I never expected to have to ask myself this question: What do I do with an injured crow?
But a few years ago, at my parents’ house in North Raleigh, I found myself uttering those words.
Combing through the Yellow Pages, I found a place that might be able to help: Avian and Exotic Animal Care.
The center was started by veterinarian Dan Johnson as a home-call business in 1996. It gradually morphed into a storefront at Creedmoor and Lynn roads and later became a full-fledged vet clinic at Westgate Center in North Raleigh.
Never miss a local story.
Johnson used to be a typical dog-and-cat vet in Wilmington before he moved to Raleigh and worked at Hidden Valley and Quail Corners animal hospitals.
From time to time, the clinics would see the odd bird or lizard, and Johnson found himself drawn to that kind of work.
“It was the exotic part that was always super exciting for me,” he said.
He had other reasons for starting his own business. Raleigh is full of clinics that specialize in cats and dogs. He needed a way to set himself apart.
While traditional vets would see exotic animals out of loyalty to their customers, they weren’t specialists. He thought the area needed someone who knew specifically about lesser-seen pets.
Avian and Exotic Animal Care is a full-service, 6,000-square-foot hospital with three vets.
Johnson specializes in exotic animal companions – rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs. Another vet at the clinic is a master of reptiles and amphibians, and the third doctor knows a lot about birds but is also certified in traditional Chinese medicine, things like acupuncture and herbal therapy.
“We like to say that between the three of us we make one really good exotic vet,” Johnson said.
The three typically see rabbits, chinchillas, all sorts of lizards, turtles, snakes and a variety of birds. Sometimes they get the odd outlier as well.
“On a couple of occasions, we had somebody bring a red kangaroo,” Johnson said. “She owned a petting zoo, and we were the closest veterinarian that had any expertise with mammals like that.”
Don’t worry, the kangaroo was fine.
Practicing exotic animal care is a unique specialty. Johnson said it can be obvious when cats and dogs are sick, but exotic animals more accustomed to the wild tend to hide their symptoms. So by the time an owner brings one in, it’s usually pretty sick. Birds, in particular, are notorious for this.
“In the morning, he’s carrying on and talking to you, pretending to eat,” Johnson said. “Come home at dinner and he’s on the bottom of the cage looking like he is going to die.”
So part of his practice is educating new owners about the special care required. He said the vets have to pay special attention to their animals’ behavior.
While most people understand how to care for a dog or a cat, that’s not necessarily so when it comes to exotics.
“Frequently people who have exotic pets aren’t feeding them right,” Johnson said. “The feet might not be right because they have their animal on the wrong substrate. They might keep their animal too cool, too dry. Not moist enough.”
For a vet, treating exotic animals has its own rewards beyond seeing happy pet owners.
“Your day is much more varied,” Johnson said. “You’re constantly having to learn new stuff. You’re constantly challenged. There’s nothing boring about it.”
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.