So last week we started our story of Pennridge – our vet hospital was my childhood dream, that also now allows us to manage and run our dog rescue, Harley’s Haven. If you missed last week, check it out to get the whole story of our beginnings (below this here on our blog!), but here is part two…the continuation of PRAH’s humble beginnings.
As we were trying to get PRAH up and running, Dr Jen Heller and I would take turns having the calls forward to our phones and spent a lot of time looking for a hospital. When one of our awesome reps called us about ‘Dr Slick’s old place up on the ridge’, we were skeptical at best, but figured we should take a look. This old practice had not been in operation for several years, but still had a lot of old equipment, paper charts, cages still there…it was frozen in time from when Dr Slick had stopped practicing several years prior. Pennridge Vet was in operation for over 40 years, but as Dr Slick aged, he slowly did less and less and just stopped practicing and left the practice as it was.
I will never forget the first day we walked into what would become our home for PRAH. It took a lot of vision to see what it could be, to be honest. The two floors were totally separate – no stairs between them, so that was a problem. The downstairs, which was the vet practice, was in need of a facelift, for sure. Concrete floors, exposed pipes and ceiling, a toilet in the corner with a curtain around it, terrifying cages outside that looked like they probably contained dead people…I mean…it was, not ideal. However, the potential – that was there. We took the leap and bought the building and the land in October 2013, and started the process of finding a contractor. We called so many, paraded several through, and got turned down over and over, or just not called back. I can’t say I blame them, I’m 100% sure we had no idea what we were doing or what we wanted and the project was daunting. But we finally nailed down our contractor, who just so happened to be the son-in-law of the great Dr Slick, as his daughter was the realtor for purchasing the building! It actually makes me happy that they got to be involved in seeing life breathed back into her father’s legacy, and I know they have enjoyed it too!
The next 6 months were spent with us practicing out of just ONE room, which we affectionately referred to as the ‘living room’ while the rest of the hospital was completely gutted and renovated. To set the scene - it was a wood paneled room, with a stone fireplace, wooden bench along the wall, and we added an exam table and a couch, with a tiny desk in the corner. At this point, we needed some help, and had an amazing group of ladies who literally ‘volunteered’ their time just to help us get up and running when we couldn’t afford, well anything, but certainly not to pay them! Jen and I both worked 2 other jobs during this time to make ends meet financially and to be able to invest our tiny daily earnings right back into PRAH – I remember the first day we made $1000 and how excited we were! There were some pretty amazing stories during this time, but for now I’ll just share two.
The first was our management of surgeries. For the first month or so, we just didn’t do them…but as time went on and more and more things arose, we figured we needed to do something. We reached out to our friends over at Steinbach vet, and arranged to rent the surgical suite as needed. On surgery day, we met all of our clients at PRAH and checked them each in, then loaded everyone up into Wanda, and made the 45 minute drive to Steinbach's where we performed the surgeries, recovered our patients, and then loaded them all up and drove them back. Let me tell you what – looking back on this, this was nonsense. How STRESSFUL. The very first day we did this, we were calling people to arrange pick up times as we drove back to PRAH, and then rushed in to unload and organize all the patients, and sat on the floor with our laptops frantically entering charges (which again, we were making up as we went along), and writing discharge instructions. We started that day at about 7am, and didn’t leave until well after 10pm. Thankfully, again we had some amazing support with friends and volunteer employees, and ridiculously understanding clients!
The second was a Saturday morning, shortly after Alicia had become one of our very first real employees, where we had a client walk in with their middle aged Weimaraner named Daisy. They came in for a possible UTI, but as we started talking, we found out she was not spayed and was having vaginal discharge and was also not eating well and was vomiting. As I looked at her, she also had a fever and I became more and more concerned that she had what is called a pyometra – or an infection in her uterus that is life threatening. I explained my thoughts to the owners, and then also that we did not have xrays, or blood machines, or the ability to do surgery. However, I could transport her to good old Steinbachs, and we could work her up there, and see what we could do to help her. And you guessed it, these people whom we had just met, said yes and entrusted their baby Daisy to Alicia and myself, and off we went! Luckily, they were the only patient that day, so we had the time! Daisy did, in fact, have a pyometra. She did great through the surgery, and recovered well (spent some time post-op hanging on the couch in the living room while on fluids) and is still alive and well to this day – she’s 14 years old now! Good girl.
As I said last week, the acceptance of clients in these early days still blows my mind. That clients like Daisy’s parents just trusted me, right off the bat, with little more than my word and performing an exam – is pretty heartwarming. And there are dozens more stories just like this. As the renovation progressed and we started using the main building, many clients lamented over the loss of the ‘living room’, but Jen and I were glad to move on from the 70's wood paneled room to have more space to do what we love, and to be able to do it much, much better. The one thing that our new hospital lacks however, is an elevator. And the reason for this lack of elevator would be that those funds were tied up in legal fees, as we had to defend ourselves when our previous employer sued us for breach of contract stating that we had breached our non-compete and were practicing within 5 miles, and that we solicited clients and staff. After several court dates, testifying on the stand (which was, by the way, terrifying, and Jen was WAY better at it than me), and parading clients in to prove that we did NOT breach our contract, it was dropped. But not after spending all of our elevator money to clear our good name. Oh well, the steps are better for our fitness anyway, right??
Since that initial renovation, our hospital has grown again, with a second addition just completed this year! We now have over 7000 square feet, 8 doctors, over 40 support staff – and a whole lot of love for this profession and the practice we have built. Check back next week for one of my favorite stories – why I ended up traveling thousands of miles to a remote island off the coast of Nicaragua to spay and neuter pets there!