As Dr. Lawrence Giebel tells about the day he treated a white mouse laid low by pneumonia, two iguanas suffering from rickets and a 16-year-old box turtle with a prolapsed rectum, one isn't sure whether the Gaithersburg veterinarian is serious or a superb storyteller.
But the 31-year-old doctor, whose large hands seem more suited to carrying a football than to picking up a tiny parakeet, is quite serious.
Giebel, a graduate of Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine, specializes in caring for small cratures such as birds, gerbils, mice, guinea pigs and many others that often die because few vets know how to treat them or are willing to try.
In January, Giebel opened the Quince Orchard Veterinary Hospital on Darnestown Road in upper Montgomery Country.
He spent $150,000 on the facility, including $3,000 on the human ophthalmic instruments he uses to examine and operat on his tiniest patients. His operating room is complete with incubator, cardiac monitor and X-ray equipment, which he says can handle anything from a 200-pound St. Bernard to a half-pound mouse.
The majority of Giebel's practice still is devoted to the care of dogs and cats, but he says he is the only veterinarian in upper Montgomery County willing to treat ailing birds and other small pets. He calls his specialty "a terrific challenge." In fact, the unorthodox vet even makes house calls.
He admits this practice is unlikely to make him rich. He says he charges half the standard fee to treat the smaller pets because many owners are willing to pay only "just so much" to save a small animal.
Although many of the surgical procedures Giebel uses requires the help of all three of his veterinary technicians, he charges between $12 and $20 for an operation he performs.
But making money does not appear to be the number one priority of the handsome doctor, whose pale green eyes sparkle as he talks of this success in saving small creatures.
Giebel, who for three years was a member of the Army Veterinary Corps and did a residency at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, says small animals "are just as big a part of the family as, say, a dog or cat. sIt's a serious business to the owner and we have to take it that way."
The gentle doctor cups a parakeet in his hand. Although the bird pecks furiously at his finger, he doesn't flinch. He learned to withstand the discomfort, he said, by daily placing his unprotected hand into a cage filled with 30 birds.
"You can't let people know it hurts," he said. "If you can't handle their pets people don't feel comfortable leaving them with you. As in treating humans, trust is one of the best prescriptions."
To some pet owners, therefore, no price is too steep. Giebel remembers how nervous he became several years ago when, while working at a Bowie animal clinic, he had to tell a parakeet owner it would cost $50 to remove a cancerous tumor from the pet bird.
"Only $50. God, it's a deal! I would have paid triple that," Giebel recalls the woman said.
More recently, Giebel charged just $20 to operate on a 4-year-old parakeet named Benjie -- parakeet life expectancy is about five years -- who had a malignant tumor on each wing.
Giebel used a gun-like instrument similar to that used on humans with certain types of cancer. The device freezes the cancerous cells, which then fall off within two weeks.
A bird's chances of surviving such an operation are far slimmer than a human's, Giebel explained, because a bird has only a 50 percent chance of recovering from the anesthesia. Death from an overdose of anesthesia is Giebel's primary concern when he operates on smaller pets, because their bodies have a low tolerance for chemicals.
Giebel grinned proudly as Benjie came out of his drowsy state and began to flutter his wings.
"Happiness is when they wake up," he said.
The vet and his wife, Marilee, have no pets of their own. Giebel said they have their hands full caring for their two daughters, Erin, 2 1/2, and Megan, 11 months.
Giebel is president of the D.C. Academy of Veterinary Medicine, representing veterinarians in Maryland, Virginia and the District.