Northside SF  

Amazing veterinarians: They save lives every day
By Ed Attanasio

My little deaf mutt, Ratdog, is 100-plus
in human years, but he’ll live to be even older
thanks to Dr. Jessica Hunter and the San
Francisco Pet Hospital

My Chihuahua mix, Ratdog, was evidently not feeling well one evening in August. Initially we just thought the deaf little yapper had indigestion. But when he couldn’t walk the next morning, things become serious rather quickly.

“Call the vet right now!” my wife exclaimed. Our regular vet had a full schedule, so we jumped online. The first name we found was the San Francisco Pet Hospital on Fulton Street. “Can we bring our dog down immediately?” we asked, and because an appointment had fallen through, we were able to race the ailing mutt to the clinic posthaste.

That was our lucky day, because we met Dr. Jessica Hunter, an amazing veterinarian who gave us the facts quickly and kept us informed throughout. Even though we panicked we could lose our little friend, her calm demeanor soothed us and focused the situation.

Money is always a concern when it comes to your pet’s health, and it’s always part of the job, according to Dr. Hunter. In this case, it was a major issue with us; do we drop significant money on this very old dog, or is it time to make a tough decision and go Doggy Kevorkian?

“Financial considerations are always a major deal, especially during a recession,” Dr. Hunter said. “I give people options so they can decide for themselves. In a perfect world, I want to do as much as I can for the animal, but if people can’t afford that, we can sit down and figure out an alternative if it exists. Hopefully, I can help them with their decisions, so that we all agree on how to treat their pet.”

Dr. Hunter gave us options, which is the best way to go with people like us who aren’t wealthy. “Some clients say do whatever you can to help the animal, and others tell us what their budget is. We want people to be comfortable and 100 percent onboard for what we’re doing. I will present them with what I believe is the best scenario, and then we can trim it down if it’s necessary.”

Ratdog was diagnosed as profoundly dehydrated with two major infections: oral and urinary, both a result of his decaying teeth. “When we got his blood work back, we saw that he had a very high white cell count,” Dr. Hunter explained, which indicated Ratdog was fighting the infections. “It appeared as though his kidneys were [also] failing, but we felt as though he might still have an outside chance to make a comeback.”

When I asked Dr. Hunter how close our beloved mutt had come to passing on to doggy heaven, she estimated 24–36 hours. “He was basically dying. It looked bad, but he’s a tough little guy, and he got in here with little time to spare.” These kinds of infections can progress quickly, she said, so if your dog is acting strange or slowing down, get the animal to a vet fast.

As Ratdog’s owners, we were obviously upset at the prospect of losing our old friend, but Dr. Hunter said the right things to calm our nerves. “People at vet school used to say, ‘we want to work with animals, not people,’” Dr. Hunter said. “But that’s not the reality of the profession. You have to work with animals and their owners, so you need to learn how to do both.”

How to deal with pet owners is a touchy subject, especially when people are concerned and scared about the possibility of losing their pets, Dr. Hunter explained. “You can’t talk over their heads by laying a bunch of medical jargon on them they won’t understand … on the other hand, you don’t want to talk down to people either. So, it’s a fine line, made worse by stress and uncertainty.”

Vets like Dr. Hunter save animals’ lives every day and never ask for praise, because it’s just part of the job. Thanks to the quick administration of hydration and antibiotics, Ratdog rallied and miraculously came back 100 percent. He’s better than ever and might just live to be 120. Since his comeback, he’s more annoying, yippy and under foot than ever – we’re calling him Ratdog 2.0. We couldn’t be more indebted to this veterinarian and hospital staff who stepped up to keep this little ugly mutt on the planet and gave him a chance to pass on to canine heaven the right way – of old age, we hope many years from now.

Dr. Jessica Hunter is a 2008 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and has been at the San Francisco Pet Hospital for a little over a year. She lives in the Mission with Nena, her German shepherd-husky mix. The hospital has been around since 1900, making it one of the oldest pet hospitals in the state. Dr. Lee Morris has operated the hospital since 1980, and Dr. Robert Leyba joined the team in 2004.

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