Veterinarian Dr. Christopher Yach walks into work around 7 a.m. If he leaves by 7 p.m., he considers it a good day.
The majority of his 12-hour day is spent with his diversified patients, ranging from cute kittens and puppies to 900-pound alligators and 10-foot-long sharks.
“I take care of all animals; it’s my profession and passion,” Yach, a Summerlin resident, said. “(The days) go by so quick, I constantly have to think, ‘Wow, did I even eat today?’ ”
Yach is the owner and director of West Flamingo Animal Hospital, 5445 W. Flamingo Road, and co-founder of Veterinarian Aquarium Group, which provides care for the animals at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South; the Golden Nugget’s shark aquarium, 129 Fremont St., and the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd.
“Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I think it’s the greatest profession ever,” Yach said. “It’s so challenging and rewarding. No two days are the same.”
After graduating from Colorado State University in 1987, Yach became a partner at the West Flamingo Animal Hospital. Two years later, he took it over.
“We probably have 200 to 300 years of veterinarian experience in this hospital with all our staff,” Yach said. “Sincerity and compassion is a big focus. Clients see us actually caring, from the front staff to the doctors to the back staff.”
More than a decade ago, Yach said Mandalay Bay approached him and Dr. Gerald Pribyl about being involved in the animal care at Shark Reef. The attraction houses more than 2,000 animals in 14 exhibits.
“I mean, I was raised in Las Vegas. How many sharks had I seen?” Yach said. “We jumped at the opportunity and agreed to help them. The very first thing we did was become mentored by the head veterinarian at SeaWorld in San Diego.”
Yach and Pribyl founded the Veterinarian Aquarium Group shortly after accepting the gig at Mandalay Bay. The group monitors the wellness of the exotic animals at least twice a week, which includes performing ultrasounds, blood work and surgeries.
The veterinarians are able to work on the aquatic animals by using a sling in shallow water and rotating the animal on its back. According to Yach, the group tries to condition the animals rather than sedate them.
“The trick is to get a 12-foot, man-eating shark on its back,” Yach said. “Once he’s on his back, it’s a piece of cake.”
In the mid-2000s, the veterinarian group added the Springs Preserve to its list, taking care of the foundation’s lizards, foxes, gophers, Gila monsters and others.
“Just like we would go to a doctor for annual checkups,” said Springs Preserve zoology supervisor Thomas O’Toole, “it’s good for the general welfare of the animals in the collection to receive checkups to make sure they’re all healthy.”
While Yach admits these exotic animals can be frightening, he said focusing on how to help the animal allows him to overcome any fear.
“You have to be smart, but you can’t hesitate, or you’re much more likely to get injured,” Yach said. “Incredible safety procedures are put into place, but in the end, it’s still a leap of faith.”
Yach said he gets attached to the majority of the animals because of how attached the owners and staff members are. To him, it’s like helping a sick child with worried parents.
“Just being able to turn any one of those animals around and making them better is exceptionally rewarding,” Yach said. “You’re not going to get a hug from them, but your reward is them functioning normally.”
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at email@example.com or 702-383-0403.