Veterinary hospitals are not the first place most people look for lighthearted entertainment in these tumultuous times, but a drive by the Petaluma Veterinary Hospital on Petaluma Boulevard North, might be worth the effort.
The hospital building is set back from the busy street, but there’s a roadside sign that greets passersby and clients every week with a clever pet-related saying. It’s never used to promote the business or to sell anything, said Steve Smith, the hospital’s financial officer, although phrases like “Free belly rub with exam. Sorry, pets only,” can’t help but draw some curious new people through their doors.
“There’s always a few new clients who say, ‘I saw your sign,’” said Smith. “In fact, they might not have even known we were here without seeing the sign first.”
The hospital opened in 1946 and is still in its original location. Over 7,000 animals per year are treated there — primarily dogs and cats, but also rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and hamsters. Dr. Robert Titchenal was the owner for more than 30 years and his wife, Cindy, decided to put up the sign three years ago, just to “make people smile,” said Smith. Dr. Angie Smith, Steve Smith’s daughter, bought the practice from Dr. Titchenal in 2016, after working with him for 15 years. To the delight of many residents, who say the whimsical sign is one of the things the town is famous for, she decided to keep it up. Titchenal still sees clients at the hospital, along with Smith and Dr. Valerie Cantrell.
Alexis Camilleri has been on staff at the hospital for seven years.
She is charged with coming up with ideas for sayings that range from silly (“What pet cleans clothes? A laundromutt”) to philosophical (“Life is short, lick the bowl”) to ethical (“Second-hand animals make first-class pets”) and clever (“Dogs can’t run an MRI, but CATscan.”)
Camilleri gets ideas from “everywhere” including other staff, clients, Facebook and other vets.
“I don’t pull them out of my you-know-what — I’m not that good,” she said.
Camilleri said people sometimes drive by just to see what the sign says. “Do you know how much pressure that puts on me?” she joked.
Sometimes the sayings come straight from pop culture: “I like big mutts and I cannot lie,” or can even be a little edgy: “Neuter your pets and weird relatives.”
The recent: “Your pets will love us, I shih tzu not” even caused a bit of controversy with the neighbors, said Smith, but the concern was quickly quelled by his explanation.
“A shih tzu is a type of dog!” he said.
Camilleri said she knows they can’t please everyone, but she’s going to try. And, for the most part, people love it. They get calls and letters from people who don’t even have pets, saying the sign brightened their day and thanking them for the chuckle.
Recently, a caregiver who assists a cat-loving elderly woman said the joke on the sign — “Do you know why cats play poker? Because some are cheetahs” — restored a long-absent laugh in her patient.
And this year’s Fourth of July message — “I love fireworks, said no dog ever” — had over 2.5 million hits on Facebook.