When Albert Sanchez wakes up in the morning, he immediately makes sure his van is ready to go. And then he waits.
“As soon as the phone rings, I take a call, I write up the order, and I get on the road,” he said. “I go as fast as possible. Sometimes it’s pretty urgent. Sometimes I have a little leeway, but I try to get it done because I don’t know when I’m going to get another call.”
Sanchez has worked as a veterinary technician for more than 30 years. In July 2021, he started his own veterinary ambulance service called Veterinary Ambulance of Southern California to transport pets in emergencies.
The idea behind his business came to Sanchez while working in veterinary emergency and critical care and witnessing pets not having reliable and affordable transportation. Another ambulance business existed, but over the years, Sanchez says the service became less available and more expensive.
He then became determined and eventually gathered the funding to get started. Step one was converting a Ford Transit Connect cargo van into a fully-functional ambulance.
The vehicle has installed noise-canceling panels and holds two oxygen tanks, bedding, cages and monitoring equipment.
Veterinary Ambulance of Southern California offers emergent, urgent and general transports for pets.
Sanchez says he often helps pets that are too heavy or too old to walk, pets that need oxygen and when owners do not own a vehicle or are unable to drive. He also receives calls from general practitioners who have ill pets that need to be taken to an overnight care facility or pets that require oxygen during a ride to a specialist.
No matter the situation, Sanchez is available 24 hours a day and provides services in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties.
“I’ve gone as far as Victorville,” Sanchez said. “Anywhere somebody is struggling getting their pet either to the vet or is sick and needs to go from the vet to the specialist, that’s where my services come in.”
Sanchez says he’s done as many as five transports in one day — all by himself.
“It’s pretty much a one-man show,” he said. “Occasionally, when we have a critical pet that needs constant attention, I’ll bring somebody with me to drive, and I’ll usually take care of the pet during the transport.”
That’s why Sanchez wants to expand his business by adding more vehicles to cover both local and longer rides to places like Temecula and Lake Elsinore.
“I hate when I’m on a call, and then somebody calls in, and I’m like, ‘It’s going to be two hours before I can get there.’ That’s a huge bummer, but it happens,” he said. “It’s important to be available and prompt. People expect it.”
Clear The Shelters
Building community on social media
Sanchez shares photos and stories about the pets he transports on Instagram, @veterinaryambulance, attracting hundreds of animal lovers to his page to show support.
“People get on there and send their best wishes for the pets,” Sanchez said. “I really like having it and showing everybody what we do and how it’s helping.”
One pet that immediately came to Sanchez's mind was Ewok, a shepherd husky mix. Ewok was overweight and had a leg injury that affected his ability to walk.
“He was going to rehab once a week, and I was taking him, and his weight was coming down,” Sanchez said. “I put some posts of him on Instagram, and people were cheering for him like, ‘Yes Ewok, you go.'"
Over a few weeks, Ewok lost more than 30 pounds and started walking again.
"Looks like a different dog. Keep it up," one Instagram comment reads on a post of Ewok.
Early one morning, Ewok’s owners called Sanchez in a panic, saying the dog had stopped breathing and that they couldn’t hear his heart. He passed away.
"It was very unexpected, and it was very sad," Sanchez said.
Sanchez said that moment describes the most challenging part of his job: knowing some pets will never reunite with their owners.
"I know some of my patients, when I take them to the vet, they're probably not going home," he said. "You never get used to that. It's probably still the toughest thing. These people are passionate about their pets, and I hate to see them when they know they're saying goodbye."
But Sanchez pushes through by remembering he's doing his best to help.
“I’ll do almost anything to help if I can, literally almost anything,” he said. “Some [owners] don’t have any choices. They don’t know how they would get the pet to the vet or get them safely from one vet to the other. I'm just super proud of this service and how it helps people."
Most people reach Sanchez by calling him directly, but he also responds through text, email and the Yelp app.