POLAND, Maine — When Teresa Blanchard brought her 14-year-old cat, Moochie, to his vet appointment last week, she didn’t think to bring along his medication. But a new blood test showed Moochie’s thyroid level was a lot lower than it should have been and Dr. Michelle Maloney wanted to verify his prescription.
So Blanchard dashed out to grab the bottle, a short trip.
The vet’s office was parked in her driveway.
“It’s less stress for the cats. It’s less stress for me, with the pre-planning and trying to get somewhere,” Blanchard said. “And she seems to know her stuff.”
Maloney started The Pets Mobile Vet about three years ago after the Lewiston veterinary clinic she was working for changed management. She’d considered starting her own clinic, but the cost and stress of owning a practice seemed too great. She was searching for another clinic to join when she stumbled on an ad for a used veterinary mobile unit.
“As soon as I saw one of these, I said, ‘Bam! That’s what I need to be doing!’” Maloney said.
Maloney bypassed the used unit in favor of a $156,000 custom-made 26-foot “hospital on wheels.” As a former large-animal vet, she was accustomed to making house calls with a pickup truck and whatever gear she could carry. She designed her mobile clinic to mirror a bricks-and-mortar office, giving her a state-of-the-art lab, portable X-ray machine, operating room and exam space. Even a kitchen sink.
Maloney sees patients as far south as Saco and as far north as Sabattus. Many times, the animals are too sick or too anxious to take the trip to a traditional veterinary office.
“By my coming to the house, they don’t have that time to wind up in the car, wind up in the waiting room,” she said. “They don’t even have the time to get stressed.”
Sometimes the animals are fine to travel, but their owners aren’t. Maloney’s mobile vet practice is popular with elderly pet owners, families with packed schedules and people with multiple pets.
Blanchard and her husband, Dean, have three cats. They first sought out Maloney for a second opinion about Moochie. He had an infection and needed teeth pulled, but his thyroid condition made surgery complicated. Maloney ended up doing the operation a few months ago, in her mobile clinic while it was parked in the Blanchards’ driveway.
“I just kept coming out (and asking) ‘How’re we doing?’” Blanchard said.
Moochie sailed through surgery. Last week Maloney stopped by to follow up. An exam showed his mouth had healed well, but his thyroid levels — it took 13 minutes to run his blood sample through Maloney’s machine — were low. Blanchard dashed inside to grab his medication.
A few minutes later they had a plan for his care. A few minutes after that, Moochie was back inside lounging on the TV and his sisters, Midnight and Misty, were trooped out to the vet for a quick exam and to get their nails clipped.
Maloney charges $65 for a house call, plus $40 for a physical exam. Vaccines cost about $20 each. Spaying and neutering ranges from $75 for a male cat to $265 for a large female dog. She doesn’t have to pay rent, personnel or other costs associated with a bricks-and-mortar clinic, but she does have to buy gas — and the 26-foot truck gets just about 10.5 miles per gallon.
To keep her prices competitive, and her gas use down, Maloney tries to schedule routine appointments in the same area on the same day. But emergencies come up. Maloney often works nights and does surgeries on weekends.
After three years, The Pets Mobile Vet is slowly but surely gaining clientele. Pet owners like the convenience. Maloney likes being able to see animals in their home, when they aren’t upset by a trip to the vet.
“By the time a dog with a sore paw or a sore leg gets into an exam room, you can’t even duplicate it. They’re so wound up that it’s hard to see,” Maloney said. “It also allows me to see an animal when they’re sick. I just really get a feeling for how sick they are, based on what they were normally.”
However, Maloney has started asking clients to do one thing: Try to confine their pets to one area before she comes.
Chasing a cat through the house can be just as stressful as a car ride to the vet.
“If you have to chase them, it kind of defeats the whole purpose,” she said.