When you imagine a veterinary clinic, what probably comes to mind is a stale space with white walls, fluorescent lighting, and the strong scent of wet dog. With Eastown Veterinary Clinic, you not only get high-quality medicine for your pet but also a modern wellness center for your furry best friend. From the moment you enter, all the classic clinic stereotypes are broken: zero foul smells, pops of orange and blue color, cute animal art on the walls, and a selection of colorful retail products. Safe to say, this clinic could make the cover of Vanity Fur Magazine.
Owner and veterinarian, Dr. Lynn Happel, can be thanked for the clinic’s vibrant look and feel. Before opening her practice in the heart of Grand Rapids’ eclectic Eastown area, this Michigan State University graduate worked at a clinic in Muskegon for two years, with another six years in Grand Rapids. “I like that, as the business owner, I get to make my clinic look cute and that I have the freedom to make my business physically feel warm and inviting,” said Dr. Happel. “If I were working for someone else, I would have no say in the culture or feeling of the clinic when you walk in.”
YOUR BEST FRIEND. THEIR BEST MEDICINE.
Many people have soft spots for animals, but Dr. Happel takes it to a whole new level. She and her staff are dedicated to practicing high quality, personalized medicine in a positive, caring environment while minimizing their pawprint on the earth. “In general, we do wellness care and promote preventative care. It’s easier to help a patient stay well rather than to manage sickness all the time,” said Dr. Happel. “We do vaccinations, dental work, consultations on diet and weight, and cold laser therapy for pain and inflammatory conditions. We even do grooming and puppy training classes!” To the Eastown Veterinary Clinic team, your pets are genuinely their patients, and the pet-owners are their partners in the treatment process.
The story that best demonstrates this is that of an eight-week-old stray cat initially named “Kitty.” A young man found her on the street and brought her into the clinic. On top of having severe respiratory issues, one of her eyes contained so much discharge that it was sealed shut. Even after prescribing antibiotics, the eye wasn’t improving, and it was clear that it ruptured and needed to be removed. Unfortunately, Kitty’s owner could not fully afford the surgery, so the staff voted to devote the funds from their “Roo Puppy Fund” to pay for 75% of the enucleation. The Roo Puppy Fund was set up in memory of a staff member’s dog that died during heartworm treatment and is meant to assist clients experiencing financial hardship. Kitty’s surgery was a success! However, her original owner could not keep her, so Brandy, one of their licensed veterinary technicians, gave Kitty – now named Kit – her new forever home.
Interview With Dr. Lynn Happel
How has being a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce helped you in running your business?
I’ve been a member of the Chamber since we opened in 2011. I joined for the access to different resources and knowledge of what it means to be a small business owner. I love the fact that when I need something, I can reach out to the Chamber and find out how to get it. One of the first events I went to was specifically for new business owners and they taught us how to make a good impression and be memorable at meetings and other networking events. Being in the medical field, where all I know is science, it was awkward at first, but very beneficial since it taught me a skill I did not previously have.
Have animals always played a large role in your life?
I’ve always loved animals! I actually grew up with no pets inside my home, but I did have a horse. I showed horses all the way from age twelve until I was in veterinary school. Right now, I have two lab mixes, a husky mix, and a little black cat.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
What’s most satisfying to me is when I have a client that comes in and feels like they’re welcome and that the staff is passionate and truly cares about their pet.
What about the most challenging part?
The biggest challenge is that, ultimately, I’m responsible for everything. As the business owner, for example, if something happened and all the receptionists were sick, I would have to fill in as the receptionist for the day. That’s actually happened before!
Dr. Happel specializes in advanced dental work for animals and has done volunteer dental work at the John Ball Zoo – including extracting two broken teeth from a lion!
Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say you want a partnership between staff, pet, and pet-owner?
Our primary goal is for the pet to be healthy and free of disease and pain – but the pet owners are with the pet day in and day out, so their knowledge of how their pet is behaving is vital to how I do my job. For example, if a pet comes in sick and the owner has a hard time giving them pills, I don’t just say, “Here are some pills.” If they can’t get the pills into their pet, that doesn’t solve the problem. We have to work together to find a solution to get their pet happy and healthy.
Was it a smooth transition from being a vet to being both a vet and an entrepreneur?
Absolutely not! *laughs* They do not teach you how to run a small business at veterinary school. I had to learn by seeking out additional educational opportunities, like webinars and seminars about doing QuickBooks and balance sheets. When I first started this practice, I was working as a doctor six days a week. I would only teach myself how to run this business at the end of the day after my kids went to bed!