Customer service for pet care at its best
Picture this: it’s Friday afternoon. You’ve had a very long work week. You’re exhausted. And all you can think of is going home to your family and relaxing.
On March 1, 2019, that was Bonnie Gracia, owner of Newport Pet Clinic, a leading provider of pet care in Tustin, California.
But Bonnie didn’t go home. Bonnie had been invited to the grand opening of Orange County’s very first luxury cat hotel in Irvine, California called Club Cat. One of her customers had been telling her about Club Cat, which almost opened in La Fayette Plaza where Newport Pet Clinic opened in 2003. This customer happened to be good friends with Club Cat’s owner (that’s me). Not wanting to insult her customer, she put aside her own feelings and needs and went to support a community pet care event. Because that’s the type of person Bonnie Gracia is – customers come first.
From the moment I met Bonnie at our grand opening celebration, I was impressed. Not just because she’s incredibly knowledgeable about the pet care industry after having worked in it for decades. And certainly not just because she expertly juggles her professional and personal life as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do. Yes, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother who runs a very successful veterinarian clinic amid a crowded, competitive climate here in Orange County, California.
What impressed me the most about Bonnie is that she is the real deal. She is genuine, compassionate, caring, honest, and generous. Qualities that I admire the most in people.
Read on to get to know more about Bonnie and how Newport Pet Clinic has poured into its customers the last 16 years.
A single vision transforms pet care
CC: You’ve been in business since 2003. Tell us about how Newport Pet Clinic (NPC) began and why you opened it?
BG: NPC was started with a vision of personalized attention for clients and their pets. By 2003, I had spent 28 years in the veterinary world and was seeing a trend of clients getting less time with the veterinarian and cost going up dramatically. I didn’t like what I was seeing. I knew that building a relationship and educating clients is what we are supposed to provide, but you can’t do that in a 10-minute appointment. Everyone talks about this, but no one actually does it! I wanted to give my clients time, education, and knowledge—all while building a personal relationship with each and every one of them. This was my GOAL!
CC: A lot of established businesses become complacent over the years. How has NPC reinvented itself, and in what ways do you stand out from the crowd?
BG: We have three amazing doctors—all women with young children. These women share the work week, and because of that they are not overworked or burnt out. They give 100% of themselves to their patients and clients. They communicate with each other about cases, which brings more brain power and care to the health and well-being of the patient. Our new clients are scheduled for one-hour appointments and existing clients for 30-minute appointments. This gives us enough time to listen and understand what the client is trying to convey. After all, our patients can’t talk so the client is the conduit—and that, in part, is what we base our treatment plan on. Our staff is so medically knowledgeable and so creative that we are always evolving to greater and greater things. We stand out because I attained my GOAL!
CC: What do you look for when hiring your staff – particularly your medical staff?
BG: All my staff have medical knowledge because everyone will be touching patients everyday—so I consider all of my staff medical for this reason. Most everyone gets into this field because they love animals, but it is much much more than that. You must love to interact with people, and the pets are an extension of the people. The clients and patients are bonded and, as I said before, they are the conduit. First I look for loving, genuine people that have a tenderness to them. Then comes the ability to create a smooth running medical facility. The staff must also take ownership and pride in their job. Lastly, it’s not just a job. They have to respect and care for the people they work with. If we are not truly a family, then how can we expect our clients to feel as if they are family? I am so fortunate to say I have all of that in these seven wonderful women. We are small but mighty.
The role of nutrition in good pet care
CC: One of the areas that has been surprising is the myriad food options our customers give their kitty cats. In the last six months since we’ve opened, I think we’ve seen it all from organic food to grain-free to baby food and in between. Does our kitty cat’s diet really make a difference to their longevity?
BG: Nutrition definitely plays a key role in the health of our pets and, over the past decade, I’ve seen owners become more and more aware of this. Unfortunately, the pet food market has noticed that trend as well and has flooded the market with confusing diets and dietary trends. Now, when owners go to the pet store, they are met with aisles of options including “grain free”, “gluten free”, “raw” diets and more. This trend has made the task of choosing a diet quite daunting. Cats are obligate carnivores and need more protein and less carbohydrates in their diets than dogs do. Because they have very specific needs for certain nutrients in their diets (taurine, arginine, vitamin A), it is important to make sure that your diet is AAFCO approved. AAFCO is the organization that ensures your cat’s food is nutritionally balanced. Another factor to consider in your cat’s diet is their water intake. Cats do not have a strong thirst drive and may not fully compensate for the lack of moisture in dry food by increasing their water intake. Feeding food with a higher moisture content and encouraging water consumption can be very beneficial to your cats kidneys. Many cats enjoy running water and will be encouraged to drink more water from a fountain. For senior cats or cats with kidney disease, adding tuna water to their water bowl can also encourage them to drink more. Cats may also need special dietary changes if they have certain illnesses such as urinary tract disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. These changes can be suggested and made by your veterinarian.
CC: If you could do it all over again with the same knowledge you have today, what would you do differently? The same?
BG: Today is as close to perfect as humanly possible. Building blocks are an important part of growth. As you’re building them up sometimes they fall, but you just pick them up and try to surpass where you left off. Medicine is always changing drugs, care protocol and even behavior remedies. Our staff is so medically knowledgeable and so creative that we are always evolving to greater and greater things.
Pet care for purebred cats
CC: Club Cat was very sad to have recently lost a kitty cat who was in many ways the face of Club Cat. Bentley, a gorgeous Bengal, just missed his third birthday dying of renal failure. An autopsy revealed little Bentley had numerous health issues. Is adopting a purebred kitty cat taking a gamble because of their limited scope of genes?
BG: We certainly can see certain medical conditions genetically linked to specific breeds of cats. This does not mean that you should not buy a purebred cat if there is a breed that you are drawn to. What it does mean is that you should do some research on your breeder prior to buying a cat. The best way to decrease your probability of heartbreak is to go to a responsible breeder.
Traits to look for in a responsible breeder are:
Small size, your breeder should be breeding cats because they have a love for the breed not because certain cats can be sold for a high price. This will lead to a breeder only breeding cats that are genetically sound and avoid breeding any cats that have a condition that is hereditary.
There are also tests that can be run for certain conditions. For example, Bengals can have genetic testing for retinal atrophy that causes blindness and ultrasounds of the heart to look for HCM (a common feline heart disease).
Having breeding cats that have cleared these tests does not guarantee that your cat won’t have any health issues but it does help to decrease the risk.
Seeking the gold standard in pet care
CC: If someone is looking for a new pet clinic, what would you say the most important attributes are?
BG: First and foremost, seek a veterinary staff that is medically knowledgeable in all areas. Ideally, they will have close relationships with the veterinary specialists in the community like NPC does and, when needed, will communicate their patients’ medical conditions for free consultations. Another thing to look for is whether the clinic gets to know their customers and provides personalized services. For example, NPC provides potential customers with tours of the facility so they can see for themselves first-hand. And you can never underestimate the value of client reviews and word of mouth. For example, most of our clients are referrals from existing clients which is more valuable than any advertisement.