When the floppy-eared mixed-breed puppy arrived at San Antonio Pets Alive’s medical clinic on the city’s far West Side, his name was Jupiter.

He was only 2 months old and diagnosed with canine parvovirus, a deadly illness that weakens the immune system and kills 91 percent of dogs who don’t receive treatment.

Inside the walls of the San Antonio Pets Alive (SAPA) medical clinic, Jupiter got a chance at life and health, and eventually a new owner and a new name.

At any given moment, the rooms beyond the small lobby erupt in call-and-response barking from dozens of dogs of all breeds and sizes. A maze of hallways and doorways open up into rooms filled with kennels, medical supplies, and food.

The City of San Antonio’s Animal Care Services, where Jupiter was before SAPA picked him up, doesn’t treat dogs with parvo, but SAPA takes in dogs slated to be put down, including those with difficult medical conditions such as parvo and distemper. SAPA is one of only two animal rescue groups (the other is the local Animal Defense League) that treat parvo in San Antonio.

Even after he started treatment at SAPA’s clinic, Jupiter’s prognosis wasn’t good.

“While he was in the parvo ward, he would not get better,” said Lexi Christie, SAPA clinic manager. “He was in there for a good two, three weeks.”

Treatment for parvo typically takes about two to three days but treating the secondary infections caused by it can take much longer. In addition, an outbreak of distemper, another deadly virus, occurred in the shelter’s parvo ward.

“He got really, really sick – to the point where we almost lost hope for him,” Christie said. “One day, boom, he started eating and playing.”

He was placed in a foster home for about three or four weeks, but it was an appearance on local television led him to his forever home.

Olivia Schneider became SAPA’s public relations manager about three months ago. Since she took the job, she’s met hundreds of dogs and cats needing homes; taking them to local television news stations to tape spots promoting adoptions and donations. In October, it was Jupiter’s turn.

Meeting Jupiter while taping a plea on Telemundo, Schneider fell in love with him.

“He jumped into my lap and he kind of sighed – it was like a sigh of relief,” Schneider said. “He started to nod off and nuzzle up next to me.”

(left) Olivia Schneider and Lexi Christie pamper Odin at the San Antonio Pet’s Alive Medical Clinic

She volunteered to take him in for a weekend “staycation” during Halloween to meet her husband and cat. They all got along famously, Schneider said, even taking a nap together on the couch.

She adopted Jupiter last month and renamed him “Odin,” after the mythological Norse god. As Thor’s father, Odin figures in Marvel Comics’ books and movies. Schneider’s husband first told her he loved her during one of those movies, Thor: Ragnarok.

Now 6 months old, it’s hard to imagine the playful puppy was once near death. The only lasting physical side effect of his ordeal are his yellowing teeth; distemper causes enamel dysplasia.

SAPA Clinic Manager Lexi Christie shows off Odin’s teeth that have yellowed due to distemper.

Eventually, he’ll need several teeth removed, Christie said.That just means he’ll have to switch to soft food, Schneider said as Odin planted a signature kiss on her cheek.

Happy-ending stories like Odin’s are becoming more and more common for stray or surrendered dogs with serious medical issues thanks to SAPA and its network of volunteers.

SAPA was founded in 2012 to further San Antonio’s goal of becoming a “no-kill” city. After decades of high euthanasia rates for unwanted cats and dogs, the city reached that designation in 2015. A city is considered “no kill” when less than 10 percent of the animals caught in the city end up being euthanized. 

Older, injured, or ill animals are most likely to end up on the euthanasia list and least likely to be adopted. SAPA rescues around 6,000 animals, many of them sick or injured, from euthanasia every year by picking them up from City shelters and finding homes for them.

The nonprofit has a team of 150 to 200 foster “parents” who temporarily house dogs while they wait for final adoption. That team is supplemented with other volunteers who take dogs for walks, day trips, or shorter stays away from shelter facilities.

A San Antonio Pets Alive worker transports a dog to its kennel following a medical procedure.

In 2018, its live release rate – the percent of sheltered animals that find homes instead of being euthanized was about 93 percent.

SAPA’s medical clinic, located on Marbach Road just outside Loop 410, can treat roughly 85 dogs at any one time, including up to 25 in the parvo ward. Its cat capacity is about 20, depending on the felines’ sizes and temperaments.

In addition to the medical clinic, SAPA maintains several other shelter locations around the city in partnership with retailers Petco and Petsmart. SAPA has more than 700 dogs and cats in its system, Schneider said.

SAPA recently reported a milestone: 50,000 animals saved from euthanasia through adoption. Odin would probably be dead without SAPA, Christie said, and animal welfare is important to humans because all life is interconnected.

“Life matters to life,” she said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...