Specifics of day-to-day interactions


The typical day in my position starts with a review of the e-mail since I left work the previous evening. Because our corporate office is located on the West coast, much of the United States has already been working for several hours before my arrival. PETCO currently has over 15,000 associates, with more than 725 stores located in most areas of the country. We are currently growing at a rate of approximately 10% per year. With this number of stores and associates there is always a question that needs an answer or something to be clarified. We have a national policy that requires an incident report be completed any time there is a health concern with an animal. These incident reports are filled electronically, and are tabulated in our national office so that we can ensure the animal is being cared for properly, analyze the data, and recognize trends. Several people, both in the field and at the National Support Center, review each individual incident report. If any problems arise that need a medical interpretation or action, I become involved. There are also other general questions that come from the field concerning substrate, diet, compatibility, behavior, as well as general questions concerning associate’s personal pets. Although PETCO does not sell dogs or cats, we do carry a wide variety of products that support their needs. I also become involved when associates have questions from customers they cannot answer concerning dogs and cats. After I review the current e-mails, I generally have a meeting or two in which we make decisions concerning the products we use to provide the care for the animals in our stores, products we sell to the public, signs we use in the stores to educate the public, and a wide variety of other topics. It is very common for 25% to 50% of a day to be spent in meetings. I also interact on a daily basis with one or more of our animal vendors, and help with situations as they arise. On most days I attempt to spend time working on my own individual projects, such as improving relationships with the independent veterinarians who work with our stores. There are also occasions where I am asked to review medical files of animals that have been allegedly injured in one of our grooming salons. I am quick to recruit the services of board-certified veterinary specialists if the problem is not in the realm of my education and background.
In the last 2 years we have completely redesigned every habitat we use to house the animals in our stores. All the new habitats are manufactured to our exact specifications, with the animal’s safety as well as environmental considerations and maintenance and ease of cleaning taken into consideration. My engineering background was very helpful in this aspect of my job, and made the design of the habitats both challenging and enjoyable. We worked with several companies who used our design ideas as well as their own to build habitats for use in our stores that do not exist anywhere else in the industry. Our reptile habitats are controlled by computers to ensure every section of the habitat remains within the necessary temperature requirements for that exact species. The habitats also have built in alarm systems, which notify store associates when the temperature parameters are out of the preset criteria. In addition to the reptile habitats, we have small animal habitats, which are state of the art with magnetic locks, and computer-designed airflow parameters to provide the proper amount of airflow to ensure good health without producing a draft. It is fulfilling to be involved in a process where your idea literally starts out as a drawing on the back of a napkin, evolves through the numerous iterations in the manufacturing process, and then becomes a habitat on the floor of a store. We designed new and exciting bird rooms in just this fashion. Our new bird room is designed to have positive air pressure in each of the birdcage sections to ensure the birds do not spread disease to any other birds in the stores. This positive pressure also ensures that no bird brought into a store by a customer will spread disease to the birds in the store. The design of this habitat makes it an acceptable quarantine room for most local and state animal control agencies in case a bird needs to be quarantined. In addition to our bird rooms, we have also designed new bird cages with innovative perches, bar spacing, and feeders to ensure the birds have adequate perching and their food stays clean. All of our new habitats help to ensure the safety of the animals as well. The habitats do not allow the customers to physically touch the animals without help from a store associate. The new bird cages fit inside the new bird room, which cannot be accessed by customers. Instead, the customers view the birds through the glass windows of the room and cage, ensuring the birds have a secure area where they can feel safe. All the new rooms and habitats were designed with the safety of the animals as the most important aspect of the design, not simply for esthetics.
It is not surprising that reviewing the products a corporation sells would be a portion of a corporate veterinarian’s job. We have established product review guidelines, in specific categories, for all new products and any products that have changed significantly. I do not review dog and cat foods or other products controlled by federal regulations and standards; however, I do review all bird and small animal toys, foods, and treats for nontraditional companion animals as well as many books. I also review all new animal habitats that are being sold. During our initial product reviews in the animal habitat category, we established standards for all bird cages and small animal habitats that are substantially larger than existing pet industry standards. We received a significant amount of resistance for many manufacturers when these standards were initially released. Because PETCO holds a significant market share in the pet industry, the manufacturers realized that if they did not follow the standards, another manufacturer would take their place. Therefore, the new standards were adopted by all the manufactures, and today, these new larger cages are all we sell. This has impacted the entire pet industry because other responsible pet retailers quickly adopted the new cage format as the ‘‘norm.’’ It is a great feeling to walk into pet stores all over the United States and see larger cages offered for all types of birds and know that you had a significant impact on the lives of these animals. As with all pet stores, PETCO has an area where ‘‘remedies’’ are sold. This section of the store has ear cleaners, vitamins, arthritis relief products such as glucosamine and chondroitin, and others. There are numerous products in this section that, from a veterinarian’s viewpoint, are not reliable. I have been charged with determining which products meet our animal care standards. I have been able to make the most significant progress by finding merchandise to replace existing items instead of trying to discontinue products. At veterinary conference exhibit halls, I search for quality products that can be sold to the general public. Many veterinary companies do not want to sell the exact products in a retail outlet but are willing to package the product under a different name for over the counter (OTC) sales. By finding products that are efficacious and using them to replace existing products that are not as useful, a corporate veterinarian working for a retail company can effectively make changes that positively affect the lives of thousands of animals.