Its been 10 years this month since we opened the doors of Kindred Spirits Veterinary Clinic.
So many people have been part of this…so many people.
We started with a very old building that needed loving.
We went through two building projects
I have employed 32 people and 5 different vets (not including a day or two fill in).
We currently have seen our 6024th client with their 12,278th pet. Some of the clients have moved on and some of the patients have passed away, but we have at least seen them all.
I started out thinking that I would just finish out the rest of my career in a quiet little practice in Orrington Maine. I had a beautiful soul (Dr Jim Meiczinger) covering my day off, and I tried to make it once a week when I could afford to have him. I got some awesome employees (and one or two crappy ones…sorry about that), and thought that my best bet would be to find people who had a big heart and train them to do the technical part (that still pretty much works by the way, although its not always me training them anymore).
Within a relatively short amount of time I was surprised by three things:
- People liked my idea
- There was no friggin way I was going to be able to see the emotional situations day after day and not fry like a hushpuppy
- Managing people is WAY harder than I thought.
So consumed my last 7 or 8 years.
I have been doing a lot of thinking lately.
Don’t worry, no major changes here. In fact, to tell you the truth, I am really proud of this practice and the people in it. That is you in front of the counter and on the other side as well. Over the past few years I have fired people I didn’t want to work with (clients and employees) and also been left by people I did want (again, both groups) . I see that the more people you have, the more drift there is. I have more respect for large companies that stay with a founding vision over time and years…even decades.
When I started practicing veterinary medicine 27 years ago, I only had to worry about the job I did. Sure, the culture that I worked in did to some degree define some of the things I could do, but for me, most of the uniqueness I brought was in the relationships that I formed. I like being a veterinarian and I still feel its an honor to be part of a really important bond. I think I could have been an ok pediatrician too, but I would miss puppy breath.
In the past 10 years, my ability to make a successful practice has much more to do with my ability to coach other people to get past their (often self imposed) limitations to get what they want out of life. In this area, I would give myself a B-. I can figure out most animals, but people are way more difficult for me. In clients and in employees, it is hardest for me to deal with the angry, blaming people. Sometimes nice people have legitimate gripes, and as a business owner, its critical to be responsive to that. What I missed for awhile is that some people stay in that crabby place all the time and those people I have to simply make go away.
I recognize my own double standard on this when it comes to animals. I can deal with the most aggressive animal and generally not take it personally. Usually, when I come at an animal with my guard down they actually put theirs down too. I accept after all these years that sometimes that just ain’t gonna happen, and I have drugs or restraint devices to make that work. When a person has a similar response of aggression, my first instinct is to put my guard down because it usually works with animals.
This is why I am a veterinarian and not a boxer. I’d be a pretty ugly boxer by now.
Last year I brought the staff through the first 1/2 of Dr Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” Some of them groaned, but most embraced it. If you read it, you know that Dr Covey doesn’t just list 7 random good habits….he breaks it into things that you have to do for yourself, and once you master those, you can go onto the interpersonal habits that help when working together with other people.
He makes two points that I absolutely love. One is that we all have paradigms we live by-Rules that we think define the way that the world works. The second helpful concept for me is what he calls “the Emotional Bank Account”. Basically, that each of us in relationships either put currency in or take it out…if you help a friend out of a jam, you just put a big deposit in…but if you break a promise, you just took a withdrawal. Management of that account defines the success of our relationships. If you haven’t read the book, give that one a second chance because he says it much more eloquently than I ever could.
We started on this book coincidentally at the same time our new veterinarian, Dr Chris Barry came. I gotta imagine that he thought I was a nutcase, reviewing a 25-year-old self help book during our lunch time. After the first session though, he jumped right in, shared lots about his own process, and started the love affair that he has with every staff member at Kindred Spirits. His sharing stimulated us all to share. I think that is kind of how it works though….its the guard down that brings out the best in us…no?
So as I look around at this 10 year mark I see Kindred Spirits has a heartbeat that is not just mine. Every one of the staff puts in extra somewhere. That is more helpful than you can know when you are running on empty.
Friday night I had a very emotional home euthanasia. I went to a home of a woman who had a 16 year old dog that had been her late father’s, and she had surrounded herself with friends to help with the decision and its aftermath. We sat in an impromptu circle after I gave her the sedative (the dog, not the human). We said goodbye together in as beautiful a way as anyone can in that circumstance. She asked me to bring the dog back to the clinic for a private cremation.
As I drove back to the clinic I felt the weight of the week on me. It was my 6th pet this week to let go, and I have to say, even after these years, that takes the most out of me. When I came back to the clinic everyone had gone home, but there was one car left. I came through the door to find Adrienne, waiting for this sweet dog as well as for another that Dr Barry was putting to sleep in Orono.
I will be honest, more than once in my career I have thought about moving on to something less emotional. Like maybe being a car detailer or perhaps studying sea cucumbers. These past few years have been a challenge for me personally. But then again, that has kind of always been true, and that is what makes life worth living. I can see that the next 10 years will be shifting some of the responsibility onto younger and compassionate shoulders. Don’t read between the lines here….I’m not leaving. But I trust the team at Kindred Spirits, and I learn from them every day. Its not just about me anymore.
Don’t get me wrong….the buck still stops with me. The staff will still have to listen to me go on and on about personal responsibility, I will still pick the music for the waiting area, the animals will still sometimes hide in the corner to get away from me, my wife will still look at me affectionately when I come home (covered in cat hair, carrying a cocker spaniel).
At least I hope it will still be affectionately.
Mary and I had the idea for Kindred Spirits, but you all have made it what it is 10 years later. A living, breathing, animal-loving community. When I was a little kid, I definitely thought I was the only one that was crazy about my animals. Today I know there are at least 6,023 others as crazy as me.