Gas prices fuel innovation for mobile veterinarians

Next time you find yourself grumbling at the gas pump, imagine being in the shoes of Jane Meier, DVM. Dr. Meier, owner of House Call Practice in Bonita, Calif., regularly drives 130 miles round trip to treat one of her patients.

High gas prices are putting the squeeze on mobile veterinarians like Meier. But by being creative and flexible, many are reporting that business has never been better.

How do they do it?

Since Meier’s fuel prices have doubled in the past year, she has been forced to raise her call fee.

“It’s based on how far I have to travel,” she explains. “I have made concentric circles around my home base and divided them into zones. Each zone is on a sliding scale. If the client is willing to pay my fee and work within the schedule, I will provide the service even if they are a long distance away.

“I also try to have clients schedule elective, nonemergency procedures far enough in advance so I can cluster calls in the same geographic area. My clients have been very cooperative about this” she adds.

Lea Knode, DVM, owner of House Paws In-Home Veterinary Care, has served clients in northern Virginia for 14 years. Her gasoline costs consume about 2 percent of revenue.

Knode tries to block-schedule appointments for house calls that are in the same area. She hasn’t raised her trip fee, but is less likely to take on a single pet at the outer edges of her service radius unless she already has clients in the general area.

Though the cost of refueling his 28-foot mobile unit has jumped from $50 to $120, Mike Thomann, DVM, owner of Greater Charlotte Mobile Veterinary Clinic, in Charlotte, N.C., has maintained the same service range and $25 trip fee.

For veterinarians and their clients, spiraling gas prices cut both ways, he says.

“Clients like me coming to them so they don’t have to waste gas and money driving their pet to and from the animal hospital.

“I have increased my exam and professional fees,” he says, “and have minimized discounts.”

Nevertheless, business is booming, he said.

“We are no longer accepting new clients unless they have three or more pets,” Thomann says.

However, after 14 years in practice, Thomann is entertaining the idea of letting someone else take the wheel, as he turns his attention to another area of interest that is “picking up.”

He just licensed a pooper-scooper with a built-in flashlight for use at night.

“I might be retired soon and collect royalties from my invention,” he muses.