who’d hurt his back and had to have surgery. After shuttling the cat from hospital to hospital, Sanchez didn’t think this senior cat would have a chance for survival after all that back and forth in his emergency van. But soon he was receiving texts from the cat’s parent with updates on how well he was doing as he recovered at home.
Sanchez couldn’t believe this old kitty had survived all that transport, much less the surgery. But it’s against-all-odds endings like this that keep him going. “I get a lot of pictures after the pets are home, when they’re doing well.”
Affordable emergency pet care at your service
A little more than three years ago, Sanchez — who lives in Irvine, California, with his wife and three-year-old son — was working as a veterinary surgery tech. He noticed that there was a pet ambulance service in the area that was very expensive and quite unreliable. “For this guy to take a relatively small dog, he would charge $2,000 to $2,500. I did the math, and it doesn’t cost as much to do this type of transport. The more costly transports we do are the ones where the pets are oxygen dependent.”
Sanchez realized very quickly that he’d need to implement a sliding scale to accommodate less-privileged pet parents. One woman needed to get her dog to an ER and couldn’t pay the full fee. He told her to pay what she could.
On another occasion, an elderly man struggling financially had a very sick dog and asked if he could pay half the fee. Sanchez said, “Sure.” He also arranged for the local ER to work on this dog for free. “We’ve got to all work together to help these guys when they need it,” he explains matter-of-factly.
This is Sanchez’s only source of income, and he’s the only employee. So, mitigate fees for those who can’t fully afford a pet ambulance and to combat hurdles like the high price of gas, he set up a GoFundMe.
No pet left behind
Most of the patients he serves are dogs, but Sanchez will pick up pretty much any pet. “I took a tortoise once. He was 100 pounds but needed to get to the vet from Long Beach. He wasn’t eating for several days,” he says. “I used my gurney and got him part of the way up. He just kept trying to get away. His little legs were strong!”
Although Sanchez may be used to treating animals, he also knows the trauma of nursing and losing a sick pet. “Our dog passed away a couple years ago,” Sanchez says. “This was a very, very amazing young Bernese Mountain Dog. He got some form of lymphoma at a year and a half.”
“I had wanted to do this for a while. But it was hard getting funding, so I kept it on my mind for years,” he says. “I finally got funded and bought my van and equipment.” His vehicle, a Ford Transit Connect, is equipped with necessary gear, such as stationary cage and an oxygen chamber. “I put the word out there. That was key. I made some fliers. I took brochures out to the local ERs and specialty hospitals. And it took off right away.”
This leads to Sanchez’s number-one piece of advice to pet parents who may need to use his services one day: Prepare now. “I have a guy, a U.S. veteran, and he’s retired with his U.S. military dog. And his dog’s aging. He’s got me all set up in his book and has an emergency contact in the event something happens to his dog, because he’s disabled. He planned ahead, and that’s a great idea.”
While he’s on his way to pick up an animal, Sanchez will call ahead to make sure the local veterinary ER can accommodate the animal. “I do get some places that say they’re understaffed or overcapacity,” he says. “So, we’ll have to look around. It’s always up to the parents, but I guide them if they need help. I know a lot of the places in and out of the area.”
Miles on the road, miles to go
Sanchez is known to venture many hours out of his way to help a panicked pet parent, in say, Fresno (roughly 260 miles). He does this despite the collateral emotional labor of his job: LA traffic. Depending on the time of day, he can get stuck in gridlock for hours. “It really drives me crazy when I’m down in, like, San Clemente, and I get a call in Long Beach. I’m like, ‘Ah, it’s gonna be two hours before I can get there.’ And they’re so bummed. But there is nothing I can do.”
The number of hours he works can be overwhelming. “My buddy said, ‘You gotta sleep or take a day off,’” he says. “And right now, you know, I sleep plenty. But I don’t take a day off. Eventually I’ll have somebody cover a day.”
For the time being, though, Sanchez’s family is supportive and actually invested in his work. His wife is a vet tech herself, and he says his son is already taking after his dad: “My son asks every day when I get a phone call…he is like, ‘What’s the dog’s name?’ And then when I get home, he is like, ‘Did you get a picture?’ He’ll play ambulance, too, in the house. He puts all his own [toy] animals on a pillow and pulls them like he’s taking him to the hospital.”
What to expect from and how to make the most of a trip to the ER.
When the bills rack up, these resources have your back.
How the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back expertly uses his football skills to help street animals in need.
This Obama-endorsed, teenage animal advocate designs and donates bow ties to shelter dogs to help get them adopted.
Wolf Mother K9 founder Saharai Salazar on misunderstood behaviors, giving every pup a chance, and the need for more empathy.
“I have the tools to make these cats’ lives better and I use them. I have to.”
Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.