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October 29, 2018
On the record

Start-up delivers veterinary house call services, from sick visits to hospice care and euthanasia

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Deirdre Frey, founder of Vet at Your Door, says she'd like to expand the business to other parts of Maine.

Deirdre Frey is a computer programmer-turned-veterinarian who founded Vet at Your Door in 2015 to provide veterinary house call services in Maine.

From her home in Carrabassett Valley, the mother of three — who has a soft spot for old, cranky cats — leads a five-person team of vets and technicians. Frey earned a bachelor's degree in operations research and industrial engineering from Cornell University, and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. Mainebiz caught up with her in Portland on an afternoon it happened to be raining cats and dogs.

Mainebiz: How did you go from computer programming into veterinary medicine?

Deirdre Frey: I graduated in engineering during the dotcom boom and it was really exciting, but there was something missing, and I always knew that I wanted to do something with animals. When the dotcom bust came and I was laid off, I investigated things I could do with animals and decided to go the veterinarian route. It's a big route because it involves going back to school, including taking all the prerequisite courses. It was a lot of school. After that I did an internship for a year and then I practiced.

MB: Did the practice not measure up to your expectations?

DF: I enjoyed it for a little while, but a huge problem in our profession is burnout, especially for women who make up the vast majority of new veterinarians. Depression and anxiety are such a huge problem in our field because we're such emotional people, and our debt burden is very high. With Vet at Your Door, I wanted to create an opportunity for other veterinarians to provide a work-life balance. Happy veterinarians make good veterinarians — they'll practice their best medicine.

MB: Are you happier?

DF: I'm so much happier, because if I have to pick up my kid at school or if my kid is sick, I can schedule around that. If I want to take a run in the middle of the day, I can also do that, and I want to offer that to the veterinarians who work for Vet at Your Door as well so they can feel they have some control over their life.

MB: Is the quality of care better because it's personal service at home?

DF: The care of an animal is about matching what's best for the animal with what's best for the client or owner. When the person feels like the plan is what they want, and the animal is being treated as well as possible under whatever circumstances there may be, such as financial circumstances or whatever, then we can create the best possible plan.

MB: Can your team do everything in a person's home you do in an office?

DF: Not everything — we work out of our cars. It's not like we have a hospital on wheels necessarily, but we do a lot of things such as wellness visits. We do vaccines and heartworm tests on dogs. We can do all lab work and that sort of thing as well as sick visits, acupuncture and hospice care. Euthanasia we do at home as well, which is really nice to be able to offer as low-stress as possible.

MB: Anything you can't do at home?

DF: Inter-abdominal surgery is something we can't do, but we have good relationships with local hospitals that we can refer to. We also don't do X-rays, but we will refer to local hospitals who will send us the X-rays and we'll interpret them.

MB: How many client visits a week and where?

DF: We probably do about 50 visits a week in total in our three areas we cover — Portland and the Midcoast (based out of Freeport), southern Maine (from Saco) and the Carrabassett Valley and western Maine mountain region.

MB: What are your longer-term plans for the business?

DF: My goal would be to expand throughout Maine, like maybe to Kennebunkport, Augusta and the Greenville area, where the closest vet is an hour away. In the future I'm also hoping to hire someone who might do large or exotic animals, but right now we're focused don dogs and cats.

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