After 37 years, Animal Hospital of North Asheville is named nation's practice of the year
Mar. 11, 2014 |
The intensive care unit of the Animal Hospital of North Asheville. Note the 'Cats Only' sign on the door: As a certified 'cat friendly' practice, the hospital's feline patients do not share facilities with dogs. / Special to the Citizen-Times
Written by: Bruce C. Steele
Holding the national Practice of the Year award for the Animal Hospital of North Asheville are, from left, married veterinarians Paul Duncan and Susan Wootten, practice founders and veterinarians David Thompson and Betsy Thompson and client care supervisor Cathy Hanke. / Special to the Citizen-Times
o Visit the Animal Hospital of North Asheville at 1 Beaverdam Road, North Asheville, or www.ahna.net, or call 253-3393. o For a list of the 2014 winners of the Petplan Veterinary Awards, visit www.GoPetplan.com/vetawards.
It's been nearly 40 years since David and Betsy Thompson got married, and in that time they've cared for thousands of children.
Well, three of their own, and thousands of other people's children -- those being of the "animal companion" variety, since the Thompsons are veterinarians. But still, they are little ones -- and not-so-little ones -- who are precious to their human parents.
Now all those hundreds or thousands of parents have paid back the Thompsons in a special way: The couple's Animal Hospital of North Asheville -- just two years younger than their marriage -- was nominated by its clients for the Petplan pet insurance Practice of the Year award.
At the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards dinner last month in Las Vegas, to which the Thompsons and three staffers were flown by the insurance company, the hospital learned it had won the top prize, beating more than 3,100 other vet practices nationwide that had been nominated for Petplan awards.
"We have a wonderful staff that I think really sets us apart," Betsy Thompson said of their award win, declining to take chief credit for herself and her husband.
Yet it was Betsy and David who built the practice from scratch -- literally, with hammers and paintbrushes.
"We started with a 1,500-square-foot building that we painted ourselves, inside and out," David said.
"We did everything," Betsy said, "mopped the floors, raked the yard, planted the plants."
They were still finishing work on the building when they got their first emergency call. David recalled, "I was hanging wallpaper in one of the exam rooms a week before we opened, and we had an emergency -- a basset hound who had been hit by a car."
A neighbor had seen the soon-to-be-open animal hospital and asked for their help for the injured dog. "We went running out," David said. "And when we went back later, all the wallpaper had fallen to the floor."
But it was worth it. The basset hound survived, the wallpaper was rehung, and the practice thrived and grew. "And now we have 10,000 square feet," David added.
Nine veterinarians work at the practice, which has a total of 46 employees.
"One of the things that's wonderful about being a vet is that a medical doctor ages at the same rate as his patients, while a vet can see many generations of patients," David said. "We've had clients that are on their sixth and seventh generations. And they're like family."
Focus on care
The Thompson family has its roots in Georgia, where David and Betsy met in vet school at the University of Georgia. They graduated and married in 1975 and set up shop in Asheville just two years later on Beaverdam Road, just off Merrimon Avenue, where the practice still is -- four expansions later.
Coming to Asheville was a carefully considered decision for the young couple. "It was close to family, and we love the outdoors," Betsy said.
The hospital offers the expected services but with a sharpness of focus that's not possible in smaller practices. David, for example, now does dental work exclusively.
There are also behavior classes, food and fundraising drives for local animal rescue groups and for Buncombe foster children -- the human kind -- and free lectures by guest experts the Thompsons invite.
For pets that have to spend the night, there's a staffer with nursing skills on duty throughout the wee hours, a rarity in vet practices.
"And all the vets are on call for their own patients," David said.
If human parents want to visit with their furry child while he or she is under the hospital's care, the practice will make arrangements to keep the family together.
"It's part of our mission statement," David said. "We don't separate pets from the people that they love."
So it's no wonder that after 37 years, the Thompsons still put in almost as much time as they did at the start. "We still work on average 11-12 hours a day, seven days a week, some weeks," Betsy said.
What makes it worth it, in addition to helping their many four-footed patients, is that "we have wonderful clients and wonderful staff," David said. "We're also the only gold-standard cat-friendly practice in the area, and one of only four in the state."
That "cat friendly" certification, from the American Association of Feline Practitioners, requires meeting a long list of criteria meant to keep cats calmer and happier during their visits to the vet and healthier when they leave.
At the Animal Hospital of North Asheville, "Among other things, we have separate facilities so that the cats don't have to be in a room where a dog has ever been before," David said. (At least when they're conscious, that is. Surgical facilities serve dogs and cats.)
The hospital even diffuses a hormone into the air in the cat-exclusive areas to help keep felines calm. And, of course, there are lots of toys and treats, for cats and dogs alike.
So do the animals actually like it at the hospital? David recalled "an incident a while ago when a couple of the dogs that live just a few doors away got out of their yard. And they were waiting for us when we got here in the morning, expecting treats."
The hospital has spent the best part of four decades watching North Asheville grow up around it -- during which time the Thompsons' own children, Beth, Richard and Kate, also grew up to become a pediatric psychologist, an emergency room physician and an attorney.
These many years later, the practice is an integral part of the neighborhood as well as the larger Asheville "animal companion" community, a position the Thompsons work to maintain.
"I think our high involvement in community service is one of the things that attracted (the Petplan awards) to our hospital," David said.
But as nice as it is to be named the best veterinarian practice in the nation, "You don't do what you do to get recognized," Betsy said. "You do it because you love what you do."