SYLMAR (CBSLA.com) — LA’s Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar is known around the world for being a great sanctuary for abandoned or abused animals.
But what happens when those same animals need a cavity filled or a tooth cleaning?
CBS2’s Joy Benedict introduces us to the volunteer dentists who make sure the lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) are well cared for.
“We’re here to help the animals in the sanctuary,” said veterinary dentist Ed Eisner.
The dentist hails from Denver, but this weekend he left Fluffy and Fido back home. Instead, he was tackling Tyson the tiger.
“They get toothaches just like people get,” Eisner said.
This is what Tyson gets for not flossing enough.
Eisner was part of a team of 20 volunteer dentists that spent two full days doing root canals, extractions and other dental care for the exotic animals.
A gift from the Peter Emily International Dental Foundation made the program possible.
“All the volunteers come on their own dime, pay their own way here, plane tickets and hotels,” said Michelle Hall of the Foundation.
For a non-profit exotic animal rescue like this one, the gesture is extraordinary. The dental work, equipment, anesthesia, materials….wouldn’t be possible without the dentist’s donating their time and labor and expenses.
“Each year they come in and do virtually thousand of dollars of dentistry on a gratis basis and we are ever so grateful,” says Martine Collette, founder of the sanctuary.
Ten different animals were treated this weekend.
“When a tiger has major pain in the mouth, he doesn’t hunt very well, and if he doesn’t hunt very well, he doesn’t eat very well,” she explained.
The big cats weren’t the only customers. The team of dentists also treated hyenas, chimpanzees and others.
And it goes without saying that the stakes are high and so are the dangers.
“The anesthetic is more critical because if the [animals] wake up during surgery there’s no second chance.” Eisner says.
There are currently 400 animals at the sanctuary but they’ve housed and helped more than 77,000 in the 40 years they have been open.
“We are the first sanctuary in the U.S. strictly dedicated to people’s ex pets,” Collette said.
Believe it or not, most of the animals here — the pot belly pigs, large turtles and lions — were once pets who simply got too big.
Collette continues to try to educate animal lovers that lions don’t make good pets. And she remains thankful for dentists like Eisner — who helped give Tyson the tiger a root canal and two extractions; and hopefully a longer, happier life.