Wilton Hospital for Animals turns 50

There’s an office party in the works for the Wilton Hospital for Animals at 215 Danbury Road. Come Oct. 1, the business turns 50 years old.

“Yes, I don’t even think about retirement,” said Dr. Ralph H. Hunt, 74, the veterinarian who has run the practice since 1967, taking over for previous owners who had built the place as a hospital for animals in 1964.

“As long as I am healthy and can make a contribution, I want to be here,” Hunt said,

Fifty years is a long time. Hunt said when he took over the hospital, in 1967, Wilton was a more rural community and there were actually two dairy farms a short distance away, one down Route 7 near Orem’s Diner and the other a bit up Route 7.

He saw farm animals in those days. Clipping toenails on cows was a common pursuit. It was working with farm animals, in fact, back in his home state of Indiana that he realized he wanted to work in veterinary medicine.

“I did chores with the cows, the pigs, the chickens, the pony,” he said. “I learned to be kind to the animals. They respond to kindness.”

He studied at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and worked a veterinary internship in Boston two years before coming to Wilton in 1967 when the opportunity arose.

The location was ideal.

“Wilton is a great area, a great town, for veterinary medicine because people take very good care of their animals,” he said.

He has a staff of six. Animals can stay overnight for their needed treatments and observation, because the place is a registered hospital. He has all the modern veterinary equipment, including X-ray machines.

It wasn’t like that when he began. There were not a lot of drugs for animals in those days, either. It took a calming voice and kind demeanor to settle the animal.

“Harry Reasoner (the television news commentator) was here one night with his dog, Eric, who had been struck by a car,” Hunt said. “The dog had a ruptured urinary bladder. Harry just sat there and talked with his dog, with that magnetic voice, he really had a magnetic voice. He calmed the dog down,” Hunt said.

Other local celebrities he has helped with their animals through the years include the Broadway and Oscar-winning film star, Sandy Dennis.

“Sandy was a cat lover. She had 25-plus, probably more, cats,” Hunt said. “She came here one afternoon and sat in the middle of the floor of the waiting room, waiting for one of her cats. She talked to everyone about their cats and dogs. She was so unpretentious.”

He even treated the dog of explorer Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand for mange. The dog was shipped to Wilton.

“There was no medicine in Europe for it,” the doctor said.

Medicine and the town are not the only things that have changed through the years. Dog culture has also changed. In the 1960s, there were no electric fences, and people were apt to let their dogs outside on their own, unlike today where dogs are always on a leash.

It resulted in a lot of dogs being hit by cars.

“We treated a lot of acute trauma in those days,” Hunt said.

Through the decades, he has learned a lot about animals. Some of that knowledge could benefit people as well.

“Animals are very forgiving. They don’t hold grudges,” Hunt said, philosophically. “Animals are loving. Be kind to them, and they’ll return the kindness.”

Hunt lives in Weston with his wife, Anne, his bookkeeper.