One of the people who helped me bring Club Cat to life is Kelly Doria, DVM, owner of All Paws House Calls, a mobile vet care that services Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. I’ve known Dr. Doria (Kelly as I call her) since I was a teenager, when her sister became one of my lifelong best friends.
One day about a decade ago, we were celebrating the 4th of July at her sister’s house. I was picking Kelly’s brain about my dream of creating an idyllic hotel for cats. From that day forth Kelly has been an invaluable sounding board for me. She was instrumental in helping me figure out how to design Club Cat so that it could promote kitty cat health by minimizing stress and risk of injury. There are simply not enough thank you’s to show my gratitude for this amazing woman and veterinarian.
Kelly is part of a growing number of veterinarians who are opting for what she refers to as the “best of both worlds” through mobile vet care services. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, mobile vet care can be very beneficial to our pets. It can reduce stress on our pets, is more convenient for pet parents, and is reasonably priced, comparable to pet clinics.
Kelly recently took some time to share with us her unique journey that led her to mobile pet care services.
CC: You have an extensive background. Tell us about your background and why you were drawn to veterinary medicine?
KD: Over the last 25 1/2 years as a practicing veterinarian I have often been told by people I meet “I was going to be a vet once.” They will cite the rigorous educational requirements; family demands; and of course, the euthanasias veterinarians perform as reasons for not achieving what may have once been a childhood dream. For some, dreams change. I can only speak for myself.
I grew up surrounded by numerous dogs and cats. Sadly, veterinary care was not often part of the budget. Frequently I witnessed the actual birth of puppies and kittens. Once when two of our cats had kittens within days of each other, they co-mingled the litters and took turns nursing them. I watched as horses foaled. My childhood was filled with raising the fallen baby bird or squirrel and nursing it to maturity. But I also watched as my unvaccinated dog died of distemper virus, a disease almost eradicated through vaccination today. The day my beloved horse died from verminous arteritis (the invasion of the small intestinal blood vessels by parasitic worms) after weeks of treatment with me, age 14, personally administering twice daily penicillin injections, was the day I resolved to become a veterinarian. Watching her struggle with the choice between life and death and then finally choosing death, I knew I never wanted to stand helplessly by as someone I loved died.
CC: What is mobile pet services and how does this type of veterinary care differ from going to a traditional pet clinic?
KD: When people think of veterinarians they think of the brick and mortar veterinary clinic. Those old enough to remember the UK television series or even perhaps to have read All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (I do believe it is required reading by all prospective veterinarians). Of course, food animal and equine vets are in their trucks and out at the farm or ranch. But it has only been more recently that mobile or house call veterinarians are more common.
I started my first house call practice in 2003 after 9 years in a typical veterinary setting. Veterinary clinics are expensive to run with the staff, the full-service facility, medications and equipment, which are often priced on the human scale of things, overhead is high. (Your local plumber earns more on an average hourly basis than your veterinarian) This necessitates seeing at least 12-15 patients per day per doctor. Often an exhausting endeavor.
My house call practice provided me and my clients a more relaxed experience but I was still limited on the type of care I could provide. As a house call vet I provided routine wellness exams, sick pet exams, blood work, wound care, acupuncture and of course, euthanasias. Unable to provide surgery, hospitalization or x-rays, I purchased a 26-foot, 15,000 pound mobile clinic. Now I had everything a brick and mortar facility provided, but with the luxury of a little more personalized care. I allowed an hour at each call, not the usual 15 or 20 minute visit. This gave me the opportunity to get to know my client and patient better and answer all their questions; evaluate the environment and witness first-hand any of the dynamics at home that may be contributing to a patient’s concern. The patient spent very little time at the “clinic,” stepping out of the mobile and into their home. When an overnight stay was needed I would often park my vehicle in my driveway; with a baby monitor in the house and in the mobile I could be aware at all times how my patient was doing. It might have been a rough night for me, but my patient received 24 hour doctor care without the stress of other animals and noises around.
CC: When and why did you decide to open All Paws House Calls?
KD: After a back injury, I sold my mobile clinic and returned to work in a brick and mortar facility in Santa Barbara, but I soon yearned to have the freedom, the decreased stress and the more personalized patient relationship that my house calls provided. So All Paws House Calls was resurrected. Currently, I also work 2 days a week at a local clinic which permits my clients the opportunity to see me there for more intensive procedures: x-rays, dental cleanings, surgeries or hospitalization. This allows me the best of both worlds with this hybrid business model.
CC: How does All Paws House Calls differ from other mobile veterinary services?
KD: My husband has learned that although I might not see a patient on my day off, I am often returning calls, doing paperwork or responding to an anxious call about what to do. I am probably more accessible than other veterinarians but I never learned boundaries very well. I tend to get too invested in my furry friends and never want them to not have the care they need or the gentle death they deserve. And if it is a new puppy or kitten exam, I will be right over.
CC: If someone is interested in using mobile veterinary services, what are some of the questions they should ask to identify the right one for their pet?
KD: When considering a house call veterinarian or mobile veterinarian, learn what services are available and what aren’t. If certain services aren’t available, what is the alternatives for care, in hours and out of hours? How accessible is the veterinarian? What happens in the event of an emergency?