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‘Uplifting, heartfelt’ messages raise spirits on Petaluma Boulevard

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Learning to read was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

On car rides, I’d read every street sign and store name I spotted. anything with printed words. Today, I find few outdoor reader boards or public signs offering good-natured, no-strings-attached messages.

One local exception is the friendly, welcoming message board in front of Petaluma Veterinary Hospital on Petaluma Boulevard North. It offers long-lasting chuckles and smiles with its pet-centric puns, quips and word play, is such a happy distraction.

“Hair on the sofa is OK,” read one sign. “It’s fur-niture.”

“Happiness is a rescue dog’s smile,” also brought smiles to passersby.

Dr. Angela Smith, owner of the popular animal hospital, has the final say-so on which message to highlight on the seven-year-old signboard, and changes it every week.

“I approve the messages, but there is a lot of input from our staff and the community,” said Smith, a veterinary specialist who keeps dogs’ tails wagging and cats’ motors purring through low-stress animal care and pain management. “We try to be funny, but not insensitive, and try to spread them out. Along with dogs and cats, we’ve featured hamsters, ducks and of course, chickens. We like them all.”

A 20-year resident of Petaluma, Dr. Smith was waiting out a blizzard in her hometown of Libertyville, Illinois, when she decided to take her parents’ advice and move to Petaluma, where they were enjoying mild and beautiful weather. She joined Petaluma Veterinary Hospital in 2001 and bought the business in 2016.

In these unsettling times, we need to focus more on the mundane and ordinary routines. And like a favorite section of the newspaper, Petaluma Veterinary Hospital’s marquee brightens our lives and offers a smile, or a belly laugh, as we drive by.

“Dogs have owners. Cats have staff,” was an all-time favorite sign.

“Kiss me, I’m one-fourth Irish setter,” was posted for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Uplifting and heartfelt messages are what we strive for,” said Dr. Smith, acknowledging the therapeutic value of humor and levity. It feels good, it’s free and it’s contagious. “They’re what put us on the map.”

The veterinary hospital was built in 1941 by Rodd & Rodd for Dr. Harry Wintringham, and leased to Dr. I.J. Anderson in November, 1942. Dr. John McChesney bought the business in 1946, renaming it Petaluma Veterinary Hospital.

Dr. Robert Titchenal purchased the business in the mid-1970s, running it more than 30 years before selling to Dr. Smith. Dr. Titchenal still practices at the veterinary hospital along with Dr. Kari Kristensen-McCulloch and Dr. Smith. Together, they produce an online monthly newsletter packed with pet tips and useful information.

Considered an essential business, Petaluma Veterinary Hospital is open and operating under current shelter-in-place guidelines. They have adopted special COVID-19 protocols, including providing essential veterinary services utilizing curbside service. After pet information is gathered at your vehicle, your pet is taken inside for examination by a veterinarian and a treatment plan is worked out. A staff member calls before an appointment or when medications are ready to be picked up.

“Struggling to keep open and stay safe has been difficult,” said Dr. Smith. “Changing protocol to curbside business is less personal, but people get that it’s safer for everybody.”

Petaluma Veterinary Hospital’s current message embraces our community.

It’s simple and powerful.

“We can do this. Petaluma Strong!”

(Harlan Osborne’s ‘Toolin’ Around Town’ appears every other week in the Argus-Courier. You can reach him at harlan@sonic.net)

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