New signs and a new logo signal exciting changes at the Bowen Island Veterinary Services. Veterinarian Dr. Alastair Westcott has teamed up with Laura and Walt Ruloff, who will manage the business side of the clinic.
Alastair sees a lot of positive outcomes. "I feel that this partnership will enhance the whole picture. The changes will enable me to focus more on what I'm good at," he said. "My original passion is to be a veterinarian and not a businessman. This allows me to focus on patients and contribute to the community without the strain of trying to run a business at the same time."
Alastair has been operating the Bowen Island Veterinary Services for 12 years and says that running the clinic and being on call 24/7 led him dangerously close to a burn-out situation. Until the Ruloffs stepped in. "We believe that this is important service for the island," Laura says and Walt adds, "There isn't much that is more painful than when a pet gets sick. We are committed to Bowen for the long term and we feel it's vital to have good vet clinic."
And even though the changes will make a difference for Alastair, patient care won't be affected. "We'll be open the same hours and have 24/7 on-call service," he said. "That stays the same."
In the future, clinic hours might be expanded to seven days a week. "We plan to bring in an associate vet," Walt said. "She'll be coming on board because we realize it's impossible to work seven days a week." Another aspect that will change relates to home services. "We are looking to enhance home service for clients who can't come to clinic or who would rather have their pets looked after at home," Walt said.
A veterinarian on Bowen needs to be very community-oriented, says Alastair, adding that the Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society (CAWES) has been a vital part of the community as well as his practice. He has contributed to wildlife care, tended to deer and taken part in marine mammals rescue. "I have been called out in the middle of the night to deal with deer," Alastair said. "While CAWES helps to cover the cost of the drugs, I donate my time and expertise."
Recently, Alastair has treated an injured owl. "We have an arrangement with a raptor rehab centre. We stabilize [raptors] and arrange transport to Boundary Bay. When they recover, we bring them back to Bowen," he said, adding that the clinic absorbs most of the cost.
Another part of the practice that is a recent addition is an emergency pet service for neighbouring islands. "We have a boat and go to Gambier, Keats and Pasley where we assess dogs and cats," Alastair explains. "If necessary, we transport them to Bowen where we have a well-equipped hospital. We had to deal with fairly significant emergency medicine and emergency surgeries and want to offer that service to surrounding islands."
Walt added that the animal hospital has full services that cover X-rays, lab work, surgeries and dental work. "When we get the question, 'Do you do that on the island?' we say, 'Yes, we do,'" Alastair said. "We do endoscopy and chemotherapy. We also do some very high-level procedures here."
And when a pet needs surgery, it can get expensive. "For our general practice, our prices are very affordable and comparable to the mainland," Alastair says. "When it comes to surgery, our bills are obviously higher. But if your pet needs emergency surgery, you might be looking at the cost of chartering a private water taxi to get the pet downtown into surgery if it happens at night. Our prices may be a little higher but still more affordable than going into town."
And a pet in need would never be refused treatment, says Alastair. "In all the years we've had the practice on Bowen, no pet was turned away for lack of funding," he said. "We've always managed to make it work and will continue in that way."
People may have financial issues but their pets still need to be taken care of, says Walt, adding that one reason the partnership was created was because he realizes how important pets are to their families. "Almost everyone who has a pet sees it as an extension of the family. And if something goes wrong, there needs to be help," he said.
Walt says he is comfortable managing the business side. "I'm used to budgeting, financing and preparing for the replacement of equipment," he said. "I believe that with the combination of Alastair, Laura and I, we can make this an extraordinary clinic."