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Pets Unlimited celebrates 60 years

One fateful day in 1947, a scruffy dog wandered into the yard of a Pacific Heights home. Mrs. Carter Downing took the dog to the city pound, where she learned his prospects for survival were slim. Wayward pets were put to sleep unless adopted quickly.

Bobby, a Jack Russell terrier rescued from a burning building, was adopted by Janette Gerl.

Horrified by the thought, she decided to take the dog back home — and to adopt all the other dogs at the pound and start an impromptu adoption service.

Other animal lovers joined the cause, including her friend and Pacific Heights neighbor Alice Coldwell. Fueled by tenacity and gumption, they worked to raise awareness of pets who needed loving homes.

Thus began Pets Unlimited, the San Francisco institution at Fillmore and Washington, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in May 2007.

Pets Unlimited opened in 1947 at 530 Arguello Boulevard. It was the first shelter with a no-kill policy, promising medical treatment and housing for animals until they are adopted or live out their lives. More than 250,000 dogs and cats have been saved.

After just two years in operation, the shelter became so busy that a larger facility was needed. So they purchased Dr. Thomas Creely’s Dog and Cat Hospital at 3170 Sacramento Street.

In 1974, Pets Unlimited moved to its current location at 2343 Fillmore Street, creating a nonprofit shelter and a veterinary facility available to the public. Last year, 328 cats and 59 dogs were adopted into new homes through the adoption center after being rehabilitated into good health.

The emergency care facility — the only one in the city with vets and staff always on duty — treats 50,000 animals annually. Last November, Pets Unlimited opened Winnie’s Center for Holistic Veterinary Medicine, offering a holistic approach to veterinary care in conjunction with western medicine. At Winnie’s Center, dogs and cats are treated with acupuncture and herbal medicine in a tranquil atmosphere.

“Pets Unlimited is all about honoring the profound human-animal bond,” says Joe O’Hehir, the group’s executive director. “With the help of our amazing doctors, staff, donors and volunteers, these animals get a second lease on life. We have thousands of success stories that make every day worthwhile.”

Over 60 years, the support of the community has taken Pets Unlimited from a yard in Pacific Heights to a state of the art facility on Fillmore Street. And it all began with one scruffy stray dog.