By Cathi Arora

Georgia Veterinary Specialists technicians Amanda Moretz and Kim Mascheck administer radiation therapy to a spaniel.

Sandy Springs abounds with beautiful gardens and natural areas, but an unexpected retreat rests behind Georgia Veterinary Specialists (GVS), an emergency and specialty services hospital for pets.

“The property is a sanctuary,” said GVS founding partner and veterinary ophthalmologist Renee Kaswan. “You can go out and walk and feel connected to nature. It has real, restorative value.”

The private, five-acre nature preserve features a natural waterfall, winding creek and thick mountain laurel.

The preserve reflects the relationship between man and animals. And it’s this relationship that drove Kaswan’s desire to become a vet and build her dream hospital.

“I got into veterinary medicine because of the bond people have with animals,” said Kaswan. “A connection to nature is something we get from our pets. “

Located on Abernathy Road just east of Roswell Road, GVS has been offering state-of-the-art medical and emergency care to cats and dogs since 1995.

It’s not just the unexpected nature preserve that’s surprising. Entering the building is like entering a hospital for humans.

“We’re like the Mayo Clinic for dogs and cats,” said Kimberly DeMeza, spokesperson for GVS.

“Almost every single specialist we have in human medicine, we have in veterinary medicine. And we have it here,” DeMeza said.

Kaswan knows a lot about the human-pet medical connection. While a researcher at University of Georgia, she invented eye drops for dogs, which are now widely used in humans. The billion-dollar drug Restasis is used world wide to alleviate dry eyes.

Kaswan, who is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, said she is very proud of the clinic and that its success has exceeded her expectations.

GVS provides a range of services including 24/7 emergency care, internal medicine, surgery, oncology, neurology, ophthalmology and dermatology — even hospice. But unless you have an emergency, you have to work with your vet to schedule an appointment.

“When your pet is seriously ill or injured, we can help. We work with the pet owner’s primary care veterinarian – just like human medicine – to diagnose and treat complex health issues,” said Medical Director Mark Dorfman, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist.

One of GVS’ main specialties is oncology. In an effort to meet the demand for radiology services, it opened a new wing in 2007.

According to Dorfman, GVS is the only site in the Atlanta area to offer radiation therapy.

“It has expanded our ability to treat cancer patients and allowed our oncology caseload to increase greatly,” he said.

Dorfman said he sees extraordinary examples of love and devotion daily from both staff and pet owners.

“Our job is not only to help treat the pet but also to maintain a good quality of life. Cats and dogs are more than animals, they’re family members,” he said.

There is even a Pet Loss Support Group that meets every Wednesday free of charge.

And it’s not just pets and their owners that seek GVS’ expertise and care. A law enforcement dog suffering from serious stomach pain was once brought in with a high-speed police escort. A kangaroo from a nearby preserve came in for hernia surgery. And when a penguin from the Georgia Aquarium needed an MRI, GVS was called.

The public is invited to enjoy the nature preserve at GVS. The hospital is always in need of blankets and sheets. Visit www.gvsvet.com for more information.