3 ways your veterinary practice can avoid problems with animal shelters, rescue groups
While plenty of veterinarians have had good experiences working with animal shelters and rescue groups, there’s probably an equal number of bad experiences and failed efforts out there—bridges burned, money lost, and disgruntled parties swearing never to work with each other again. But it’s likely that most of these bad experiences can be blamed on the fact that key elements were missing from the business arrangement—ones that wouldn’t be left out of any other client interaction.
Dr. Kevin Lowe, owner of Flint River Animal Hospital in Huntsville, Ala., is a practitioner with a mutually beneficial and successful relationship with a rescue group. When his practice first opened three years ago, Dr. Lowe was in desperate need of new clients. So when a few rescue groups in his community approached him for his veterinary services, he couldn’t refuse. But he was careful to protect himself and his new practice in the process.
“From the get-go, we told them that we were happy to work with them, but we still had to make money and build our business,” Dr. Lowe says.
It was that first line of open, honest communication that set the tone for what has now become a successful working relationship between Dr. Lowe and the rescue groups he continues to work with to this day.
“We had a mutual understanding from the beginning,” Dr. Lowe says. “We went through prices and services, agreed on the terms, and continued to review those prices as things changed over the years.”
Another secret to his success? Dr. Lowe believes in treating these groups as he would any other full-paying client. Every pet that comes to Flint River Animal Hospital goes home with a health report card, complete with the pet’s picture and details of the physical exam findings and treatment plan, if necessary.
“The rescue groups are no exception,” he says. “Those pets go home with a report card, too.”
Not only do the rescue groups appreciate the time and effort that Dr. Lowe gives their pets, but the report cards are good for his business, too. When any of the groups’ pets are adopted, the new owner goes home with all of the paperwork that was given to the rescue group over the course of the pet’s life. And many of these new owners return to his clinic to continue their pet’s care, even if they live across town.
This system has been working well for both the rescue groups and the staffers at Flint River Animal Hospital for years now. It’s been a great revenue booster, not to mention a reliable source of long-term clients for his practice. In fact, referrals from the rescue groups now account for approximately 30 percent of his new client base, a trend Dr. Lowe hopes will continue for years to come.
If you’re ready to realize the benefits of working with rescue groups (or shelters) in your area—or ready to try again—here’s Dr. Lowe’s advice:
1. Communicate often. Be honest and upfront from the beginning, and have open and frequent dialogue along the way. Many veterinarians’ bad experiences with rescue groups could have been avoided with good old-fashioned conversation. For example, if you plan to offer rescue groups a discounted rate for your services, be clear about the terms and conditions that apply.
2. Put it in writing. Whether vetted by an attorney or simply agreed to by both parties, your working relationship should be in writing. If someone tries to bend the rules—either the veterinary clinic or the rescue group—there’s a document for both parties to refer to. Also, be sure to designate an individual who approves procedures for the rescue group, too. The group’s foster owners may drop off a pet and ask for an additional service, but they’re not paying the bill, the rescue group is. Get an authorized approval in writing for any service—before it’s done.
3. Have fun and learn. Of course it’s a good source of supplemental revenue and a potential client booster, but don’t lose sight of the other benefits that come with this kind of business relationship. For Dr. Lowe, working with rescue groups gave him the opportunity to expand his skill set and increase his surgery caseload when he was just starting out in practice.