Senior Dogs, Super Moms, and Singular Service

Julie Buzby, DVM, talks to Central Line about her life as a mom and homeschooler of eight kids, small business owner, and former practice owner.

By Katie Berlin

A Conversation with Julie Buzby, DVM

Julie Buzby, DVM, is a mom and homeschooler of eight kids, a small business owner, and a former practice owner. Buzby wears a lot of hats but she seems perfectly at home in each one—and truthfully doesn’t even seem to think of them as different. This warm, down-to-earth veterinarian leads with a quiet grace, and if you don’t know her, you’ll soon know why photos and stories from her Veterinary Encouragement Conference flood social media every year.

Katie Berlin, DVM: I have Dr. Julie Buzby here with me today. And Dr. Julie is a really special guest because it was her podcast that I was on as my very first podcasting experience. And clearly I caught the bug because there’s been a lot of podcasting since then. Julie, would you mind giving our readers, watchers, and listeners a little background on yourself and what it is you’re passionate about?

Julie Buzby, DVM: I’m a veterinarian. I graduated from Kansas State University in 1997. I had worked for equine veterinarians all through high school and vet school, and they did chiropractic and acupuncture in addition to just a traditional full service equine practice. And I was always the one holding the horse and watching them respond and listening to the riders. So I was fully on board with integrative practice and soon after graduation, got certified through the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and did certification in acupuncture through IVAS (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society).

I wanted zero kids. I don’t even like kids, but God had other plans and I have eight kids. And I also never wanted to own a business. I love it when everybody’s happy, but I’m nonconfrontational and not good as a boss. So I didn’t want to own my own business, but I owned my own practice for almost 10 years. And now through a crazy turn of events, I have a business that’s sort of related to the veterinary industry. And so that’s what I do to stay busy.

KB: And there’s a little thing on the side you do, the Veterinary Encouragement Conference, where a lot of moms come together and do amazing things and have a really incredible time. Can you talk about that a little?

JB: Many of the things I see mom vets go through are things that I can relate to. I’ve been there, I’ve cried those tears, I’ve lost those nights of sleep. My heart is with these women. During COVID, seeing the isolation that all of us were experiencing, I was thinking: What can I do for this group of women who I love?

It was during COVID and so nobody was really thinking about conferences. We had 18 months to plan the Veterinarian Encouragement Conference for moms. The goal was encouragement and focus on community. Many of the moms left saying it was more like a retreat than a conference. I was really happy with that analysis, because that was my goal: Even though we’re all over the world, and in different walks of life—different ages, different places—we still really understand each other’s lives very uniquely.

KB: I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about the conference. I’m not a mom, but I see that in people I’m very close to that I’ve worked alongside in the clinic, that they’re just torn in two directions all the time. I love the idea of being able to embrace all of that, in one place and feel like you’re in solidarity with all these other people who understand deeply. That’s something I think we all discovered that we needed during COVID, not just moms. So I love that, and I hope you can keep doing it for a long, long time because it looks like you’re doing good for a lot of moms.

JB: It’s been a huge blessing for me. It’s that kind of thing where you’re like, let me do this to be helpful, but you’re the one who gets the most out of it. It’s been fabulous.

KB: Okay, so, you have the conference, you have Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips, which is the business that you referred to. You ran a vet clinic, you have eight kids. There’s a lot of layers to you, but you’re always wearing some kind of hat in those layers. Is there a place that you can go where you’re just Julie and you don’t have to have a title?

There are so many things that we share in common, but the walk is a little bit different for everybody and we can support each other in that. Julie Buzby, DVM

JB: That’s a great question, and I’m going to say no. But the good news is, every day is full of challenges. I really am thankful to be at a place—I was not always here—but I’m in a place where I’m just content in my life. My battery recharging is part of my everyday life. So just picking up my dog and cuddling him for five minutes, that’s me time.

When I work with ToeGrips and my team, it’s so fulfilling for me, because I get to use the creative side of my brain. I’m a massive extrovert, and we’re planning a big trade show season, so I know I’ll be working with people and seeing people. All of these things that are just a part of my daily schedule are a place where I find comfort and rest and fulfillment.

KB: That’s wonderful. That’s really a good point to make. For some people, balance could look like a complete absence of balance for other people. If you’re happy in your life, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else’s ideas and boundaries are.

JB: I think that’s a really great point to recognize that we all bring our own individual personalities, values, experiences. There are so many things that we share in common, but the walk is a little bit different for everybody and we can support each other in that.

KB: One thing I wanted to ask you about was, when you’re dealing with senior pets, you’re dealing with a lot of memories and emotional attachment, fear of judgment, and the bittersweetness of watching your pet age. Those nuances make senior care a special art. ToeGrips are a small product that sometimes you won’t even notice, and at the same time they can make such a huge difference. Can you talk a little bit about if you have a special love for senior pets and what motivated you to make this your business?

JB: Yes. Because I was certified in chiropractic and acupuncture, I was seeing mostly senior patients that were coming from mobility and pain management. And you nailed it. The reason I was so drawn to this group is because the people had this lifetime of stories with this animal.

Life progresses at this rapid, crazy breakneck speed and things happen. So the dog has been through these milestones, maybe a divorce where the dog was there for them more than a human. It’s almost like a sacred relationship where this dog is their anchor in their life.

Often people would come as a last resort, saying, we need help or this dog’s going to get put to sleep. So I am like, okay, good, we’ve got tools in the toolbox. We’ve got some things we can try. Then I would work with their regular vet, and we would coordinate care. But the thing that I could never really impact was slipping, because slipping is a biomechanical problem.

I would tell people to line their house with yoga mats or carpet runners, and that works. The problem is these dogs often run hot and they like to go lie on the cold hard floors. And then they have to get up off the cold hard floors. So ToeGrips are traction that travels, they can go anywhere, including to the vet’s office and have the security and the traction that they need. There’s the physical component of being able to move well, but also there’s the emotional component of confidence that means for the dog.

The best solution is typically the simplest solution that still works. So they’re simple, they’re minimally obtrusive, and because they’re just on the nail tips and they’re not covering skin or soft tissue, dogs almost always, like very, very rarely is this an issue. They just don’t even notice them.

Pet owner is on laptop with senior dog next to her

KB: This is not a commercial for ToeGrips, but I think it’s important that we talk about them because to me, they are symbolic of what we talk about when it comes to senior care, which is the bond, how little things can make a huge difference, how people can be really resistant to treatment for all sorts of reasons, even if they love their dog so much. ToeGrips are actually just little tiny tubes, and they go on each nail and they’re like little grippies, like those yoga socks with toes, except that they don’t cover the foot.

You had mentioned that sometimes you get calls from people who are returning the ToeGrips because dog passed away or whatever reason. And that’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about because you’re known for your customer service and that’s super important to you.

JB: Thank you for even calling that out because that’s more important to me than anything else we could talk about. It was the same when I owned a veterinary practice. There’s a proverb that says a good name is worth far more than great riches. That’s my mantra for how we run the company.

In social media reviews, it just makes me so happy to hear people say I bought a 30-some-dollar product and they treated me like a million dollar customer. That was one of our reviews. You can’t go wrong with old-fashioned customer service.

The best solution is typically the simplest solution that still works. Julie Buzby, DVM

KB: I agree. And you end up gaining a lot more than you would ever give away, even in accommodating a customer request that might cost you a little bit at that time. I still remember an interaction I had with a Zappos customer service representative, like 10 years ago, because they were so great to me on the phone. I don’t even shop at Zappos very much, but if I do, I’m very confident. And I want that too, for people who are dealing with the business that I’m a part of.

JB: I think it’s really important, especially in this day and age of veterinary medicine, to distinguish that that doesn’t mean you let clients bully you or bully your staff—absolutely not. But so many issues can be proactively avoided or calmly resolved with good communication. That’s probably the number one recipe for great customer service.

KB: Have you ever been the person, like the client whose head was exploding, and you’re saying okay, if they just treated this interaction a little differently, I would not be feeling like my head is going to explode right now?

JB: Yes. I was just rear-ended, and I had no intention of getting a lawyer, because, God bless the lawyers, but that’s not who I am, and that’s not who I want to be. I am just going to get my car fixed. But I could not get the other insurance company to call me back for 13 days.

KB: What?

JB: After about day eight of calling, calling, calling, and no communication, I’m like, “I’m getting a lawyer.” Not because I’m suing anybody, but I just need someone to help me with this communication, because I can’t even, we’re not having communication. So, this insurance company is going to end up paying more money, because now they’re going to pay his fees and fix my car, etc. Had they just respectfully communicated with me off the bat and transparently, they would have saved so much money, but they just obviously have some problems in their processes that they were not on the ball.

KB: For me, it was always a pharmacy. For some reason, when I lived in Texas I just had the biggest issues getting a prescription filled at the Albertsons pharmacy in Dallas. I didn’t understand why it was so hard. No one was explaining it to me, and they were acting like I’m being a problem. Then I became a problem.

They could have had it filled or they could have treated me well and I could have just gone about my day. Instead, there was a bad interaction, then my head was just—poof—spiny and poisonous like a puffer fish. That is exactly what happened. That’s where so much of the negative client interactions we have come from—it just was going to take that one little thing, then that client puffer-fishes and it’s too late to make it not happen.

JB: I have a proverb for that one, too: A gentle answer turns away wrath. I was customer service for ToeGrips for the first two years. I mean, I was answering the emails, I was fielding it all. And it was rare, but if we had somebody who was puffer-fished, fired up, I like 99.99% of the time, this works. If I would just listen and show empathy, take responsibility for what I needed to and just be gentle. Instantly their tone would come down and we could have a logical conversation and accomplish something.

KB: Yeah, you just want to be treated like your opinion is important and like your time and experience are important. And it’s very hard to be rude to somebody who’s being really genuinely nice to you.

JB: That’s a great point.

In social media reviews, it just makes me so happy to hear people say I bought a 30-some-dollar product and they treated me like a million dollar customer. That was one of our reviews. You can’t go wrong with old-fashioned customer service. Julie Buzby, DVM

KB: Okay, so you mentioned your team. You have a lot going on in your life. Do you have help? You have a team that helps you with ToeGrips, so you’re not customer service anymore. You have eight kids that you homeschool. Do you have help doing those things, so you don’t have to be 12 places at once?

JB: Yes, I completely believe that it takes a village. Many of us as veterinarians think we can do it all, that we’re the super people, but we’re not—or at least I’m not. In the beginning, I couldn’t afford help. My husband and I were shipping ToeGrips off of our kitchen table.

It was that classic start of a small business, but as we grew and we were able to hire people, that was such a gift, not only to free up time, but also to make us more efficient and more scalable. In my personal life, my husband’s very much involved.

I also had someone in my life, Brittany, for a decade. She wanted to be a homeschool mom someday. She was married, but her husband worked a lot, and so she spent a ton of time with her family, and she worked for us.

And the cool thing is, through that interaction and probably through watching me suture my children on the kitchen table—she decided she was going to nursing school. Brittany now is in nursing school, and the kids are also older, so we don’t have anybody helping us at home as much, but it still feels like that village where I’ve got friends or neighbors who are picking somebody up or driving someone here. I actually teach two days a week, just a class two days a week in a homeschooling co-op.

KB: That’s nice because, again, it has the community of parents coming together, using their strengths, and helping a bunch of people learn.

You said you’re not superwoman. If anyone is superwoman in this industry, I think it might be you, Julie Buzby. You had talked about your conference, it’s got the word “encouragement” in the title. We hear the word “empowerment” a lot. Are empowerment and encouragement the same to you, or are they different things?

JB: Not for me, because empowerment, to me, often comes through education, and that’s your experience. Encouragement’s all about the heart. My brain’s not much a part of it. Raising eight humans, when they were babies, I had full control. I dictated how our life was going to go. Now, I have six teenagers, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s I don’t have much control over this situation.

KB: Or your refrigerator.

JB: True, true. With ToeGrips, I’m so blessed by the trajectory that we’ve been on, and the amazing people we work with, but nothing’s perfect. There are things that come up, whether it be that one rare, nasty customer interaction, or finding out that there’s a competitor who’s playing dirty.

So, I struggle greatly with discouragement on a daily basis, and I’m so thankful for the people that build encouragement into me. Professionally, I think we need a real gigantic, healthy dose of it— but it’s not empowerment, even though that’s also important.

KB: I love what you’ve said. Thinking about what empowerment would mean to me, it’s always to do something: to be more, do more, learn more, and that’s great. But when you’re feeling discouraged, it can be really exhausting to think about having to be empowered to go do something.

Encouragement implies that you are just giving the person support when they’re sinking a little bit, and they don’t have to be anything other than what they are right now. So many of us feel that we have to be striving for something, and just having somebody say, “no, you’re enough, you can do it, I can help you, and I understand”; it’s very powerful.

JB: Yes, helping doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to help you achieve something greater, more, or the next level, I’m just going to help you by listening, by hugging you, by validating your feelings. I’m just going to help you by being near you. It’s just a heart matter for me.

Veterinarian is reassuring an upset technician

KB: You don’t need any special skills to do it, you just need to be there. I love learning things, and sometimes I need to remind myself just to slow down, and have somebody maybe encourage me, just to chill. And I don’t have eight kids, so I think if I had eight kids, I would definitely want to chill, and not have any time to do it, so. It’s always looking over into the other person’s yard, and trying to see, what they’re dealing with, and then encourage them when they’re doing that, and not what you would think they should be doing.

KB: And Julie, you seem like one of the most open, generous people. Every interaction that we’ve ever had, you just light up when you talk to people. I know you’re an extrovert, and when you ask questions, you really want to know the answer. That is a really special gift, so I’m really glad that it’s you who had these ideas, and you who are really taking on extra work to encourage as many people as possible.

JB: Well, thank you, I am not perfect, but I do think we can all do something to encourage someone, I really believe that.

KB: I love it. I think that’s the best takeaway there could possibly be from today, and I hope that it inspires somebody to go out and just say, “Hey, that person looks like they could need a little boost, and I’m gonna be the boost.”

JB: I love it. Thank you.

KB: Julie, thank you for being a light in this profession, and you’re a quiet light, you don’t seem to want to be in the spotlight, but generously provide encouragement to anybody who needs it.

We do offer ToeGrips in the AAHA store, but it’s a link that will take them to your site, and that’s really important to you. Would you just mention why that is?

JB: For 10 years, we never sold ToeGrips on Amazon. On our own site, we can control the customer journey, we can control the response that the customer gets if there’s a problem. On Amazon, we can’t, because they want to be in control of all that. Unfortunately, we have had other companies just take our name, take our tagline, and infringe on our patent. So finally, last November, we went on Amazon just to defend our product and our IP. That is why we’re there, so people who are searching see us and don’t just buy a competitor product that doesn’t have the support and all the years of research and background that we do.

We have a retail store, we also have wholesale for veterinarians, so veterinarians can buy wholesale for themselves, for their technicians, or obviously for their clients. Even if ToeGrips are not the right product for a patient, I can almost guarantee you that the client will walk away feeling valued and feeling like they had a good experience, and so I’m really proud to be able to offer that ancillary kind of service to practices who carry our products.

KB: That’s such a good indicator of who you are as a person. I really appreciate your time, and wisdom, and all of the things that you do for our community.

Photo credits: Anna_Belova/iStock via Getty Images Plus, Jenae Escobar/E+ via Getty Images, TommL/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Links Mentioned in This Article

Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips

Veterinary Encouragement Conference



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