The pandemic upended life as we know it, and the veterinary profession was no exception.
Multiple factors caused lots of vet practices to quit taking new patients. Many have cut hours and are not open evenings or weekends, leaving pet owners to the mercy of veterinary emergency hospitals, if they can manage to get in.
Into that vacuum, a new business model has appeared. PetVet365 opened last year on McKnight Road in Ross, an operation that is open seven days a week, although weekend hours are limited. It is one of six PetVet365 practices in the Pittsburgh area; the others are in Wilkins, North Fayette, Cranberry, Shadyside and Fox Chapel.
Meghan Fincher, the veterinarian/owner of the new location, is a native of Poland, Ohio, who graduated from Ohio State University, then did a stint as a captain in the U.S. Army. While serving, she provided care to military dogs and soldiers’ pets. After she was discharged, she moved to East Bay, south of San Francisco, where she practiced small animal medicine at a busy clinic.
In 2017 she decided to move back east to be closer to family. When she got here she did a variety of relief and part-time work in the greater Pittsburgh area.
In early 2021 she was approached about joining the PetVet365 family, which led to the opening of the Ross location in July 2022. She says what attracted her to the company was the emphasis on “fear-free” medicine.
“Historically, veterinary medicine has been done in a very clinical setting: steel tables, tiny rooms and quick exams on scared animals. … Over the last couple decades, veterinarians have realized that if we decrease the stress and anxiety of the patients, we can provide better, more consistent care. As a bonus, we can see these animals with their normal personalities and attitudes (sometimes awfully sassy!!) rather than animals that are just so afraid and stressed,” she says.
To that end, the exam rooms are furnished like living rooms. “We take everything into consideration, the music, the colors and the smells (each room has specific pheromones). It gets better from there; we have a great variety of food items to try to encourage more comfort and relaxation.
“It’s been life changing, and I’m pretty obsessed with it. I think it has improved the quality of medicine and the happiness of my staff. No one wants to wrestle scared animals, and it just isn’t productive.”
There are other differences. Patients can be seen by appointment, like a typical practice, but owners also have the option of signing up for a variety of wellness programs for a monthly fee. The fee covers unlimited appointments, tests, shots and even dental surgery, depending on the level of coverage. Perhaps the biggest appeal of signing up for a wellness program is the ability to contact someone on the veterinary team from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily via text or email.
Thom Carlisle, a vet who now does veterinary outreach for the PetVet365 network, says, “We definitely believe that pets deserve quality care seven days a week, 365 days a year. We also believe that there is a quality-of-life issue for vets. The way we are balancing that, we can use telehealth (for pets on the wellness plans). They have access to their medical team that has access to their medical records, so you are not alone” in case of an emergency.
Even if a pet does end up needing emergency care, PetVet365 can forward test results and medical records, saving the owner fees that occur when testing is duplicated at an emergency hospital. That can mean thousands of dollars on a bill.
The PetVet concept was born when several vets who owned Banfield Pet Hospital franchises were bought out of their practices by Mars Inc. (the candy company), which had purchased Banfield and decided it didn’t want individually owned offices. According to Carlisle, three vets — Todd Markham, Beverly Porter and Andrea Johnson, all former Banfield owners — built a dream practice in their minds, and PetVet365 was born. Carlisle joined in August 2022 after doing his due diligence by visiting several offices. What he saw impressed him.
In recent years, corporate ownership of veterinary practices has become more common, probably due, says Carlisle, to the fact that young vets come out of college with enormous debt and can’t afford to set up a practice. They also can’t afford to buy a practice when a vet retires, so sometimes corporate ownership is the only viable exit ramp for an older vet. While corporate ownership isn’t all bad — Carlisle comments that it’s been good for the quality of vet medicine — “The sad part is that a lot of the abundance that this profession should give [to individual vets] is lost when vets can’t afford to start a practice. … PetVet is trying to return the opportunity for ownership, and they are doing that through partnership.”
Fincher seems to agree, as PetVet has allowed her to establish a practice.
“Each clinic is a separate LLC owned by the veterinarian who runs that location. It comes with a lot of support from the core of the PetVet team located in Lexington, Kentucky, where the founders practice. We are strongly supported on the business end, which is where I need it! It wasn’t really even on my radar to own a business because I’m just not educated in that area. This has opened new exciting doors and allowed me to learn a lot of new skills.”
In the end, the business model benefits both the veterinarian and the patient. Fincher said she thought long and hard before signing up with the company.
“True, we are open seven days a week, but as part of the PetVet365 model, they’re committed to not only improving the quality of care we can provide to our patients but also fixing the broken aspects of the veterinary profession in relation to its staff. Burnout from long hours and heavy emotional tolls … is a very real problem for veterinarians and support staff. PetVet365’s veterinarians work four-day workweeks, even if two of those are weekend days, which are typically four-hour shifts. Our weekday shifts are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and except in rare cases, we strive to get our staff out of work on time.
“Not only that, we can provide great care and see these animals that get ill over the weekend that the ERs turn away but whose parents are very worried and don’t want to wait until Monday. I have found that this lets me have a great home life but also provides good, consistent care to my patients.”