At her practice in Saco, Maine, veterinarian Sandra Mitchell specializes in "exotic companion animals, all those weird pocket petties" — ferrets, monkeys, rabbits.
But when her 8-year-old bearded dragon, Beardie, developed a tumor, she didn't have the expertise to know what it was or how to treat it. Nor could she find someone qualified in New England.
So she, Beardie and her friend Terry Westcott jumped in the car Wednesday and drove nonstop — 30 hours — to Marathon to find out what Beardie had.
Seems a bit much for a reptile, but she made the right call. Her longtime friend Dr. Doug Mader, owner of the Marathon Veterinary Hospital, is considered one of the leading experts in reptile medicine.
"He literally wrote the book," she said, referring to Mader's "Reptile Medicine and Surgery."
Beardie spent an hour under the knife on Friday so Mader could remove an "enormous" — 150 grams — ovarian abscess.
Despite the heroic effort, Beardie didn’t make it through the night.
"I knew this was something big and bad," Mitchell said.
Mitchell and Mader go back 20 years. She interned at the All-Care Animal Referral Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. He graduated from the University of California-Davis.
Mitchell, a Cornell graduate and native of Plantation in Broward County, said she tried to have Beardie flown down, but the airlines said the animal is "dangerous." And the weather didn't help: U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations don't allow animals to fly when it's below 35 degrees.
So she and Westcott drove, taking turns in four-hour shifts. Whichever one wasn't driving got the back seat because the front seat was reserved for the cold-blooded Beardie — it's heated.
Mitchell knew there was a risk Beardie wouldn't make the return trip.
"Life or death, that's just the way it is," she said. "Rather than just go out, we wanted to go out and fight."