I asked Todd Andrew Calsyn, doctor of veterinary medicine at Laurel Pet Hospital, “What is the most unusual animal care procedure you’ve ever done?” It took him a little while to answer.
“Unusual…? Like on one of my exotic rotations?”
Sure. I liked that angle.
“We rescued a baby manatee,” he said. “Nursed it back to health and released it back into the wild.” This happened in Florida. “I worked for Sea World Orlando as an intern.”
Now, I ask you…did it ever cross your mind that the lead vet at Laurel Pet Hospital, the animal care institution that just won Best Vet in WEHOville’s Best of WeHo readers’ poll, had trained at a marine amusement park known for an infamous killer whale disaster?
“That was where that lady got killed,” Calsyn said. “That movie ‘Blackfish’? I met that trainer. She helped that animal.”
Suddenly a grin like that of a young boy lit up his face. “I treated an anteater that had diarrhea,” he continued. “I did a whole bunch of stuff, but those were the cool ones.”
Although Calsyn said he liked marine life a lot, “if you go work for one of those big companies, like Sea World … it’s a business.” Big Business. He said they “did not follow up [on] what the vets wanted” and he saw the animals suffer. “I’m, like, this isn’t for me.”
And, so … WeHo benefitted.
Calsyn is 49, his surname Belgian. Born in the Midwest, he now lives in Sherman Oaks with his wife, also a vet (albeit one allergic to cats) and their son. The couple met at one of the top veterinary schools in the country, University of California, Davis.
He laughs hard when I posit that interacting with dogs and cats must be quite different from treating large ocean mammals. “With whales, you just do blow hole culture and draw blood,” Calsyn said. Not sexy. “I mean that’s it. [If] they’re sick, you put a bunch of drugs in a fish” and…presumably, feed it to them.
Some readers may know his father, Dr. Lee Calsyn, who actually started the business more than four decades ago. The elder vet is mostly retired, except for “paying bills, doing payroll…the money stuff.”
“He bought it in 1971 from a vet who’d been here,” Calsyn said. According to their website, the building has been around since 1926. The first Dr. Calsyn asked his son to head the practice when Mrs. Calsyn passed away. “He hasn’t really been back since,” Calsyn said of his dad. “He took it pretty hard.”
Laurel Pet Hospital is very much a family business. “Yeah, my brother is a vet here, too,” he said. “Kind of a part-timer.” That would be Dr. J.D. Calsyn, who specializes in internal medicine.
I asked Calsyn how he came to follow in his father’s footsteps. “When I was a kid I just came here to help out,” Calsyn said. Basically he put all the patient records into the then-new computer system, bringing Laurel Pet into a more modern world. “It was my summer job, [and] I never left.”
Yet he still didn’t think he’d become a vet. “I went to UCLA, considered human medicine,” Calsyn said. When he began grad work at UC Davis he “started missing the animals … Maybe that is a good bridge of all the knowledge I’ve learned,” he thought at the time. “Anyhow, here I am.”
What about pets for the vet? “I have a Great Dane,” Calsyn said. “He’s more of the Mastiff-y one,” as opposed to the popular Harlequin type. “Great Danes are a mix between Mastiffs and Wolfhounds. People think he’s a big Lab because he’s all black.”
For this column WeHo@Work, I usually ask the business owner, “So, why WeHo?” In Laurel Pet Hospital’s case, it’s one of the first businesses I’ve talked to where being in WeHo truly is accidental.
“I think it was Hollywood until WeHo became a city in 1984,” Calsyn said. “Back then this whole area was Laurel Hardware” (i.e. the real hardware store, not the fancy restaurant it is today) and “Laurel, Laurel, Laurel.” “It was just a cool little corner.” (Laurel Pet sits at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Edinburgh Street.)
The adjective “interesting” isn’t exactly what springs to mind when one thinks “animal hospital.” Is there anything unique about Laurel Pet?
“We’re not business-focused, really,” Calsyn said “We’re more animal-focused.” Recalling his father’s philosophy, he added “My dad always was really good to everybody in the community … Like, ‘You don’t have the money? We’ll still treat you’.” They still operate like that, Calsyn said.
Such empathy probably explains why the vet has “clients that drive [in] from far away.” Like “from San Diego.” That clientele only adds to their regular assortment of WeHo locals. “It’s a good mix of L.A., really. You got people with tons of money [all the way] to struggling actors.”
When Calsyn and I looked for a spot in the facility for me to take some snaps for this article, I suggested we visit the adoption and orphan ward.
Walking in, I saw a wall of shiny metal cages, each with a kitty in them. Some of them were quite well fed. One of them, however, was a white-furred, pathetic-looking creature in a fetal position on the floor, howling as though nothing in the world could bring it comfort. Peggy, a six-day-a-week volunteer, told me he was hit in the head with a hammer as a kitten.
“We have 18 to 20 orphans,” Calsyn said. “We don’ t euthanize them. They’re long-termers. We just try to help and take care of the animals for real.” He paused. “People say they do it, but I know we do it.”
A lot of people wonder what it’s like to be a vet, especially those who love animals. “Sometimes it’s not so happy a profession,” Calsyn said. “There are the stressful moments.”
Difficult conversations, like when a pet dies. “It’s not fun but it’s important to be there. [Clients] really need that.”
Calsyn said many vets leave school “and they’re not used to the emotional part of it.” “My dad never lost that. Even when animals would die he’d still tear up. I feel like we have a lot of vets that are similar to that.”
In terms of staff, Calsyn says, “It’s probably 40-plus. Six, seven full-timers [vets, he means], and then these specialists and some part-time vets.”
Employees often stay a while, too. “One of our best [vets] is 11 years here,” Calsyn said. Others have been there ten, six and five years. “The consistency has been good. Each doctor gets the clients that like their style.”
What is Calsyn’s style? “I’m more touchy-feely,” he said. “We offer a lot of options.”
And the support staff doesn’t shy away from commitment, either. Their head tech has “lived in WeHo his whole life, on Kings Road,” Calsyn said. “He started in the 80s, when I started.”
I told Calsyn that I bring my dog Luna, a 10 lb. shorthaired mutt, to Laurel Pet for boarding when I go out of town. That service is not common to find at your local vet. “Yeah that’s true,” Calsyn said. “We do a little bit of boarding and grooming [but].” But, he cautioned, “we don’t have the cameras and fluffy beds.”
Aside from dealing with emotionally bereft pet owners, Calsyn said his biggest occupational challenge is the Internet. It’s “a good and bad thing.” He understands clients want to do their own research but sometimes laments that “they kind of have their own pre-formed opinions ahead of time.” Needing to walk clients through educated decisions is more common than it used to be. Still, “it’s a blessing people come in … We work through it together.”
There is also more competition. WeHo has three vet hospitals. “That’s a lot,” Calsyn said. He said that when the vet school opened in Pomona, he noticed “a lot more hospitals … popping up.”
But Calsyn isn’t worried. “If you do a good job, there’s enough room for everyone.” Plus, he said, competition “makes you do a better job.”
What does the future hold? If Calsyn had his way, Laurel Pet would be open all night as well. “We were 24-hours but we had to scale back,” he said. “We hope to get back into that. I think that’s really nice, to have a doctor overnight.” Many pet owners would agree.
Finally, Laurel Pet has made digital convenience a priority. “We’re trying to keep up with the times,” Calsyn said. It redesigned its website five months ago and a new PetDesk app gives clients access to pet records, sends “email and text updates” and allows appointment requests. Rather than being on hold they can just go online.
Laurel Pet Hospital
7970 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046