Author Archives: Hadley Rush

Pet Insurance 30th Anniversary in the US

Dr. Jack Stephens, the US pet insurance pioneer, sits with his pets.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of pet health insurance in the United States. October 1980 was the month that I incorporated California Veterinary Services to officially start the process of forming the first company dedicated only to pet health insurance.

Initially fifty veterinarians funded the company at $500 apiece to begin acquiring actuarial data, developing a policy and obtaining state licensing in California. That fifty grew into over 900 veterinarians who invested on average $2,000 each, with most at the minimum investment of $500 to fund the first pet insurance I had founded. Eighteen months later, the company’s subsidiary was approved by the state and pet health insurance sales started in the United States.

Previously there had been several other attempts by insurance companies and entrepreneurial efforts to start pet insurance in the United States, but all failed as did many others in the next fifteen years. After all, Sweden and the United Kingdom had successful pet insurance plans, why not in the U.S. where we are passionate about our pets? Today there are a dozen insurance companies offering pet health insurance, two since 1997-98 and the others more recently, including our own Pets Best Insurance, underwritten by Aetna Insurance Company of Connecticut.

Starting pet health insurance and eventually leaving my successful small animal practice to pioneer pet insurance in the United States was not even fathomable when I graduated from Veterinary School or operating my own practice. After all, I had several veterinary practices at the time and had plans, even the lot to build the first luxury boarding facility; I had named the Pet Regency Hotel.

But a small, white mixed breed dog named Buffy changed my life, putting my practices on hold and abandoning my luxury boarding facility. And even more importantly this dog’s fate eventually changed the entire history of pet health insurance in the U.S.—from one of successive failures to a huge success.

Pet insurance has saved countless millions of pets from euthanasia or not receiving needed care due to finances. My defining moment was a few weeks after I had examined Buffy for a serious and acute illness where the owner elected euthanasia instead of allowing me to diagnose and treat Buffy. I remember it as if it was yesterday; my wife and I were walking down the aisle of the local Ralphs grocery store near my practice when we met the client and her daughter who had previously been in my office with Buffy. Upon meeting; the client said to her daughter, “Honey, you remember Dr. Stephens, don’t you?” She replied, “Yes, he is the man who killed my dog!”

I was stunned and sick to my stomach; after all I was there to save pets. My life’s work was to cure pets and restore them to loving homes. It was the mother who was unwilling or unable to afford the care for Buffy. This encounter from the young girl changed me and my life in an instant. I would often provide pet care at a discount, for nothing or on credit if required.

Although I was never asked in Buffy’s situation, there is a limit to how much care veterinarians can provide and operate a business successfully. I had often thought there had to be a better way for pets that would allow pet owners to afford unexpected accidents and illness. After getting over the shock, I told my wife I will not put pets to sleep over money and I will find a way that pet owners can budget and afford the care, without veterinarians always being expected to discount or treat pets for free.

That episode was in 1979 and quickly I began to lobby the local veterinary association that we as a profession had to do something to make it feasible for all pet owners to be able to plan for their pets care. They appointed me to a committee, where new ideas typically die. But with the encouragement of the Executive Director then of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, Don Mahan I persevered, much at my own expense and time to formulate the best option; pet health insurance.

After repeated rejections from insurance companies, I set about drumming up support for funding and organizing an insurance company devoted only to pets around the state. Like me, every veterinarian had similar experiences and hated putting pets to sleep due to cost. My profession liked the concept and idea of forming an insurance company.

With the help of a core group of veterinarians and investment from the 900 veterinarians, I raised nearly $2million to form and fund the first and now oldest pet insurance company. After 24 years, I left that company and formed Pets Best Insurance to take my experience and knowledge to change pet insurance and make it better and more relevant for pet owners. Thus the name “Pets Best.” From my experience, a great team, and improved attitude towards pet insurance it only took 3 years to break even and four to turn a profit, as compared to over 15 years with the first one! The internet also played a key role in reducing cost and improving awareness.

Pet insurance is now becoming the norm for pet owners to consider in protecting their pets and their pocketbook. I can now look at the overall pet health insurance industry and the many options available to pet owners with satisfaction that millions of pets will receive care that their owners otherwise would not be able to afford with pet health insurance. And it was all due to a typical occurrence in a veterinary practice, a child’s perception and value she placed on a small dog!

A day in the life of an animal rescuer

Jayda, a former shelter dog waits to be adopted.By: Lisa Deanne Gilman
The Rescue Train, for Pets Best Insurance

As a child I never said, “When I grow up I want to run an animal rescue.” So how did I end up dedicating my adult life to saving dogs and cats from euthanasia, and placing them in loving homes? It started when I visited an L.A. city animal shelter and a shelter worker informed me that a large number of adoptable shelter dogs and cats were euthanized every week because they had too many animals and not enough homes.

I was shocked that in the creative and affluent city of Los Angeles this was their solution to this problem. I remember standing in the loud, overcrowded kennel looking into all the dogs’ scared eyes and my heart just broke. Their faces haunted me and I could just not turn my back. And so my journey began.

After a decade of rescue work and over a thousand adoptions, I can tell you that running an animal rescue is not an easy job. For the staggering number of animals who need help every day it’s often life or death.

Pet overpopulation is a national crisis. The Humane Society of The United States estimates 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters across the country each year. Rescuers know that spaying and neutering is the solution to this crisis; however, getting local communities, city and state governments to agree on how to deal with the issue is difficult. Often times, pet insurance companies will even cover a portion of spaying and neutering in their benefits because they understand the importance.

People often tell me they can’t visit animal shelters because it makes them sad. Animal shelters make rescuers sad, too, but we refuse to let our emotions get in the way of saving lives. We understand we can’t save them all but we can and do make a difference. Alone, rescuers have shed many tears for animals they can’t save. But they get up the next day and get back into the ring as they fight for those creatures who can’t speak for themselves.

The number of lives we can save is dictated by the amount of funds raised. On any given day I can go into the shelter and have the funds to save five animals when 30 are facing euthanasia. How do I pick? In truth, it never gets easier. On The Rescue Train we try to have a diverse group of animals up for adoption. However there are certain animals that you come across that just tug at your heartstrings. Because of their age, breed or a treatable medical condition they will not get adopted by the public without some extra help. Those special cases can often be the most rewarding when they find their way home.

A typical day finds a rescuer going to the animal shelters, taking their rescues to vet appointments, rescuing animals living on the street, recruiting volunteers, answering phone calls and e-mails from people who want to give up their pet or who have found a lost or stray animal. We also educate the public on responsible pet ownership, go to adoption events, hold fundraisers, and visit kennels and foster homes to spend time with the animals in our care. But our favorite part of the job is delivering a dog or cat to its new forever home. There is no greater joy than when an animal who was so close to death gets adopted and becomes an important family member.

Every adoption is a victory and a joy, but there are some that stick out in my mind: PJ the golden retriever mix who was adopted for a little boy whose father had passed away, Liberty the beagle who helped her owner through her breast cancer treatments, and Tony who was labeled a hard to place dog until he was trained to be a companion for a woman in a wheelchair just to name a few.

As rescuers we know that every time we save an animal there is the possibility that this animal can make a profound impact on one person’s life. We dream of a day when our services won’t be needed, where there is a loving home waiting for every dog and cat in the world.

Note: Lisa Deanne Gilman is The Executive Director of The Rescue Train ( a Los Angeles based, 501(c)3, nonprofit, no kill dog and cat rescue dedicated to eliminating animal suffering and euthanasia through hands on rescue work, education and awareness.

Spaying and neutering, a pet owner’s decision

A dog is tended to by a veterinarian.
Not only can pet spaying & neutering be good for pet health and for the general pet population, but it’s also becoming more affordable.

As towns across the country seek to get pet overpopulation under control, spay and neuter clinics are becoming easier to find. Also, those looking for low cost spaying and pet neutering should check with their pet insurance provider, as the procedure is often covered.

Some cat and dog insurance companies will provide limited coverage for spaying and neutering with wellness and routine care plans. Why? Because having a pet spayed or neutered is part of responsible pet ownership, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The AVMA website is a wealth of information on pet health topics. The non-profit association, established in 1863, posted an entire collection of scientific papers related to pet neutering. Topics range from establishing the ideal age for the procedure, benefits and impacts, and risks.

One of the published studies, Determining the Optimal Age for Gonadectomy of Dogs and Cats by Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT, found that having pets fixed helps pet overpopulation in two ways. First, animals are unable to breed. Second, fixed pets are happier and more comfortable, and that means less dog behavior problems, less cat spraying to mark territory, and fewer pets relinquished to already-crowded shelters.

On the flip side, some industry professionals argue that spaying or neutering your dog can introduce some negative risk factors as well, including a greater incidence of obesity, a tripling of the risk for developing hypothyroidism and the possibility of acquired incontinence in female dogs. While most vets strongly believe that the risks outweigh the benefits, you should talk to your vet about what is right for your pet.

The scientific review concluded that complications from spaying and neutering are less likely when a dog is less than 2 years old, all pets in shelters should be fixed prior to adoption, and healthy dogs and cats not intended for breeding should be fixed before their first heat cycle.

Top four most poisonous foods for dogs

A pet owner shares some food with a dog .

We’ve all had the temptation. You’re eating something delicious and your dog looks up at you with those big puppy dog eyes, silently begging you to share your food with him. He may even do a trick or let out a little bark to get your attention.

Even though you want to give in and offer him a little bite from your plate, don’t do it! You never know what’s going to upset your pet’s tummy, or worse, make him sick. There are numerous foods that humans eat daily that are actually toxic and can even be deadly to dogs. Having the knowledge of which foods are poisonous foods to dogs can prevent you from accidentally harming your four legged best friend.

The following is a list of four of the most dangerous human foods your dog could ingest:

1. Chocolate and caffeine: The chemicals found in chocolate and caffeine are toxic and can lead to health issues including increased heart rate and seizures. Ingestion of chocolate can be fatal—dogs should get treatment immediately if they have consumed chocolate.
2. Onions and Garlic: These foods contain sulfoxides and disulfides, which cause anemia by damaging red blood cells. Onions are more toxic to dogs than garlic but both should be avoided.
3. Grapes—including raisins: Grapes can cause kidney damage that can eventually lead to kidney failure.
4. Macadamia nuts: The toxins found in these nuts have an effect on the nervous system, muscles and digestive system.

Although no pet owner wants to think about their pet in an emergency situation, for those who have purchased pet insurance, the emotional and financial stress can be alleviated if a pet ingests something toxic unexpectedly. When talking with your veterinarian about pet health and which human foods might be safe to share, it’s a good idea to also inquire about dog insurance.

Many veterinarians are quick to offer up the name of their favorite dog or cat insurance company, and they may even have first hand experience helping other clients file a pet insurance claim.

The next time your pet gobbles up something without your knowledge, or you offer up human food, contact your vet just to be sure your pet won’t have a bad reaction.

Thanksgiving Dinner and Your Pet

A tasty Thanksgiving dinner could be bad for pet health.By Chryssa Rich, a Marketing Associate for Pets Best, a pet insurance agency for dogs and cats

Our 16 year-old dog Hunter is so old he needs help getting on the couch or into a car. But somehow, he’s as agile as a puppy when the family gathers at the dining room table for a big meal. He strategically navigates the chair legs and places himself at our feet to catch what we drop. I’m pretty sure Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.

Although table scraps may not be good for pet health as a whole, some can be far worse. So before you sit down for this year’s big feast, take a look at which parts of Thanksgiving dinner our pets can enjoy with us, and which they should stay away from, from a pet insurance company’s point of view.

Turkey: Cats and dogs both love turkey, and it’s good for them. In fact, some homemade pet food diets include as much as 75% turkey. Go ahead and share a small piece of lean meat, but don’t give them skin or bones. Turkey skin is high in fat and sodium and can cause digestive issues and choking, and bones can splinter and cause serious pet health problems.

Stuffing: Stuffing is mostly bread, salt and fat, so it won’t offer any real nutritional value or crunch satisfaction for your pets. Go ahead and eat it all yourself.

Green Bean Casserole: Fido and Fluffy will have to skip this classic side dish. Onions can be toxic to dogs, and neither should have dairy, as it can cause diarrhea. However, raw green beans are good for them, so feel free to “accidentally” drop a couple of fresh bean bites on the kitchen floor while you’re preparing the meal.

Sweet Potato Casserole: This is another side dish your pets will have to enjoy before it reaches the dining room table. Prepared traditionally with marshmallows and brown sugar, sweet potato casserole is a bad idea for your pets. Instead, offer the occasional slice of raw sweet potato as a treat. Both will find it satisfying to chew on.

Cranberry Sauce: If you’ve ever watched a dog try to eat Jello, you can imagine why cranberry sauce or jelly might not be the best treat for yours. And it’s not likely a cat would take to the tart stuff, so you can skip trying to share this one. (They’ll be too busy bugging you for more turkey, anyway.) About 1/3 of pet food manufacturers currently use cranberries in their recipes, but the pet health benefits haven’t yet been proven.

Pumpkin Pie: Admit it; you don’t want to share your dessert with anyone. But just in case pleading eyes beg for a bite, you should know the truth about pie: it’s delicious, and it’s just for humans. The high fat content of the crust, plus the spices, sugar and dairy in the filling could cause digestive issues in pets. (If you let kitty lick a little ice cream or whipped cream, I won’t tell.) Canned natural pumpkin is good for cats and dogs, though, and small amounts mixed in with their regular food can help regulate the digestive system.

Holiday Hazards Happen to Pets

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When all is said and done, you can relax on Thanksgiving knowing that nothing in the traditional spread will likely cause serious pet health issues. Keep human food out of your pets’ reach, go easy on the treats and table scraps, and enjoy a lazy nap on the couch next to the fireplace after the big meal. I hear cats love football.

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