Meet SFAfA’s Dr. Phil Durfee
With over 50 years’ experience, Dr. Phil Durfee knows very well the joy and heartache of being a veterinarian. The need for care in under served communities motivates Phil to volunteer much of his time and his expertise to Vet. Street Outreach Services (Vet SOS), and to PAWS in San Francisco. We think Phil is a true San Francisco hero.
With a heart that big, it’s no wonder Phil joined SFAfA. Since his quasi-retirement in 2006, Phil has redirected some of his energy from the hospital room to the boardroom, offering SFAfA invaluable guidance and support. Phil took a moment recently to talk about his career and offer a few words of wisdom about caring for our furry loved ones.
Why did you become a vet?
When I first became a vet decades ago it was because I liked animals and it appeared to be an interesting way of life. I was right - for 50 years there was a challenging case every week and I could never be totally prepared for what was about to come through the door. It is a lively profession, never repetitive, and very rewarding. And, of course, I like the success stories and being able to work with animals.
What is the most exciting change you’ve seen in veterinary medicine?
The changes in automation, lab testing, and vaccines have been amazing. When I got out of school there were very few laboratory tests available for veterinarians and the vaccines were primitive. Those tests we had were done in our own offices. It was very limited. Most of us had very low power X-ray machines that couldn’t scan through a German Shepherd. These days we have almost all the tests and procedures, and equipment that are available to physicians. It’s much more efficient. One of the most memorable moments in my career was in 1980 when Parvovirus (a highly contagious and deadly canine disease) broke out in California, there was no immunization against it and dogs of all ages were dying. There were so many sick dogs that IV fluids were unavailable anywhere in California and so we were making our own. It was the biggest disaster I’d seen and very heartbreaking. Thankfully, advancements in vaccines have helped prevent that from happening again.
Who was your most memorable patient?
There have been lots of them so it’s too hard to say. In the past fifty years I’ve been very lucky to have had a great variety of ‘careers’: Army vet, private practice, both large and small animals, veterinary research and teaching, and now volunteering. Of all the animals I’ve dealt with I suspect that Chewbaca (Chewy), a 1600 pound Bactrian camel, was the most unique. He danced, he pranced, he loved being in parades, he loved having his tummy and very large forehead rubbed and never fussed at his worm medicine or his vaccinations.
What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
Of course, working with the animals but I also like to help their people. I like the community. A lot of the volunteer work that I do is to help pet owners in the homeless community care for their companion animals and it’s very gratifying. It’s a good feeling to be able to help because I know how much they care for their companions.
What are some of the differences you see today with our relationships with our pets?
It really depends on where you are but, for the most part, pets have become a larger part of the family and our human-animal bond is undeniably strengthened by our increased awareness and compassion.
Why do you volunteer?
It keeps me going while I’m still vertical! Really, it’s interesting and I meet a lot of nice people. The volunteers themselves are a community and I really enjoy that. In addition, I think I know most of our homeless clients on a first-name basis and that gives some meaning to what we’re doing.
You spend a lot of time helping others, what do you do for YOU?
Sue and I love to travel and spend with friends and family. I used to sail a lot but now sail model sailboats in Golden Gate Park. I also like to help out the gardeners at our local park by pruning and gardening. And, of course, our dog Archie gets three walks a day. Aside from that, I like to cook and Sue and I go to the symphony, the opera, and Berkeley Rep.
Lastly, any suggestions on how to keep our companion animals healthy?
Yes, good nutrition, lots of walks, and visit the vet once a year. It’s the same for people!
For more information on Phil, please visit sfafa.org
Phil received his DVM degree from the Univ. of California, Davis in 1959. He also has an MPH degree from Johns Hopkins University and an MVSc from the Univ. of Melbourne, Australia where he was the lecturer in epidemiology and public health. He has been involved in both large and small animal medicine and teaching in California and Australia, and medical research for 3 years in Taiwan. He was born in San Francisco and returned here in 2006. At present he volunteers regularly with PAWS and with Vet SOS and still practices small animal medicine one day a week.