By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians like all professionals continue their education (CE) after they graduate to keep up with all the many changes, discoveries and to learn about new technology. Gaining a degree is only the first step in what should be a lifelong journey of learning. In veterinary medicine there is a plethora of CE opportunities locally, regionally and nationally. The abundance of courses teaching new knowledge astounds me. Frankly it is intimidating for busy veterinary practitioners to maintain the pace of being informed on new techniques for surgery or diagnostics to uncover a disease. You should know that attendance by your veterinarian is at an all time high with an increasing number of CE opportunities. For instance, one that struck me was a new DNA test that eliminates the guessing of a dogs breed. According to the Western Veterinary Conference, which I attended last week one company was introducing a Breed Identification Test that will allow your veterinarian to unlock the mystery of the primary breeds involved in a mixed breed dog.
You might ask, “Why is that important?” Most of us are quite happy with our mixed breed dogs. In fact, mixed breed dogs are known to be healthier and have less hereditary or congenital defects. Yet, even with mixed breed dogs, they do posses and will at times manifest severe genetic defects that need to be treated. The premise is that early detection may allow prevention. Also, as more gene therapy techniques become available, better treatment option for some genetic conditions will be possible.
Knowing the parentage of a mixed breed pet may someday soon allow your veterinarian to prevent the onset of certain diseases, giving your dog more years of good health, according to a spokesperson for Progressive PetCare, the DNA test provider.
The recent Western Veterinary Conference also announced that canine influenza, a highly contagious respiratory disease infecting dogs across the United States is an emerging problem for dog owners. A two hour symposium was provided that discussed the outbreaks, clinical signs, new diagnostic testing, treatments and control measures. The disease has been identified in 18 states and is similar to kennel cough in its symptoms. Like kennel cough, a secondary bacterial infection can develop and lead to pneumonia. Treatments require hospitalization, isolation to prevent further spread, antibiotics for secondary infections and supportive therapies, according to the symposium. There is no vaccine for canine influenza at this time. Another of many reasons, to have pet health insurance for your pet.
Pets Best Exhibits at CE Conferences
Like most other companies that provide products, equipment or services to veterinary professionals, Pets Best insurance was at the two largest conferences recently, North American Veterinary Conference and Western Veterinary Conference. This was our unveiling of Pets Best to veterinarians and their staff. After 25 years in the business, I must admit I was still somewhat apprehensive of how our new pet health insurance would be received by my colleagues. After all, they had only known me to be at one company for all these years. I am happy to report that the response was overwhelmingly positive and even jubilant by many of my colleagues that I was back in the industry. Not only was I back, but I had improved pet insurance greatly. I knew I had made many innovative changes and improvements, but still you wonder if those most critical will notice. AND THEY DID! Your veterinarian is very sensitive to only providing their clients with good services and products, because after all their integrity is on the line every time they recommend any service, product or company.
For companies offering services or products exhibiting at CE conferences is a good method to inform and to receive feedback on how you are doing as a company with veterinarians. At Pets Best veterinarians are our first customer and pet owners are our ultimate customer. At Pets Best we recognize that we must satisfy both to be successful; our policyholders and their veterinarians.
At the Western Veterinary Conference I was able to take four of our dogs, Skeeter of course, Torrey, Obie, our Scottish Deerhound and Cricket, a Brussels Griffon. They were our official ambassadors and provided petting opportunities to all the many attendees who missed their dogs. It was also special, because Skeeter had his 14th birthday party at the conference, where he is an honorary Board member. Skeeter attends many veterinary conferences, but at the Western Veterinary Conference he has had 13 straight annual appearances and is loved by all for his stoic good nature. Crowds do not phase him. He remains calm and relaxed in front of large groups and audiences, something he has done many times. Skeeter is one of a kind.
“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.”
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Feel like talking or not? If not, tell people you sell insurance! Several years back, while traveling extensively to promote pet health insurance, I noticed something interesting. Everyone that travels has had the experience of going on a flight and after you are seated you or the person next to you ask where you are going? Are you going home, traveling on vacation or on business? Then they will invariably ask you what your occupation is.
For many years at parties or social gathering, I was reluctant to offer my occupation, not because I was ashamed, but because I would be overwhelmed with stories about pets or asked for medical advice on pets. Flying was the same. If I told my fellow passenger that I was a veterinarian, then a litany of pet stories would ensue and sure enough, I would be provided some pet symptoms and asked for my medical opinion. I found I could not read, contemplate or get any work done.
Quickly I discovered that if I wanted to read or work or simply did not feel like talking due to some major issue that I was pondering, I would tell my fellow passenger that I sold insurance. That ended the conversation! I must have given that answer to over 100 people over a 20 year period. And, you know, not ONE person asked what kind of insurance I sold. I guess they were afraid I would try to sell them an insurance policy.
In fact, I never really liked insurance or the thought of insurance ever since I was a senior at Veterinary School and was bombarded by all the University ex jocks who sold life insurance. They descended upon soon to be graduates like a lynch mob in the Old West. But here I was, a veterinarian who sold insurance. I always distill things down to the basics and it was true, like so much in life we never know where life will take us. Yet, I slowly and deliberately chosen my new career path and was not about to change. I was helping many hundreds of thousands of more pets than I ever could have done in my pet practice and was providing a service that protected family bonds and pet health. But my method sure stops people from chatting if you are ever on a plane and not in the mood to talk!
I Sell Pet Insurance
Telling people I am a veterinarian has one path of continued dialog, telling them I sell insurance ceases all dialog; but tell them that I sell Pet Insurance and watch out. At first, they just sit or stand there, with their mouth partly open; pondering the dichotomy of a vet, who is generally held in high regard or even revered by some and combined with selling insurance which is similar to being a used car salesman, although with more education. Then, after a few seconds of silence, their whole face brightens up and they say, “That is a wonderful idea. Did you think of that?” Their first impression, which they do not share, is “that is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” But during that silent pause to be courteous, they realize that pet insurance is a good idea. Why? I think because everyone in America and throughout the more urban societies is starting to recognize the REAL VALUE of pets. As we leave more rural areas and agricultural societies to dwell in urban societies we lose the ties of family and small close knit groups who help one another. We also lose the interaction with animals that has been rooted in our biology over many thousands of years. We have more time from labor intensive activities; we have more complex relationships that create stress and emotional upheaval which causes us to seek solace and non critical companionship. It is easy to understand why pets with their unconditional acceptance of us play a vital role in our health and well being.
Not sure? Animals, especially pets have a biological relationship with us that has developed over the eons of time. This longstanding relationship has created positive biochemical and hormonal reactions within us that helped us survive and cope. We have known for some time that pets can lower our blood pressure. In fact studies have shown that simply sitting in front of a fish tank will lower our blood pressure.
Petting even a strange pet will increase good hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters and decrease stress hormones in our bodies. It also results in an increase in serotonin levels in the brain, which is a natural antidepressant. Pets are so good for us, that innately we want to provide for them. Often my wife will tell me that she wishes I would respond to her greeting as enthusiastically as I do to our pets greeting. She is right and it is a good reminder of my deficiencies as a husband. But our pets display the same overwhelming exuberance when I am gone from the house for a few minutes as they do when I return from a long trip. They are simply glad to see me and they have to outdo one another in their greeting. Whenever my wife or I return form a brief trip to the store or from a long trip we receive the same “pack welcome”, which makes us feel good. Think how many times you are anxious to go home and see your pet, because of their greeting. Just the thought of your pet greeting you at the door is enough to make you smile. Watch pet owners who talk about their pet, they are smiling. Stop and think of your pet now or describe some episode with your pet and you will smile. Each of us has our own special memories or daily activities with our pets that make us happy.
Oxytocin is a natural human and animal hormone. We think of it as only being a hormone for women that increases with pregnancy and is responsible for helping mothers give birth. In fact, oxytocin is given to animals to stimulate birthing. But men also have very small amounts of oxytocin, which is one reason why men and women are different. Oxytocin also is thought to be primarily responsible for the feeling of “warmth and comfort,” in men and women. Oxytocin has much higher levels in women and is thought to be the reason why women are more responsive to children.
Petting your pet increases the oxytocin levels in our bodies, even men! It gives you that feeling of well being and warmth. Don’t worry men; your level will not increase enough to cause you to want to give birth. But it will give you a glimpse into the feelings that women have for children.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
I can think of nothing more rewarding, stimulating and at times as frustrating as being a veterinarian. As a youngster I knew early that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved biology, the logic of science, animals, critters (bugs) and nature, so becoming a veterinarian was my only option from which I never deviated. For me nothing was more rewarding than being skilled and knowledgeable enough to help animals and to perform sophisticated surgery or perform medical detective work to arrive at a diagnosis and heal a pet. I would have done it for free if I could, but alas I had a family and mortgage.
But, early in my practice career, I found out that far too many pet owners simply could not afford or would not pay for needed care for pets. As a new graduate I wanted to heal and treat pets, not simply vaccinate, treat symptoms or put pets to sleep if their medical condition was chronic, serious or expensive. I wanted to utilize ever more sophisticated diagnostics, when needed, to accurately treat a pet’s medical condition and perform surgery if, necessary to restore a pet’s health. But good medicine can be expensive and pet owners had to pay for that care from disposable income, which more often than not was not available or budgeted. Every veterinarian, early in their career, goes “overboard” treating pets for less than it cost, at times for free or making whatever payment arrangements they can to treat a treasured pet, rather than put it to sleep. But reality sets in when you realize that you are losing too much money with your generosity. Unfortunately, many people learn of your empathy and “prey” on it, seeking discounts and waiving of fees when they simply do not want to pay for a pet’s care. Giving away services does not allow a veterinarian to pay decent salaries, pay for their education debt or invest in the business if insufficient charging and discounting becomes the predominant way of doing business. Every veterinarian gives away services, but there must be a limit if they want to stay in business. I always knew there had to be better options.
So, the frustrating side of being a veterinarian is not being able to treat pets when they need treatment. Too often, people are either unwilling or lack the funds to provide for necessary care. Although my practice was in an affluent community, I found that many clients would ignore their pet’s health needs or put their pet to sleep (euthanasia) if a pet’s care cost more than they were prepared to pay. Putting pets to sleep when they can be healed is very frustrating and demoralizing to veterinarians, the veterinary staff and to pet families. But it was a hard and common fact then and even now it is a common negative alternative, when pet owners are not financially prepared for an accident or illness.
WE KEEP PETS FOR A REASON
As pet owners, we are the stewards of our pets. Pets and domesticated animals depend wholly upon humans for their care and well being. Of course, if you are reading this, I know you are a good pet steward, and that you are committed to your pets care; otherwise you would never have even found me or our web site. Your affiliation with your pet springs from the fact that you have discovered the “human-animal bond”. That special feeling you have when you are with your pet. As a result of those feelings engendered in you by your pet, you are willing to provide for their needs. In future discussions, I will be sharing with you the many varied reasons why you and I feel the way we do about our pets and how pet interactions are mutually good for us, as well as good for our pets. There is an abundance of scientific evidence which demonstrates that the simple act of petting your pet improves your biochemistry and thus has positive effects on your emotions and even on your health. I hope my findings will help you express your feelings to skeptics, because they need to know about our “SECRET WEAPON” of pets.
We keep pets for a reason; in fact the canine and feline ancestors of our present day dogs and cats are thought to be the very first animals domesticated by man. Although we have kept dogs for maybe as long as 25,000 years and cats for 9,000 years, until recently we thought that we kept them for more rational or practical reasons, such as hunting, protection, herding, guarding and controlling rodents. To keep them for other reasons was either a sign of wealth or thought to be impractical. Keeping a household pet had to have a utilitarian reason, just like livestock or it was as sign of social stature to be able to afford and house an animal for strictly personal, non economic reasons. The societal norm was that animals had to have an economic value no greater than their replacement cost. Sadly, until a few decades ago that was the attitude and mind set of even the Universities that taught veterinarians. This attitude was due to the emphasis placed on domestic animals that spilled into the training of companion pet practice. The concept was that a pet was replaceable and as such, no one should ever spend too much on a pet, unless they were wealthy.
This attitude of an economic value was instilled in my generation, as it had been for hundreds of years because of the utilitarian value of pets being viewed similar to livestock. I did not want to be a large animal veterinarian for that reason; I wanted to use my training and skills to a higher degree than that of the simple economics of an animal’s worth. Somehow that view still seeped into my psychic. But that’s another story- more on how a small dog changed me at a later time.
When I was a young boy, my dog meant a lot to me, but to my parents, bringing her into the garage or my father’s workshop in the cold of winter was a big accommodation. Dogs and cats belonged outside and they ate leftovers. Commercial pet food was still a novelty. As I entered veterinary practice I noticed that people had moved their pets from the yard to the house.
And in a few short years I saw commercial pet food become the norm and then special pet food, formulated with higher cost ingredients Pets in the house fulltime then became the norm. Then in even a shorter time span I witnessed pets sleeping on the bed with their adult owners. I remember the few times, as a child I slipped my dog into bed with me, it was done so at the risk of punishment. Now my wife and I feel lost if we don’t have 3 or 4 of our dogs in bed with us, under the blankets! In fact, we are so forbearing when it regards our pets that will tolerate an awkward position, before we will disturb our pets. I had one pet, Spanky who took over my pillow by sleeping inside the pillow case. My wife found it incredulous that I would endure loosing my pillow. Now, I hear more and more of pet owners preparing gourmet home cooking for pets.
Did you know that expenditures for pets in the U.S. are higher than for toys and is growing at twice the rate as total consumer expenditures! Who would have imagined this level of spending and an attitude shift so swiftly in our society? What happened?
Was it simply that as a society we had become so affluent that we could afford to indulge our pets? If so why was spending for pets growing faster than our indulgence in toys for children? My bias towards a pet’s value changed later in my life, after my wife brought Spanky, a miniature pinscher into our household. And my attitude changed even more after a bout with cancer. Over those terrible months of treatment I witnessed the remarkable power of pets. I came to realize that a small dog could dramatically affect our lives. This experience caused me to look deeper into these changes in society and in myself. I will be sharing my extensive and compelling findings with you in future talks.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
As you can see from the photo of my wife and me with our dogs, we are indeed pet lovers, especially our dogs! We also have photos with our cats which I will be sharing, but on this particular day they made the collective decision of not cooperating, as only cats can, despite the fact that they interact and play with the dogs daily. It must have been my mood that day. In addition to our household family pets my wife also has miniature horses and a miniature donkey. Since early childhood I have had pets and critters. Everything from tarantulas, bats, fish, ants, pigeons, chickens, owls, birds, lizards and almost anything you can imagine, even a raccoon. I did not live on a farm, but a small town in southwest Oklahoma. Their care, housing and feeding were totally my responsibility. Today it is my dogs in particular that I am most fond. In fact Torrey my tea cup Chihuahua and Skeeter, my fourteen year old miniature pincher go to work with me most every day. It is rare to see me without them. They are my constant shadows. I love nature and its diversity and feel compelled to protect not only individual pets as a Veterinarian, but nature and ecosystems in general that provide for wild animals.
In my ensuing discussions of “Pet Vet -Talks” on the Pets Best Community web site I will share with you a host of diverse subjects about pets and how PETS ARE GOOD FOR US EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY. I will talk as a Veterinarian, a business owner, as a pet dad and as one who demands logic. I will share the logic I discover behind why we humans love our pets. And why some of us are “over the top” when it comes to pets. I will also bring you the perspective from one who has had a successful career as a no nonsense business person, a successful entrepreneur and as America’s first insurance executive for pets. Mostly I will share my journey of discovery on “Why we are so nuts about our pets,” a personal journey to understand myself and other pet owners. It will surprise you that the benefits of pet interaction is more than emotional, it did me. There is now scientific evidence that helps us better understand the relationship of humans and animals that can be demonstrated even to the pet skeptic. As you will hear from me many times, the relationship with animals is “Rooted in our Biology.”
I was asked to share all my many stories and experiences with others because of my diverse experience, credentials and my genuine love for animals. But as we journey along in the ensuing Pet Vet- Talks you will judge for yourself the value of taking your time to hear me out. I am human and like all complex humans have sides of me that you may not agree with at times, but, being direct, honest and constantly searching will not be one of my faults. Time is a precious gift and I will try not to waste yours.
Being the founder of Pet Insurance in the U.S. way back in 1980 and now starting, Pets Best in 2005, I will obviously have some insight that I will share with you about pet insurance. Providing pet owners with a reliable method to budget for a pet’s health and to always be able to accept needed care, without worrying about how to pay for that care has been my passion since 1979, when I first started exploring the concept of pet health insurance. After 24 years as the founding CEO of the first pet health insurance company and building it to over $100 million in annual sales I left in 2004 and soon realized I wanted to re-invent pet insurance to better address changing pet care and pet owner’s expectations of pet insurance. I developed the business plan for Pets Best and began a search for an Insurance Company to underwrite the plan. Fortuitously, after I moved to Idaho from California I met Greg McDonald and Dan Crandall, the Chairman and CEO, respectively of General Fire & Casualty Company. After several meetings and after reading my business plan, they asked me to join them. They were in the agribusiness of insurance and always wanted to provide pet insurance, but lacked the expertise. It was a perfect match that enabled me to do it over again and with their help and ideas improve upon the concept of pet insurance. I was able to utilize new ideas, apply what I had learned and of course benefit from my mistakes. It is very gratifying both personally and professionally to be able to take what one has learned and make it better. One thing about an inventor or an entrepreneur, you love the chance to do something again and hopefully better. With my zeal to help pets, Dan and Greg’s confidence and support, Pets Best insurance was born.