This New York City vet makes celebrity house calls. Now she has a memoir full of tails

"Pets and the City" describes caring for the animals of such star-studded names as Joan Rivers and Cher

Dr. Amy Attas, left, and licensed veterinary technician Jeanine Lunz, right, examine Puddy Beyer, a 19 year old male Domestic Short Haired cat as his human Wendy Beyer, center, looks on during a house call, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

As a city kid, Amy Attas had big dreams of roaming the countryside, healing animals a la James Herriot's classic “All Creatures Great and Small.”

How did it go? Well, the veterinarian made it from Queens to Manhattan, spending the last 32 years traversing the streets of her hometown as a full-time house call doc.

And, boy, does she have stories to tell, from escaping a massive, ailing and territory-threatened Rottweiler, fangs fully bared, to three weeks on intravenous antibiotics after a nasty bite from a cat patient.

Then there's the humans behaving badly ("No dog of mine will be neutered!") and the pampered celebrity-owned pets, including the beloved dogs of the late Joan Rivers, whom Attas counted as a friend. Cher once bared all to show Attas a rash after she adopted a dog with mange, and Billy Joel serenaded her on piano.

“You'll never guess what happened today,” was Attas' nightly refrain to her husband. Now, she's collected those tales into a juicy and compassionate memoir, “Pets and the City,” out June 18.

Woven among her stories are tips and advice for animal lovers. (Forget the Easter lilies, cat people.)

The pug-loving Attas had no grand business plan for her City Pets practice when she first packed up supplies and began traveling by subway and taxi. She had just left a tony Upper East Side animal hospital and some of her clients, including Rivers, wanted to keep using her. She assumed the house calls would be temporary.

“When I started, it was a novelty,” Attas said. “From day one I was busy."

She has more company now as concierge services in general have grown in popularity. Other vets around the country do it full time like Attas, while some maintain brick-and-mortar practices and provide home services for end-of-life care.

Attas, meanwhile, has graduated to a private car and driver. She starts her days at 8 a.m., accompanied by one or both of her nurses. She allowed The Associated Press to tag along on a recent afternoon.

“I initially thought my practice would be filled with people who had difficulty getting to the veterinarian and maybe older people who had pets, or people with physical disabilities,” she said. They do seek her out but, Attas said, “what I didn’t realize was how attractive it would be to all kinds of other pet owners.”

Meet Puddy, the beloved 19-year-old domestic short hair cat of artist Wendy Beyer. The arthritic black-and-white feline has high blood pressure and requires monthly checks. Beyer found Attas through an online search.

“It’s life-changing,” Beyer said of having Puddy cared for in the comfort of his own home, a cozy sun- and art-filled apartment in the Hudson Yards neighborhood. "He’s never liked being in a carrier. It’s so traumatic trying to get him in the carrier myself.”

Beyer also likes Attas' no-pressure approach to her decision to let Puddy age naturally without heroic measures.

“I think it’s helping to extend his life. He’s a really relaxed chill kitty. He’s not being stressed out,” Beyer said.

NBCUniversal Local's Clear the Shelters initiative has surpassed 1 million animals rescued after 157,000 animals found new homes in 2023.

Hop on over to Fifth Avenue for a check on Cody, an adorable, barky white Maltese who, at age 8, is a bundle of fun-loving energy. He's at the center of Lisa Healey's life.

Cody has itchy allergies and a heart murmur. Attas, who helped the Healeys bid farewell to a previous dog, regularly sees Cody in the couple's spacious apartment.

“This is our child and we would do anything for our children, so it’s worth the cost. It’s worth every penny. I don’t even think about it," Healey said.

House calls are a far different beast for vets than regular practices. There's the travel, of course, no small thing in Manhattan. On a recent round, Attas and nurse Jeanine Lunz made use of their in-car time answering phone calls, working on scheduling and tending to the numerous other tasks most vets deal with when they have a few minutes between exams.

“It takes much longer than just waiting for a patient to come in and going from exam room to exam room in a hospital,” Attas said.

The cost of her transportation (she's Manhattan-only) is included in the fee. She charges an additional fee for seeing multiple pets at once. It's less than making more than one trip to a vet's office or what other vets may charge for seeing more than one pet on the same day, she said. Attas restricts her practice to dogs and cats.

In all, Attas said her services can be about 30% more than brick-and-mortar practices. She doesn't perform surgery, but she provides typical care, from vaccinations to blood and urine draws, relying on specialists for things like severe heart and eye issues. She uses animal hospitals when large equipment is needed or for acute emergencies when every second counts.

So far, Attas has seen more than 7,000 animals in her travels, including the pets of Joel, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Martin and Kevin Kline. At minimum, she or one of the two other vets in her practice visit 12 to 15 homes daily. Her personal best in terms of animals seen in a day is 23.

Attas and her human clients point to other advantages of house calls. Once clients are established, the humans don't have to be home.

“Sometimes they have their doorman let us in. Sometimes their nanny or their housekeeper is at home. And many of our clients actually give us keys to their apartments,” Attas said.

A copy of "Pets and the City" by Dr. Amy Attas, and James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" are displayed on a book shelf in Attas' office at City Pets, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
A copy of "Pets and the City" by Dr. Amy Attas, and James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" are displayed on a book shelf in Attas' office at City Pets, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York.

Attas dispels the notion that her client list is solely filled with pets of the wealthy.

“I go to billionaires' homes. I go to housing projects. I work with not-for-profits to help seniors continue to live with their pets,” she said. “Some of my favorite clients through the years were people who didn’t really have a lot, but what they cherished most were their pets.”

Attas never wants to be so busy that she loses the intimate value of home visits.

“When you’re in the home, you’re experiencing how that pet lives," she said. “I can’t even think of how many times I have been in someone’s home where I see something that is a complete danger for a pet.”

That includes potential killers like open windows with no screens, toxic plants and unsecured terraces. She ended one owner's practice of serving up massive quantities of catnip after the cat went seriously loopy.

And she found an unlikely object inside a bull terrier that wasn't coming out the way it went in: His human's giant over-ear headphones. The human wondered where they had gone.

“We couldn’t figure out how he even consumed them,” Attas said.

She keeps a keen eye on humans who sometimes need help themselves.

“I've seen seniors who have lost pets and lose their will to live. In one particular case that I talk about in the book, a lovely woman's elderly dog passed away, and when I went to check on her a week later she was a fraction of the woman I had seen the week before,” Attas said.

Attas brought the grieving 90-year-old client a senior dog to adopt under the guise of fostering.

“She immediately had a reason to live again," Attas said, “and took care of that dog until the day she passed away.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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