A Mixed-Breed Bag
For one New Hampshire couple, running a mixed-breed veterinary clinic has been a longtime calling.
When your patients range from family pets to production pigs, it calls for a good measure of adaptability. While mixed-breed clinics are not the norm, they do exist and their doctors and staff must address a wide array of expectations. “A client who spends $3,000 on an English Bulldog, knowing it will have many health issues throughout its life, will have very different expectations than a client who is raising production pigs,” said Jenni George, CVPM, who, together with her husband, Simon George, DVM, owns Deerfield Veterinary Clinic, a mixed-breed clinic in Deerfield, New Hampshire.
“Similarly, a client who spends $500,000 on a horse for breeding purposes will have very different expectations than a client who owns a Belgian horse for pulling equipment,” she continued. “We must be flexible enough to change our preconceptions of each of these clients, as well as our approach to each issue. We can’t be judgmental about our clients’ expectations, nor what they can (or cannot) afford for care. Every day, we do our best to help each of our clients and advocate for each of our patients.”
From 4H Club to clinic
The Georges are by no means novices at running a mixed-breed clinic. Long before they opened Deerfield Veterinary Clinic in 2007, they knew this was their future. At 16, when some of his friends undoubtedly were working towards purchasing their first car, Simon was dreaming about becoming a veterinarian and caring for livestock and horses, as well as small animals, recalled Jenni. “Simon grew up with dairy goats and for his 4H projects, he raised steers and pigs,” she said. His first experience working at a mixed animal practice was in Colorado, when he shadowed Dr. Jim Friedly, the veterinarian who cared for his 4H group’s animals.
The couple met as undergrads in college and eventually made their way to Colorado State University where he attended the School of Veterinary Medicine and she took a position at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital as an emergency receptionist and radiology assistant, while pursuing a graduate degree in public relations. After Simon’s graduation, the couple moved to New Hampshire to experience a different part of the country. Once there, they both joined Wadleigh Falls Veterinary Clinic, a mixed-breed practice owned by Dr. Irving Salkovitz. Simon furthered his experience in equine dentistry, small ruminant medicine, small animal surgery and treating pets, while Jenni worked as the clinic’s receptionist until the birth of their first child.
Looking to balance their family life with their careers, the Georges decided to open Deerfield Veterinary Clinic. The clinic was attached to their house, making it possible to continue their passion without missing out on time with their children (Elayna, now 15, Lucien, 12, and Stiorra, 8). Originally, their staff included the two of them and a certified veterinary technician. Since then, they’ve expanded to three additional associate veterinarians and a support team of 22 members. “Our patient load has grown so much, we haven’t been able to take on new small-animal patients for the past two years,” said Jenni. “Our clients are willing to travel for exceptional care and come from as far away as Boston, and even parts of Maine and Vermont. We are responsible for 4,000 horses and even more dogs.” The clinic’s patient load is composed of 50% dogs, 35% horses and 15% cats and livestock.
“All of our doctors are mixed-animal doctors,” said Jenni. In some cases, the clinic has hired some equine predominant associates and trained them to be small animal and livestock veterinarians as well. “It is easier to do this than to train small-animal veterinarians on large animals, especially if they have not had any previous experience with large animals. We practice this way to ensure that each of our veterinarians can treat all of our patients and cover our emergency on-call services. This is very important to our clients.” And, the variety of caring for a mix of herd animals, livestock and family pets is good for their doctors and staff as well, she added. “We love the constant change that comes with caring for mixed animals. Some days we are out on the road in the beautiful sunny weather, going from farm to farm, meeting with wonderful people. Other days, we may fix a broken leg on a goat that got stuck in a fence, perform c-sections on dogs to help bring life into the world or help elderly pets cross the rainbow bridge. Every day, we help both people and animals, and it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Still, not everyone feels the same way, creating a growing need for mixed-animal care, she said, particularly as more people take in animals such as goats and pigs as family pets. Unfortunately, as more veterinarians join large corporations, the number of mixed-breed practices – at least in New Hampshire – has decreased in recent years, according to Jenni. “We recently saw one local mixed-breed practice go out of business, and another sold to a corporation. We’re truly afraid for the mixed-animal industry as a whole.”
Family at heart
The Georges try to be supportive of their own doctors and staff, knowing very well the challenges of juggling work with the needs of their families. “We help them by changing on-call schedules whenever necessary, and we are in the process of building a childcare facility (as well as a gym) for our team members,” said Jenni. In fact, when they began their clinic, they envisioned it as central to their own children’s lives. “We liked the idea that they’d grow up in the clinic. And, indeed, Elayna, Lucien and Stiorra have viewed many surgeries and frequently join their parents on calls to check on livestock or horses. “It’s common to see the children chatting with clients, running bloodwork or comforting patients.
“In addition, one of our doctors, Robyn Eldredge, DVM, sometimes brings her own two sons (ages 14 and 9) to work on their days off from school,” she continued. One of the CVTs often brings her three-year-old, Zoey, to the office. Two other team members had babies in the last couple of years, and the practice team is expecting three more in 2022 – hence the need for a daycare! “We hope one of these children will want to become a veterinarian or veterinary technician when they grow up. It’s wonderful having them around, knowing they’re being raised by the entire DVC family.”
Looking ahead, the Georges anticipate hiring a fifth mixed-breed veterinarian. And they hope to open their daycare and gym facility within the next six months. “Apart from that, we just aim to continue offering the best possible patient care and customer service to our clients and our surrounding communities. We are confident we will continue to grow, yet we want to maintain the family-friendly atmosphere for our team members.
“We love being part of a small community, where we have come to know so many people. We take pride in our town, helping out with our local fair, road cleanups, sponsoring 5Ks and local sports teams, or helping raise money for such things as a school playground. We feel it’s especially important to be involved in, and supportive of, the community.
“When we began Deerfield Veterinary Clinic, we envisioned it as a place where our team could be a family. We’ll always respect and be there for one another. That will never change.”
Editor’s note: Jenni George has led two sessions at the Western Veterinary Conference titled, How to Have a Successful Veterinary Mixed Animal Practice, and cohosts the podcast, The Veterinary Survival Show, with CPA Mark McGaunn. For more information, please visit deerfieldvetclinic.com.