Big Business and Your Pet

January 10, 2017

For almost 20 years, Pet Camp has been proud to be family owned and operated.  There have been several offers to purchase Pet Camp; some from corporate competitors and some from investors.  For reasons both personal (we weren’t ready to sell) and financial (they weren’t offering real money but simply shares in the new-bigger and thus according to them better company), we never did.  There are days when I look back and think, “if only we had sold to XX I could be doing ZZ (you can fill in whatever you’d rather do than be doing) now,” but most days I think that remaining family owned and operated is both better for me (as Virginia has always pointed out I would last about 15 minutes in corporate America), our counselors, and for the campers.  But the idea of family owned and operated pet care may be coming to an end if the trend in veterinary care is any kind of leading indicator.

Most pet parents have heard of VCA and Banfield pet hospitals, but less have heard about National Veterinary Associates or know that the Mars Company (yup, the candy company) owns Banfield.  According to a recent Bloomberg article, between 15 and 20 percent of veterinary clinics (about 5,000 out of 26,000 clinics) in the United States are now owned by corporations.  Those numbers are growing AND the corporations are doing away with franchised facilities so that everything can be controlled by the corporation, which means that the notion of a locally owned veterinary clinic may disappear in a generation or two.   Just 4 days after the Bloomberg article was published, it was announced that Mars was buying VCA in a deal valued at $9.1 billion!  This means that now Mars owns both Banfield and VCA which, in case you really want to follow the corporate chain, means that Mars now also owns Camp Bow Wow (VCA purchased Camp Bow Wow a few years back) as well as a veterinary laboratory which many independent veterinary clinics use.

We’ve argued that family owned and operated businesses were better for the local community, but we have never made the argument that corporate pet care is not quality care, nor have we argued that routinization of pet care (which simply has to happen when you do anything on a massive scale) was bad for pet care.  To be fair, I have suggested that places like Pet Camp (which have the flexibility to respond to your pets’ needs rather than investors’ needs) can make decisions about how to spend money that are better for your pet.  But if Bloomberg is right about what is happening in the world of veterinary medicine, maybe we should be more strident in our views about corporations taking over pet care facilities.

What do you think about corporate pet care and the potential conflicts between wanting what is best for your pets and the need of investors to get a return on their money?

Thanks for reading.

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