We welcome our veterinary overlords! Well, kind of, but not really. Yesterday’s announcement that Mars PetCare acquired VCA for 7.7 billion was a shocker to everyone I know in the pet care industry, which just goes to show you us peons are always the last to know.
Disclosure: I am speaking only for myself here and from my own experiences.
I spent part of my career at Banfield, which is part of the growing Mars empire. That wasn’t the case when I joined, when veterinary clinics were almost entirely veterinarian-owned, including Banfield itself. Scott Campbell, the DVM owner, stood in front of my little group of new hires and promised us with all sincerity that Banfield would never, ever be sold to a corporate entity, a promise he kept for all of four years. It was the first domino to fall in corporate ownership, which many had predicted and he insisted never would.
I left Banfield before the Mars buyout to work in an emergency hospital owned by a husband/wife vet team, and then I came back to Banfield after my second child. In the interim Banfield had undergone the Mars turnover, and to be honest, there was a lot to like. They had implemented evidence-based medicine and were compiling a clinical database the likes of which we had never seen, allowing veterinary medicine to conduct clinical research on a scale that has never been done before. Their anesthesia protocol book is to this day one of my favorite veterinary resources.
The 24 hour emergency hospital I worked at was a bit of a Wild West environment in that we had more leeway and less oversight, in a crazy busy environment; as you can surmise this is both a good and a bad thing depending on who is at the wheel. I learned a ton in a trial by fire way, but I also had little to no safety net. (That hospital was later acquired by VCA, and is also now part of the Mars empire. There’s no escape!) There’s pros and cons to everything, as a client, and as an associate.
Mars: Chocolate and Pets are a Natural Fit
(that’s a joke)
With yesterday’s acquisition, Mars Petcare is now the largest moneymaker in the Mars divisions. After the big Banfield takeover in 2007, things quieted down, but for the last couple of years Mars has been on a tear. They almost doubled the number of hospitals they owned with yesterday’s news, which is the biggest since they bought Iams/Eukanuba off Procter and Gamble in 2014. They own a lot of pet companies.
That’s a lot of pet hospitals, pet foods, labs, and pet foods. What’s more, it’s two of the biggest hospital groups in the country, now under one umbrella. (Note: The affiliation with Western University’s teaching hospital ended at the end of its ten year contract, in 2014.)
On the one hand, when you consider there’s about 29,000 veterinary clinics in the US, the total now owned by Mars seems like a drop in the bucket. Around 7%:
On the other hand, I’m not naive enough to think this trend stops right here. That’s probably what optometrists and pharmacists said way back in the good old days, too.
So What Does This Mean?
I wish I could tell you, but just like everyone else, I can only guess and postulate. Let me be clear: I am 100% neutral on this. I am Corporate Switzerland. When I had two young children, working for Banfield offered me the most stable hours and a good salary in an environment where I was able to practice very good medicine. I always felt empowered to do what was best for my patients, including referring to outside hospitals, deferring vaccines, providing the best pain management I had access to, scripting out meds. I never felt obligated to recommend Mars-owned pet foods and felt free to discuss any brand prescription diets I wanted to.
I know there’s lots of horror stories out there too, and I don’t imply they don’t exist. Asses are everywhere, and they are asses because they are asses, not because of where they work. They spread their miasma wherever they go, and I’ve encountered it in environments corporate and private. The veterinarians you will encounter in a corporate practice were educated in the same places, cry the same amount in frustration, care the same way, stand up for the patients, and occasionally prove themselves poor examples of the profession, in exact same proportions as vets in privately owned practices.
To the same extent corporate ownership increases bureaucracy and headaches, it pumps much needed investment into failing businesses, brings in better medical oversight, and can offer more diverse opportunities for employees and customers.
It also provides more leverage for buying power and advertising, which often squeezes out mom-and-pop operations without those same advantages. I can understand why so many business owners are worried. It’s a valid worry.
Bottom line: As a client, I don’t think you’re going to see big changes, at least not in the short term. If you have concerns, talk to your veterinarian. We’re all trying to sort out what this means too- as far as I know we all found out this morning when you did too.
As a veterinarian: Buckle up. I anticipate much hand waving in the near future. Do we welcome our veterinary corporate overlords or join the rebel alliance?
If you have any insight from the trenches, please do comment.
“Excited about my new bag of @halopets food! Human is acting like he doesn’t seem me sitting here ready to eat.”
When asked if Kale eats a vegan diet, he replied:
“…with the exception of the occasional grasshopper or spider outside lol yes. The changes in my coat and my energy have been great.”
Thanks Kale for sharing your thoughts. We hope you continue to enjoy your Halo vegan food.
Halo Vegan Garden Medley is a complete and balance all-vegan kibble & cans with WHOLE ingredients and highly digestible proteins. Plus, we donate a bowl to shelters every time YOU buy!
The Duffy family in Northern Ireland had to buy their two-year-old dog Teddy a new ID tag after they renamed her “Super Teddy.” What earned her the new name? Twice in as many months, Teddy acted like a hero for the family. Teddy may not be the fastest dog alive or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but she is definitely a super dog.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, the first time that Teddy acted like a hero involved a phone. Aaron Duffy told reporters that Teddy “alerted us that an iPhone charger was catching fire.” The second time was Teddy sounding an even more serious alert – that five-year-old Riley Gedge-Duffy’s life was in danger.
Riley has Down syndrome. The family told ITV that he enjoys hiding himself and can’t understand certain dangers. While Aaron’s wife, Gillian, was vacuuming one Sunday, Teddy “ran upstairs and basically went berserk so she knew something was not right.” Gillian told ITV “She was running in and out of the room looking at me, wanting me to follow her, and it just clicked that there was something up.”
Gillian ran downstairs shouting “Where’s Riley?” because she knew that her five-year-old son was in danger. Gillian then saw Teddy running back and forth to their dryer machine, “barking like mad.”
I have a pit/greyhound 9 years old
She is a wonderful people dog BUT…
A Crazy Animal Aggressive Dog
Hates other animals and wants to kill them
this makes for tough dog walks
just bought a walk your dog with love harness
works great for walking but as soon as she sees another dog
she still goes nuts spinning and pulling
will a prong collar work I am concerned she will hurt herself ??
BAD RAP Blog
Just a friendly reminder for those of you living under Arctic conditions this weekend. It’s currently 13 degrees here in sunny Canton, Ohio, and Penny is keeping my lap warm for me! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
Welcoming in the New Year means it’s time to get our home organized after a busy holiday season. That starts with a thorough house cleaning. The seasonal cleanup is magnified for pet households…
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WFTS, the ABC affiliate in Tampa, is reporting on a Pit Bull mix who apparently really, really didn’t want to wear a sweater. Brenda Guerrero thought the dog might look good in a sweater. Scarface apparently did not agree. He attacked Brenda, severely injuring her arms. When her husband, Ismael, tried to intervene, he, too, […]
You’ve probably seen the magnets and mugs that ask “Who Rescued Who [sic]?” and maybe even have one of your own. For Eva Hachey in New Brunswick, Canada, that question is more than rhetorical.
According to CTV News, Eva adopted her dog Bruno from her local SPCA. Most people would say that means that she saved Bruno’s life. However, recently Bruno returned the favor by saving Eva’s life.
Eva’s daughter, Angel Hutchinson, lives with her and normally sleeps quite soundly. However one night, Bruno began nipping at Angel’s fingers. “He was howling and crying and whining and dancing and I knew something was wrong.”
Angel reacted quickly. She first ran to her grandmother’s bedroom, but then saw Eva in a chair in the living room having a seizure. Angel called the paramedics who were able to help Eva. All Eva remembered was falling asleep, then waking to see “a whole bunch of paramedics” in her living room. The paramedics informed her that she had seizure. They also informed Eva that she had a potentially fatal ruptured brain aneurysm. It was good that Bruno got Angel to help her mom. As Angel said, “If it wasn’t for the dog, my mother wouldn’t be here.”
Eva told CTV News that she wanted to share Bruno’s story in hopes that it would encourage people to adopt from shelters. Although she acknowledges that not every shelter pet will be a literal lifesaver, she thinks that the love is worthwhile. Eva summed up her thoughts on pet adoption by coming back to love. As Eva said, “The only reward that we can get and give is love.”
Vegan Recipe Donation Explores Meatless Monday Effort
Halo Pets is working with select animal shelters to help reduce carbon paw prints with a Meatless Monday effort that incorporates Halo’s Vegan recipe into shelter dogs’ diets. The participating shelters include Second Chance Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, Humane Society of Tampa Bay in Florida, and Dutchess County SPCA in New York.
To avoid digestive issues, animal shelters must be consistent with diet and cannot change food for one day, but Halo had an idea. If animal shelters mixed 1/7th of vegan dog food into the daily mix of dog food it would equal Meatless Monday!
“We are excited about being part of Meatless Monday and the Halo food donation has helped save the lives of many animals, ” said Sheryl Blancato, executive director for Second Chance Animal Shelter. “Since foregoing meat even one day per week has an impact on the environment, imagine the difference we can make with all of the dogs at an animal shelter going meatless on Monday!”
Halo teamed up with GreaterGood.org and Freekibble.com to supply the shelters with free food for the Meatless Monday effort. They have been mixing Halo Vegan and Halo WHOLE Meat recipes for the dogs in their care. All three shelters are reporting that the process is simple and the dogs love the food!