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Continued: She makes house calls -- for pets

  • Article by: JIM WALSH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 27, 2012 - 5:29 PM

When a cracked toenail left her Scottish terrier Katie whimpering and skittish, Mary Beth Mueller knew whom to call.

The Caravan Vet, Christa Williams.

Williams' new mobile veterinary clinic was parked nearby and fit the bill for Mueller and a relieved Katie.

"It's like fricking 'MacGyver,'" said Mueller, manager at Kings Wine Bar in Minneapolis. "It's crazy. I can't even believe what she's done: a full-on veterinary clinic on wheels. Katie loved it. She hopped right up in there and loved Dr. Christa right away. She got a full exam and antibiotics, and to top it off it was only $150."

That's exactly the scenario Williams hopes to repeat across the Twin Cities with her new mobile veterinarian clinic.

Williams' dream for Caravan Vet was to have a way to practice medicine the way she wanted to practice it, and to work with clients who love their pets as members of the family.

"I think the pets get a lot less stressed-out when we come to their homes," she said. "Especially cats, or animals that get really wound up when they go to the vet, if you go to them, you can kind of see what's normal for them. My passion is really geriatric pets, hospice, dentistry, behavior issues and chronic disease that can get handled very nicely, and in many cases better, at home."

The road to getting on the road began six years ago when Williams, who studied veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota, and technician Michele Turrentine toiled together at a Prior Lake veterinary clinic that they both ultimately found uninspiring. Two years into their hitch, Williams read a magazine article about a woman in Chicago who had launched a mobile vet business. The seed for Caravan Vet was planted, and took root as Williams kept working her day job, feeding her spirit through house calls on horses.

"I really liked going out on calls to people's houses, and the relationships I had with my equine clients seemed much [deeper]," Williams said. "I really enjoyed being out and about and getting out of the clinic. The clinic is fine. But it's exciting to go somewhere, and when it's sunny and you're playing the radio, and people are so excited when you pull up in this. ... It's just the best."

It took four long years of planning, but the lifelong animal lover eventually achieved her dream: a 26-foot truck tricked-out with digital X-ray machines, and many other amenities of a working veterinary clinic and plastered with photos of Fia, her poodle, a bug-eyed foster cat and her logo.

"It's a total dream come true," Williams said recently, standing in the doorway of her petmobile as her now-assistant Turrentine entered data at a nearby computer. "Like the other day, I was in a cranky mood and super stressed-out. We came in here and for 12 hours we sat doing nasty, boring tasks and troubleshooting, but at the end of the day I was in the best mood. I was like, 'I love doing this.'"

Caravan Vet has been up and rolling only a few weeks, and thus far, appointments have been trickling in. Williams is among a few who have taken a clinic to the masses. Dr. Henry Philmon purchased his M*A*S*H (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital) in 1995 and works in and around Mound. Unlike Caravan Vet, Philmon's unit doesn't provide full-service animal care, just occasional surgeries and euthanasia. Philmon says he cut back on using his unit when the price of insurance and gas, and the lack of a heated garage, proved too cost-prohibitive.

Several vets in the metro area also make house calls and the Animal Humane Society runs a mobile spay-neuter clinic.

Sharon Hurley a New Ulm veterinarian and president of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, said Williams' service fills a niche. 

"A lot of clinics will do house calls for senior citizens, but they don't have all the laboratory equipment with them,'' she said. "But she is definitely filling a niche that I think animal lovers will appreciate."

To let pet parents know that she will come to them, Williams will be holding open houses at the homes of friends and clients and landing in the parking lots of doggy day cares around the Twin Cities, including Ruff Love Dogs in northeast Minneapolis (Thursdays) and Woof Dah! Dog in Burnsville (Tuesdays).

Launching Caravan Vet is the priority now, but down the road, Williams wants to hire another doctor and technician and open her own stationary clinic, around which Caravan Vet would orbit. At the moment, however, her only dream is to make enough money to pay herself and Turrentine a working wage, pay off her bank loan, and get used to life as her own boss.

"If I were going to describe myself, I would not say that I would be A) starting my own business, and B) driving around in a 26-foot truck, and C) having this completely unpredictable 'I-don't-know-where-I'm-going-to-be-at-two-o'clock-this-afternoon' life," she said. "But I really saw this as a way to fill a niche, and I like to be in charge of myself, so the part about being my own boss overcomes the part about driving a 26-foot truck.

"Plus, I really like that service aspect of it: 'What works for you? Let me come to you.'"

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