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Whispers from technician calms animals during medical procedures without anesthetic

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21 2012 3:25 p.m. MST

Veterinary Technician Ken Kurtz, from Animal Dental Care in California, makes a visit at Sugar House Veterinary Hospital Feb. 7, 2012. He cleans the teeth of Sky with no anesthetic. After 30 minutes, Sky's teeth are clean and she is ready to go home.

Eric Betts, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — At Sugar House Veterinary Hospital, technician Rick Dobson delivers a dog named Sky to Ken Kurtz, a technician from California, who is sitting on the floor in one of the clinic rooms.

He's on the same level as Sky and pulls her into his lap. His legs are in a gentle scissor position around the animal's body. He begins to soothe the dog, gaining her full confidence through soft-spoken words and touch.

"Are you ready to get your teeth cleaned?" he whispers in her ear.

Sky really doesn't understand what he's saying, but the sound of his voice and the technique, the way she's being handled, trigger complete trust.

"To gain the animal's confidence, you've got to be nice to them," he said. "You've got to be gentle with the way you handle them. You can't be rough. Let them know it's a safe procedure."

Though the instruments grind and whine and the mouth is partially stuffed with tissue to keep debris from entering the throat, the animal doesn't jolt or pull away and is not under any anesthetic.

The non-anesthetic dental cleanings can be a good alternative for older pets and pets with chronic kidney, liver or heart disease, who might not be good candidates for general anesthesia. But it would not be a good technique to use on dogs with severe gingivitis, caries, or fractured teeth.

In the beginning, Kurtz's California company called Animal Dental Care serviced only 20 veterinarians. Now it visits 200 clinics twice a month.

Technicians not only clean and polish, but probe and chart every single tooth or any other troubles in the mouth should the animal need surgery by a veterinarian.

Those at Sugar House Veterinary Hospital admit they were skeptical at first. Dobson, who is lead veterinary technician, said they "didn't think they could do it and (were) surprised at how calm the animals were with these people. They have a way with them. Their psychological restraint is masterful."

Within 30 minutes, Sky is ready to go home. The teeth are cleaned. There's no recovery time waiting for anesthetic to wear off because no anesthetic was needed.

Kurtz also worked on a Chihuahua. These small dogs are sometimes called "land sharks" because they tend to nip at strangers. But in this case, little Lillie was mesmerized.

Veterinarians warn the procedure is risky in the hands of a nonprofessional. Legally, it's a medical procedure and should only be performed in an animal hospital.

Kurtz says about 1 in 100 dogs and cats will reject the technique. That's a pretty good track record, he claims, considering he's even done a few pit bulls.

The procedure costs between $185 and $200, which is lower than putting the dog under during the procedure because there is no need for anesthetic, blood work or pre-op workup.

E-mail: eyeates@desnews.com

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