This past February we participated in an Alabama Spay Day event—a new venture for us, but one that I felt was extremely important as we celebrated the opening of our spay/neuter clinic, Mercy West, and the launch of our company-wide affordable spay/neuter and low-cost vaccine programs.
Since we opened in 2007, Mercy has accepted low-cost spay/neuter certificates from the Friends of Cats and Dogs Foundation (FCDF). Since their founding, FCDF has provided low-cost options for pet owners resulting in more than 25,000 subsidized surgeries performed. As I planned strategic partnerships and outreach to accompany the opening of Mercy West last year, I reached out to FCDF to see how we could work together to help raise awareness for spay/neuter, as well as incentivize more pet owners to elect to have their pets spayed or neutered.
The reaction from FCDF was one of amazement: Not many privately owned practices are working with nonprofits to provide services at lower costs. After months of promoting each other’s services, we conceived the idea for a public-private partnership for Spay Day.
The partners for Alabama Spay Day included Friends of Cats and Dogs Foundation, the Animal League of Birmingham (ALOB), both of our Mercy locations (Mercy Animal Hospital in Gardendale and Mercy West Spay Neuter Clinic in Pleasant Grove), and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale. The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic is Birmingham’s only nonprofit spay/neuter clinic and has gone through much turmoil, as it has always had to fight for its continued existence—Alabama State Law forbids nonveterinarian clinic ownership. We weren’t sure how the veterinary community would respond to this partnership, as we were very publicly siding with a nonprofit clinic. As was expected, our owners did receive a few phone calls from colleagues wondering why we were choosing to do this—I expect more out of shock than anger. But the reaction from the community at large was gratitude and happiness.
The key to this event was partnership and fiscal responsibility. It’s rare for a privately owned veterinary practice in Alabama to truly partner with a nonprofit organization. And by partner I mean to so closely tie mission and money. Anyone who participated in our Spay Day event received a surgery and a rabies vaccination for $20. We made this event a success because Mercy agreed to perform surgeries for the regular FCDF certificate price and agreed to accept $10 for every rabies vaccination. By providing access to care, we believed we would have a great opportunity to retain these clients—most of whom would probably never step foot in a veterinary practice.
The client’s $20 represented a financial investment in their pet’s care. FCDF agreed to fund the difference between the $20 “copay” and the everyday FCDF certificate price, and the Animal League of Birmingham agreed to pay $10 to cover the cost of the rabies vaccination. This worked well all around because FCDF and ALOB were able to make their foundation funds go further.
As it turns out, we were right. We currently retain over 65 percent of clients whose first-time visit is because of our affordable spay/neuter programs. For Spay Day, the number was even higher—80 percent retention.
Successful communication and financial transparency was key. Our nonprofit partners expected that both Mercy locations, as well as the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, would need to cover costs as well as make enough money to cover overhead expenses. But they also wanted to know that they were not being taken advantage of financially. As a private practice, it was very important to me that they understand the overall costs involved with essentially closing our practice for a day strictly for this event, as well as our true expenditures. Since this collaboration, we continued our “$20 promotion” during May and June to reach at least an additional 100 pet owners. It’s been such a rewarding experience all around.