Jena Valdez knew Simon was the one as soon as she laid eyes on him. “He came in and jumped
in my lap and then jumped on my husband’s shoulder and laid there like a scarf,” Valdez laughs.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is our cat.’” As the medical director of prevention programs at theSan Francisco SPCA, Valdez’s mission is to help other pet lovers find that same kind of sweet connection she discovered with Simon, as well as his furry housemates, Mietze the cat, and Oscar the dog.
Valdez graduated from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, but she fell in love with the Bay Area during her undergraduate education at UC Berkeley. Now back in SF, Valdez has found a way to live out her childhood fantasy of caring for cats and dogs who need a little extra love. “I’ve known that I wanted to be a veterinarian since I found a rabbit with an injured leg in the field next to my house when I was 8 years old,” she says. “It’s taken two bachelor’s degrees and four years of veterinary school to get here, but I can confidently say that I have my dream job.”
We asked this animal whisperer to share her best secrets for keeping pets happy, healthy, and — in some cases — Instagram-famous.
Puppy paradise. The city is a veritable playground for our four-legged friends, but Valdez finds a few spots particularly special. “Fort Funston has really great trails and it’s right by the ocean, so the setting is amazing,” she says. “Another is Crissy Field. You can’t get a more amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
The more the merrier. If you’re bringing a baby into a pet-dominated home (or vice versa), Valdez recommends checking out the free resources available on the SPCA website’s behavior library (sfspca.org). But the general rule of thumb is to ease into things. “Start slowly and gradually increase their time together,” she says. “And make sure the dog is well exercised — a tired dog is a good dog!” Valdez also notes that every pup is different, so it’s always important to carefully consider the kind of canine you bring home. Another insight for expecting moms and dads: Do some test runs. “You can actually find baby sounds online and start introducing those,” Valdez says. “And practice holding a baby doll in your arms and walking the dog around with baby equipment. If they’re nervous around the Baby Bjorn or stroller, start giving them treats so it’ll be an interesting and fun experience.”
Must love dogs. Or cats. Singles may sidestep political labels on their dating profiles, but most are quick to categorize themselves as either dog or cat people. So can members of opposite teams find love in a hopeless place? “When my husband and I first met, he was decidedly not a cat man, and now he’s a crazy cat guy,” Valdez says. “It just took finding the right cat with a big personality to show him exactly how cool cats can be.”
Feline friends. Speaking of kitties, what’s up with that attitude so many people (Taylor Swift aside) deplore? “Boredom can often cause cats to become moody,” Valdez says. “Keeping a cat indoors is the reality of living in a city, but it’s hard on them mentally. They have a lot of natural behaviors that they don’t necessarily get to display when they’re indoors.” One great way to unleash your cat’s inner tiger is to invest in a puzzle feeder. The food- dispensing toys will slow down overzealous eaters and stimulate those hunting skills.
Get familiar. How does one know if a certain creature is the perfect companion? Spend some quality time together, of course. “You want some sort of connection,” says Valdez. “I had a friend adopt from the SPCA and the dog just kept looking up at him like he was the best thing on the planet.” It’s best to go with your gut when you meet a potential pet, and pay attention to small cues that they’re into you, such as whether the dog seeks you out or the cat’s body language is soft and relaxed. The SPCA makes it easy to spend some Q.T. with would-be adoptees, thanks to an indoor dog park and kitty rooms to hang out in.
Lobstah love. Need a feel-good story to inspire you to take the leap into adoption? Valdez first met Lobstah the kitten when he wound up in the shelter with a series of serious health problems. “We performed an unprecedented surgery to reconstruct a chest wall using connective tissues and muscles in his body,” she recalls. “It was a success! Lobstah defied all expectations and made a speedy recovery. He’s now enjoying life as an Instagram celebrity with his new family.” She’s serious — @lobstah_the_cat has over 19K followers, which just might qualify him as one of the Bay Area’s biggest social media influencers.