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Business Spotlight: New clinic offers 24/7 vet care, specialty services

Posted on January 9th, 2023 By:

Clinics offering 24/7 emergency vet care on this side of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are few and far between.

Recent changes at Uptown Animal Hospital and the opening of a new 24/7 clinic on Kimball Drive, bring more pet care options for Gig Harbor residents and the surrounding region.

Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency (PSVSE), open since Dec. 1, offers specialty services, including critical care, internal medicine, neurology and diagnostic imaging, combined with round-the-clock emergency care.

The two-story, 21,000-square-foot animal hospital is still being built out. Additional in-house specialty services, such as oncology and dentistry, will be added by spring.

PSVSE and Uptown Animal Hospital are owned by Lakefield Veterinary Group. Lakefield’s website describes it as a “family-owned veterinary hospital acquisition company, preserving the independence and local legacy for veterinarians looking to sell their practice.”

The central clinic of Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency in Gig Harbor buzzes with activity on Dec. 29, 2022, as emergency room Dr. Betsy Golden speaks on the phone about a case and staff in the background prep a patient for surgery. Christina T Henry

Changes at Uptown

In December, Uptown’s emergency care team moved to PSVSE. The merger allows the existing animal hospital on 56th Street to focus on general pet wellness, according to a news release from Lakefield.

In addition, Uptown now offers urgent care. The expanded services will help Uptown meet demand stemming from an “increase of pets” in the community, its parent company says.

The two clinics operate independently, but their staffs routinely collaborate. Together they will cover everything from annual check-ups and routine care to trauma care and treatment of complex diseases.

“Uptown Animal Hospital pet owners will now benefit from having full-service veterinary care in their community, with general practice, urgent care, emergency care and specialty care all in their backyard,” Lakefield says in its memo.

Where are the 24/7 vets?

It can happen in an instant. You’re taking out the garbage late at night. Your dog slips out the door and runs into the street, getting hit by a car.

If you live in Gig Harbor, on the Key Peninsula or in Kitsap County, you can count on one hand the places available after hours to treat your injured pup. Two are in Tacoma.

In Poulsbo, there’s Animal Emergency & Specialty Center offering 24/7 emergency care. VCA Central Kitsap Animal Hospital used to be open overnight but scaled back its hours in October 2021, according to its website. VCA is now open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

All Creatures Animal Hospital in Bremerton used to offer 24/7 emergency care but that ended during the pandemic because of staffing issues.

Staff at Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency clinic in Gig Harbor prep a dog for surgery on Dec. 29, 2022. The clinic, which offers specialty and 24/7 emergency care, opened Dec. 1, 2022. Christina T Henry

Filling the care void

The closure or scaling back of veterinary emergency services is a trend across the country, according to Dr. Heather Knapp-Hoch, a surgeon and co-medical director of PSVSE with Dr. Shana O’Marra, a critical care and emergency specialist.

“There is a crisis in veterinary care as in human health care,” Knapp-Hoch said. “They parallel each other. There’s a lot of need for it and just not enough doctors and support staff to be able to handle it all.”

The two 24/7 clinics in Tacoma are Blue Pearl Pet Hospital and Summit Veterinary Referral Center, which also offers specialty care.

PSVSE, with its large facility and on-site specialists, will help fill a void in care. They’re “hiring like crazy” as the buildout continues, Knapp-Hoch said. Licensed veterinary technicians are especially in demand.

Inside PSVSE

PSVSE’s main treatment suite buzzes with activity. On a recent morning, two staff members prepped a small dog for a surgical procedure to be performed by Knapp-Hoch. The surgery room was brightly lit, sterile and cool, fans whirring.

The hospital ward consists of kennels and cages lining two walls of the large room. A silky-haired dog in a plexiglass kennel was getting oxygen therapy. Yet another dog, wearing a cone, was receiving an IV drip.

A dog receives oxygen therapy inside a sealed kennel at Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency in Gig Harbor on Dec. 29, 2022. The clinic, which offers specialty and 24/7 emergency care, opened Dec. 1, 2022. Christina T Henry

O’Marra, leading a tour of the facility, opened one kennel and greeted a large, curly haired dog recovering from injuries.

“He’s doing really well,” she said.

This was dog day at the clinic. A few days ago, there were nothing but cats, O’Marra said.

State-of-the-art equipment

All PSVSE’s clinic equipment, such as the computerized pharmaceutical dispensary and laboratory, are on par with equipment used in human hospitals and clinics. There’s an x-ray room, a CT scan room and, in the parking lot, a mobile MRI. Later in the construction schedule, there will be an MRI unit inside.

New specialty treatment areas, including ophthalmology, oncology and dentistry, are planned. In March, an in-house oncologist will join the staff. Currently, some specialists treat patients by consultation.

Other specialty staff from a sister facility in Port Orchard (also called Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency, at 1730 Pottery Ave., Suite 120) will move to the Gig Harbor clinic this spring. The Port Orchard location will close down, completing a strategic transition planned by Lakefield and the medical directors at both clinics.

Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency in Gig Harbor has state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, such as this CT scanner, that is comparable to equipment used in clinics for human patients. Christina T Henry

Although the transition might seem like Port Orchard’s loss, having all specialists in one facility will allow for better collaboration on complex cases, O’Marra said.

Leading with heart

For Knapp-Hoch, O’Marra and their staff, clinic days are a roller coaster of hope and heartache. Many of the patients they see are critically ill or traumatically injured.

“We’re drawn to the field because we’re drawn to that bond between humans and animals,” O’Marra said. “I think it comes naturally, but it doesn’t necessarily come without a toll. The highs are high, but the lows are really low.”

Asked to think of recent success stories, Knapp-Hoch described a large-breed dog that was paralyzed in its hind end. Dr. Amanda Brenna, a neurologist, did an MRI showing a bulging disk pressing on the spinal cord.

Dr. Shana O’Marra, a veterinary critical care and emergency specialist, displays the “crash cart” in the emergency room of Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency in Gig Harbor on Dec. 29, 2022. The clinic, which offers specialty and 24/7 emergency care, opened Dec. 1, 2022. Christina T Henry

Although the prognosis was poor, the family elected to go ahead with surgery to remove the disk. The dog was treated with “aggressive supportive care” and physical therapy. Two weeks ago, he walked into the clinic.

“We have patients who come in who were on the brink, who have immediate, life-threatening conditions,” O’Marra said. “And when we can pull them out of that, it’s such, like, a deep emotional thing for all of us, including family, of course, but for all of our staff here.

“There is nothing better than saving the animal and having them walk out the door, and even better yet, walk back in to say ‘hi,’ doing well.”

Uptown Animal Hospital

Address: 3316 56th Street, Suite 104 Gig Harbor

Services: General wellness and urgent care

Contact:, (253) 851-7387

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency

Address: 6565 Kimball Drive

Services: Specialty care and 24/7 emergency services

Contact:, (253) 400-5052

Note: If you have a pet care emergency, call your vet or visit the emergency services website of the clinic nearest you. You may be instructed to call or text in advance to allow staff to triage your case. If so, you and your pet can wait in the comfort of your home as they assess the best course of action and next steps.

Veterinary assistant Melissa Hubbell is on the phone in the patient reception area of Puget Sound Veterinary Specialty & Emergency in Gig Harbor on Dec. 29, 2022. The new clinic offers 24/7 and specialty pet veterinary care. Christina T Henry