Three years and 800 rides later, Squad FiftyOne is Cleveland's go-to transport for pet emergencies

“I’m a rescue man, I trained to be a rescue man, and I like being a rescue man.”

That’s what Johnny Gage (played by actor Randolph Mantooth) told battalion chief Conrad is the classic 1970s television series "Emergency!"

Almost four decades later, Yalanda Medina is a rescue woman—a rescuer of pets in need. In 2016, she started her pet emergency medical response company Squad FiftyOne on Cleveland’s east side—one of only a few such companies in the country. Since "Emergency!" was her one of favorite shows growing up, she named the company after the fictional L.A. Fire Department paramedic unit on the show.

The business idea came to Medina after she was driving home from vacation back to Lyndhurst and her dog sitter called with the news that Medina's Yorkshire terrier, Bruiser, was sick. Medina rushed home, frantically drove Bruiser (speeding, running red lights, and breaking other traffic laws) to the emergency vet clinic.

Today, Bruiser is a healthy, happy pet. But the experience made Medina ask, “What would other people do in this situation?”

“After my dog had gotten ill, there were a few years where I worried and thought about what others did in such situations, but it didn't occur to me that I could be the one to help offer solutions,” Medina recalls. “It wasn't until it was suggested to me that I be the one that I started putting a plan together.”

Medina bought a minivan, hung a sign on it, and opened for business. Squad FiftyOne offers emergency transport for pets, as well as non-emergency transport for vet appointments, transport between veterinary facilities, in-home followup care, and deceased pet removal.

“When we started this, I had no idea how this was going to go,” says Medina, who has a background in economic and financial management, along with graphic design. “I thought it would be a little side gig where we’d help people when we could.”

Three years later, Squad FiftyOne operates three vehicles, has a staff of six (including Medina, two drivers, and three vet techs), and has transported about 800 pets to vets in Cleveland and as far away as Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia for specialist appointments.

Although Squad FiftyOne does not have sirens or flashing lights—and the company is not approved to run red lights and speed—it otherwise operates in the same capacity as an ambulance transporting human patients.

“Like paramedics for humans, when called for, our vet techs assess, triage, monitor, and administer necessary care in coordination with the vet hospital for our patients during transport,” Medina explains. “It basically is one of the main reasons for our existence.”

Other non-emergency calls include everything from assisting senior citizens who don’t drive to get their pets to appointments to even helping transport large animals.

“We help little people with giant dogs,” Medina says. “A lot of people have these big dogs and they don’t think about what they are going to do if this dog is hurt.”

Medina has had some unique calls as well. She remembers one client who had three wolves that he had raised since they were pups. One of the wolves had developed a cyst and had to be transported to the vet.

<span class="content-image-text">Yalanda with business advisor Krishna Rao</span>Yalanda with business advisor Krishna Rao“They are beautiful animals, but they are not domesticated,” warns Medina. But she took the call and drove to Medina County to transport the 175-pound wolf (after giving him twilight sedation) to the vet. Unfortunately, the cyst was cancerous.

In fact, those challenging calls are what keep Medina going. She says the most frequent feedback they get is from clients who say, “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Squad FiftyOne charges $185 for emergency transport during business hours (8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday) and $230 from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and on holidays and weekends. Non-emergency transports start at $55; in-home followup care starts at $65 per hour; and inter-facility transport is $195. Deceased pet removal is $125.

Medina is glad to help pet owners during some of their most stressful times. “People who love animals are a different group of people—they are kind, compassionate, and nice people,” she says. “As far as jobs go, it’s pretty awesome. We have had some bad cases, but by-and-large, we’ve helped a lot of animals.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.