Dr. Katja Herrmann thinks her life is normal.
She rescues animals all night – from 5:30pm to 8:30am at the Monterey Peninsula Veterinary Emergency and Speciality Center in Ryan Ranch – then comes home to a crew of foster and rescue dogs of all different sizes and breeds.
For her, normal is sharing a bed with four different dogs, and trying to sit on the toilet with three of them fighting to sit on her lap. Or opening the front door and having multiple four-legged creatures running out barking.
“My friends don’t think it’s weird at all. We all have our pets,” she says as she stands in her brightly colored home with interior furnishing that include a half dozen plush dog beds. This is where parties often include more than 15 dogs.
Herrmann has been treating cats and dogs – and in some rare cases more exotic pets like koi fish – on the graveyard shift for nearly a quarter century. Herrmann and her staff stand prepared because emergencies don’t wear a watch.
“We could be doing a lot of other things, working at other places, spending the holidays somewhere else, but we are here for people,” she says.
Hermann’s career began in Germany, where she received a doctorate in veterinary medicine. She traveled to California in 1993, and after years in emergency practice, Herrmann founded the Monterey Peninsula Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center in 2004. A year later, she moved the center into a state-of-the-art facility whose walls bear the same bright colors of her home.
In June of 2011 she and her staff extended their hours to be open when other veterinary offices were closed – 5pm to 7am nightly, including holidays and weekends.
That makes her no stranger to emergency – it’s more like her longtime friend. She’s seen pit bulls who have fallen out of the back of pick-up trucks, picked up geese run over and left to die on the side of the road and saved the life of a baby doe carried into her clinic in the dead of night before there was a chance to call wildlife services as law dictates.
Inspiring stuff, really, particularly to pet owners. Her staff ascribes some almost-mythic abilities too.
“If an animal is injured and Herrmann is around,” veterinary nurse Brooke Hickland says, “You know the animal is going to be OK.”
Yet Herrmann remains so modest it makes interviews a little awkward.
“I’m not some hero,” she says. “It’s what I know and what I’m good at. I see my job as more of a service to my community.”
She adds that it isn’t a solo operation, by any stretch. She employs 15 professionals. “I’d be nothing without them,” she says.
One of the toughest parts of the job: Deciding whether or not an animal’s survival is worth the cost of treatment. One of her most recent cases involved a stray Yorkie – brought in by a good samaritan – with a leg so mangled the bone was exposed.
She decided to amputate the leg with hope that someone would adopt the three-legged dog. Within days she found the Yorkie a family who renamed her Josie.
“At the sight of the leg,” says Dr. Shannon Chaffin, who has been working with Herrmann for more than two years, “most doctors would put the dog to sleep without a second thought. No matter what Katja finds a way to save and care for most pets, which is one of her best qualities.”
Herrmann dedicates a part of her days off networking with various other rescue projects like Pacific Grove’s Animals Friends Rescue Project and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue to find homes for the animals she saves.
Many accidents can be avoided, Herrmann insists as she pets the newest addition to her family of rescue dogs, a chestnut mix named Skippy she recently saved from a liver tumor.
“Preventing problems from happening is as easy as putting a collar on your pet, inserting a microchip into their arm, checking Craigslist, or fostering a pet, ” she says.
It’s not a completely magnanimous effort. As she heals them, they heal her – and us.
“Everyone should have a pet. Its like having a best friend who loves you unconditionally,” she says and begins to laugh. “I should know. I have five.”
THE MONTEREY PENINSULA VETERINARY EMERGENCY AND SPECIALITY CENTER, located at 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week including holidays and weekends. To donate money or time or learn more, visit their website www.mpvesc.com