As the corporate veterinarian for PETCO, I am part of a team of individuals in the Animal Care and Education Department. This department is responsible for all the operational aspects of animal care. This includes finding animal breeders who meet our standards, obtaining transportation for the animals from the breeder to the store and all facets of care in the stores, as well as educating the customer on how to care for their animal once they take the new family member home. My job is to oversee the workings of this department not only from a veterinary point of view but also from the animal’s point of reference. I work with breeders and help them with any aspects of their business in which a veterinarian has expertise. Depending on your background, this part of the job involves breeding, incubation, hatching, parturition, hand feeding, disease control, parasite control, sexing techniques, and so on. This is an all encompassing job, and not only allows a corporate veterinarian to work with animals on a regular basis, it also allows the veterinarian to experience a wide variety of situations, which adds a great deal to their skills. There are not many jobs that allow a veterinarian to travel to all parts of the United States, as well as other countries, to help animals and gain experience. In addition to helping the animal breeders, the main concern of a corporate veterinarian with this company is to ensure the animals are taken care of in an exemplary fashion in the retail stores. We have already discussed the habitat design and function, which is an important aspect of the equation. Without a habitat that can keep the animals within the parameters needed for the particular species, all the care in the world will not keep the animal healthy. The stores receive a written set of instructions on exactly how to provide for the animals in the habitats. The instructions are called a PlanO-Gram or POG in retail lingo. Many times the POG is not only written, but also provided in a visual fashion with the exact substrate, amount of substrate, habitats toys and hiding areas, food and water bowls, and diet. All these listed items have the exact SKU attached to them to ensure they are correct. In addition to the POG, the stores are provided with a maintenance schedule that indicates exactly when to clean and or change the substrate. The store associates are also encouraged to clean as needed before the scheduled due date. In the aquatics department, the associates have schedules that indicate when to test the water and change the filter material. We thoroughly analyze every product used in the store program including substrates, diet, water, toys bowls, perches, cage accessories, and disinfectants. Every item that is placed in a habitat or used to care for an animal is reviewed for safety and efficacy. We have been instrumental in the development of several products, such as transition foods for birds and substrates for reptiles, that have made their way from the store use side of the equation to retail sales. This is a dynamic process, and every item we use is constantly being reviewed and compared with new items as they become available or as new scientific findings are released. It is exciting to have a position where you are asked to continually monitor new products and scientific information to ensure our animals are given the best care possible.
Veterinary care for ‘‘pet shops’’
One of the most satisfying transformations that has occurred during my tenure with PETCO is a new company policy that states that every animal, no matter what the cost of the animal, must see or have a consultation with a veterinarian within 24 hours of the animal being noticed as ill or injured. If an animal is in need of emergency care it will be taken to the veterinarian no matter what the hour. This policy is revolutionizing the way animals are treated in pet stores. This policy clearly indicates the dedication to ensuring animals come first at PETCO and with it brings into light the very substantial financial responsibility. I also have the pleasure of working with the hundreds of independent veterinarians who are associated with each of our stores. Each PETCO store has a working relationship with a veterinarian from the local community who treats the animals in our care as needed. The veterinary agreements range from a PETCO associate bringing the animal to the veterinarian’s office for care to the veterinarian traveling to the PETCO store to care for the animal and everything in between. These relationships are essential to the health and well-being of each animal we care for in our stores. We work with independent veterinarians so they will feel free to use their best clinical judgment when treating the animals. PETCO does have relationships with specific laboratories for various services, which we encourage the veterinarian to use. We have also developed specific treatment and quarantine policies to ensure that if a disease does occur in a store, we will be able to contain the organism and ensure the health of the animals, the store associates and the general public. We also work closely with all city, state, and federal authorities when protocol dictates. It was not until a few years ago that veterinarians were taught the basics of ‘‘exotic animal’’ medicine and surgery in our veterinary schools. The fact is that we still have a long way to go in preparing most veterinary students to work with exotics, as many veterinary schools do not have adequate training in this rapidly expanding field. PETCO is dedicated to working with veterinary schools to help ensure that future veterinarians have the tools to take care of the ever-growing nontraditional companion animals.