About Dr. Kim
Story of Vet to Pet Mobile Service
Looking for something more meaningful after 35 years of regular practice ; but not wanting the huge cost of buying a clinic, I was inspired when I saw Cariboo Mobile Clinic parked in Quesnel. After phoning and spending some time on location with the owner, Dr. Pam Barker, the seed was planted.
I have worked all over BC; but kept returning to Smithers, where the community grabbed our hearts and was affordable. My boss was retiring and selling the clinic where I worked, which galvanized my husband Jerry, and I into action to convert the 30 foot travel trailer we found suitable.
I love spaying and neutering, so I wanted space to be able to do that, not just private house calls. Trying to simplify the demands of practice; I started by limiting my practice to small animals; with no technical lab equipment or Xray capability.
My goal was a 50 mile stretch along Highway 16, from Houston to Hazelton; stopping in communities for a day’s work as it was scheduled. There are at least seven First Nations villages in this range, with overpopulation and all the associated problems in their dogs. However, financial challenges resulted in travelling Highway 37N to Stewart, Dease Lake and all the way to Watson Lake in the Yukon, twice annually for up to a week in each town. I would call the trailer fully mobile; having done surgery plugged into a school for power; a fire hall, a shelter, a motel and a private residence. When winter made travel difficult, I loaded the surgery packs; oxygen generator and portable anesthetic machine into the pickup and set them up in a fire hall or school classroom to work.
In starting, we had no financial resources of our own, and relied on an $85,000 bank loan. Knowing it wouldn’t be enough, we made it work. Although Cariboo Mobile Clinic was efficient in a converted Car Haul trailer, I found the travel trailer conversion was cheaper. I needed a trailer under 10,000 pounds GVW (length doesn’t matter) to avoid upgrading my Class 5 license. Plus I knew my travel distance could be farther than one hour each way, so I wanted sleeping quarters.
We found a working travel trailer for $10,000 used. A 10 foot slide expanded to give an extra 4 feet width, seemingly ideal (but found later, it came with its own challenges). Having never operated a trailer, it was a huge learning curve. Pulling and parking the trailer was the easy part.
While I did locums to pay the bills, Jerry started the work. He ripped the Master bedroom out of one end, leaving the overhead cupboards for pharmacy storage. Next, out came the dining table and couch, making room for a horizontal bank of homemade plywood kennels lined with sealed arborite. The beauty of technology and used equipment came together: I had the good fortune to find stainless steel kennel doors for sale used for $100.00 each. Jerry crafted a bank of two large bottom cages with three smaller ones on top; allowing some leftover space on top of the large kennels for counter-top. We kept the fridge, stove; but replaced the sink with a larger stainless steel one that would hold a small dog for a bath with the extendable spray nozzle. One portable anesthetic machine sat neatly on the kitchen counter, for prep and treatment area. Another on a narrow counter-top across the rear wall of the surgery room ( I hadn’t known there was such a thing as portable anesthetic machine!) Both were served by an oxygen generator (which converts room air to oxygen) - the size of a medium suitcase, sitting in a corner of the surgery. Oxygen lines run along the top of the wall to the machines, while anesthetic is vented to the outside. With this system, no heavy oxygen tanks need to be ordered or used. A small tank is kept for backup in the event of power outage and generator failure—enough to be able to finish a surgery.
To spare us lifting large dogs, I wanted a hydraulic exam table for treatment and prep. Jerry made a box-like table top for a hydraulic lift from the industrial supply store. The surface ranges from 12 inches to 36 inches from the ground; to accommodate all our needs. We are able to wheel it up to the surgery room door to neatly slide them onto the SS surgery table.
Weight of the trailer needed to be considered; so technology such as the hand-held hematocrit; and the iPhone-powered EKG were ordered. A used centrifuge and microscope were required for basic lab work. ( I have sent panels by ground from the Yukon to the Vancouver Vet labs; and the turnaround has been faster than if I ship samples from Smithers in the middle of the province. )
The cupboards are more than adequate to store packs, surgery supplies and anesthetic. Along the length of the slide, overhead cupboards store baskets of medication, keeping them organized and preventing shifting. For the lay staff, each is labeled for ears, eyes, skin, worm medicine. Depending on the time away; I carry more or less inventory. My autoclave ($2000 used) lived at home; I have taken it North on long trips, but now have connections in medical clinics which allow me to re-autoclave surgical packs there ( I travel with 20-30 packs).
While waiting for a business license; I continued to shop online for used equipment, and a major hiccup occurred. After hosting many mobile food trucks and vendors over the years; and in spite of my having found an empty lot in town to lease, the town of Smithers passed a bylaw barring mobile businesses. The trailer was almost ready for inspection; and I had to scramble for a location! Fortunately, a local golf course welcomed me to their parking lot, a lovely setting but on the outskirts of town.
All the equipment that could not be found used, was ordered from WDDC (Western Drug Distribution Center Ltd); including a light weight, wall-mounted surgery light. My financial challenge was solved by WDDC’s offer to startups: to finance their initial equipment and inventory over 6 months. And, they developed a user-friendly, close to ideal software system called PV.
The final challenge was getting the computer system in place. Our local ITS whiz, Chris Mosiman; secured everything we needed to a plywood board: my own Hub, a server, the cordless debit machine . the Dymo label printer. If we are operating out of a school in winter, we just pick up the board like a serving platter and take it with inside with the laptop. The system allows us to access the software in the cloud and invoice from anywhere.
Vet to Pet Mobile Service was launched in April 2016 with one vet, one assistant and one student. With limited staff and space, I did not want to be saddled with the phone: with no waiting room, appointments were all pre-booked and even surgery drop-offs and pickups were staggered and planned. All the business phone calls went to my receptionist, an at home mom who contacted us if she needed to send us an emergency during the day. With no ability to hospitalize, emergencies of any magnitude were referred. However, I did christen the surgery in the early months, with an emergency leg amputation on a cat, plus a successful C-section on a Labrador.
My first summer was spent between Smithers and Hazelton; with two major spay-neuter clinics. One was hosted by the Lakes District Animal Friendship Society, who paid for 27 dogs to be spayed over 3 days. We were also able to contain a small cat colony, neutering two males and 5 females (all pregnant) on the same trip. The Kispiox village sponsored a 3 day clinic as well, where we altered about 30 dogs and cats in that time.
What a great way to connect with people. I am no Mother Theresa; but it always bothered me—working in rural BC, denying vet care to those in the outback. We did what we could over the phone, but without the ability to drive in or the funds, we denied people vet care.
As a city-born WASP, I had no idea what I would encounter. Going in with an open mind, seeing how everyone loves their pets; just poverty prevents their proper care. Years of study of ‘alternatives’ taught me that we are all connected.
It has taken a whole year for clients in every town to stop hugging me every time they come into the trailer. In the First Nations communities, they brought me gifts, so grateful to get basic care. That alone has made it all worthwhile—making a difference in people’s lives through their pets.