The little dog was badly injured. Brax’s jaw was hanging loose after a man hit him with a pipe.
Then 82, veterinarian Andreas Wurzer had earned his retirement. After flying for the German Luftwaffe in WWII, getting shot down and spending time in POW camps, his skill with U.S. Army dogs resulted in an invitation to come to America for a veterinary job.
He wound up spending more than half a century as a veterinarian at Chicago Heights Animal Hospital. If owners couldn’t pay, he still took care of their dogs and cats — and the occasional boa constrictor. Police and rescuers brought in animals that had been starved or beaten, or injured in fights or hit by cars. He not only nursed them back to health, but he worked to find them loving homes. Sometimes, the Wurzer family even adopted them.
So in 2004, when Brax arrived at his hospital with a smashed jaw, panicked and in pain, Andreas Wurzer performed surgery.
“He wired his jaw, and he lives to this day,” so feisty and active, “he’ll follow a [rodent] down a hole,” said the veterinarian’s son-in-law, Arthur “Tip” McKechnie. “That’s our dog.”
Brax repaid the veterinarian’s kindness by nuzzling him and wagging his tail during visits to his retirement home at St. James Manor and Villas in Crete. The longtime Olympia Fields resident died in his sleep on June 6. He was 95.
Jean Piunti handled hundreds of cases during a 30-year career as a state-licensed humane investigator, but she remembers Brax. “The man had abused the dog. He hit him in the jaw. There was a lead pipe with blood on it next to the cage. Then he put it in the cage in the sun to let it die,” she said.
Mr. Wurzer “was absolutely wonderful,” she said. “They put the care of those animals in front of everything else. There were many times they did work for us free.”
“Even if it was nighttime, I always had his home phone number and he would always come out. He’d meet me at the animal hospital, and whatever the dog needed, he would do,” said Lola Proulx, an animal rescuer who worked for decades with police in the south suburbs.
“He was just so hardworking,” said Andrea Wurzer, a veterinarian who now operates her father’s practice. “I was just a little kid, and I remember him going out in the middle of the night to treat an animal.”
“This happened hundreds of times,” said his son-in-law, who helps manage Chicago Heights Animal Hospital. “He could get not just the dogs’, but the cats’, confidence.”
“He entered a room softly,” friend Phillip Panozzo said.
If local animal shelters were full, “Dr. Wurzer was always willing, open arms” to take in strays, said Chicago Heights Police Sgt. Dan Riegler. “He dedicated his life to the animals. He was a tender man.”
“For more than fifty years, Dr. Andreas Wurzer served our residents in Chicago Heights and residents from the surrounding communities,” Mayor David A. Gonzalez said. “He will always be remembered for his compassionate care and treatment of animals and the people who love them.”
Young Andreas grew up on a dairy farm in Langenpreising, Germany. At 19, he started basic training in the German Air Force. “Flying, not war, had always been my secret wish,” he wrote in a memoir.
In August of 1943, his unit “flew loaded with one torpedo each into the night toward the African coast near Tunis, where Allied war and tankships were waiting outside the harbor of Bizerte to be unloaded. This was our target. When we arrived there, the ships had spread artificial fog around them,” he wrote. “But we managed to break through the fog in a deep, dangerous flight and immediately the ships started frantically shooting . . . our right engine was hit and exploded and the plane crashed into the water . . .”
Searchlights found him and the other German soldiers floating in the water. A British warship captured them. Mr. Wurzer was later held as a prisoner of war in Virginia, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
He graduated in 1951 from veterinary school at the University of Munich. His care of Army dogs impressed the U.S. occupation forces. Harry Quick, an American military captain and veterinarian with Chicago Heights Animal Hospital, helped sponsor his immigration to the United States. Mr. Wurzer later took over his practice.
He and Hanna, his wife of 62 years, loved to travel to destinations including Australia, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Italy, Morocco, Russia and Tahiti. They skied in Colorado.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Wurzer is also survived by his son, Ralph, and three grandchildren. Visitation is 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home, 530 W. 14th St., Chicago Heights. A funeral Mass is planned at 10 a.m. Friday at Infant Jesus of Prague parish in Flossmoor. In place of flowers, his family asked for donations to animal rescue organizations.