By David Silverberg

The idea for Emma Harris’s startup began with a sick dog, specifically her sick dog, Bo. In July 2016, her yellow Labrador Retriever contracted a rare lung infection, which had Harris and her fiancée driving back and forth to a veterinary clinic over six months. Bo’s sickness cost the couple more than $10,000.

“More than half of that money could’ve been saved if we had an alternative to walking into a clinic,” Harris says in an interview from her Liberty Village company headquarters. Bo doesn’t show any signs of illness, excitedly watching our interview with his tail wagging.

And so began the brainstorming that led to Healthy Pets, a startup allowing Ontario pet owners to make appointments online via video chat with registered vet clinics. Currently the service is only available in Ontario:  the Council of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario announced in 2017 it had approved a new standard on the use of telemedicine in the delivery of veterinary medicine in Ontario.

“Just like telemedicine is available for Canadians across the country, we need that for our pets,” says Harris.

She stresses how two out of three vet clinic appointments could be conducted online, saving pet owners thousands of dollars annually. Common questions such as “Why does my dog always have a dry nose?” or “What happens if my cat ate my breakfast?” are often asked of vets, but they don’t require an in-person consultation, Harris notes.

EmmaHarris2_DavidSilverbergThe fee for each visit is $40 and the cost is $10 for a monthly subscription, but it’s not unlimited: It includes 4 appointments, with a reduced fee of $25 per appointment thereafter.

Enlisted vet clinics also pay a monthly subscription fee.

The targeted clients for Healthy Pets are pet owners who are digitally literate and may have issues with their dogs or cats when clinics are closed. Harris has also noticed a demand from rural pet owners who don’t have many vet clinics in their region.

“To have a vet come out to the farm is very expensive, so we’ve noticed a surge of interest for equine care,” Harris says.

Healthy Pets arrives at an opportune time: Over the last 10 years cat and dog ownership has increased by 10 percent in Canada, and around 41 percent of Canadian households include at least one dog, and around 37 percent of households include at least one cat, according to data from the Canadian Animal Health Institute.

“We’ve seen an increase in the humanization of pets, too,” Harris says, explaining the concept of pet owners often treating their dogs and cats more than animals, as we’ve seen with dog beauty parlors, feeding pets food that could cost more than food for kids and letting pets sleep in an owner’s bed.

More than 20 clinics have been using Healthy Pets since the company launched in beta in 2017. In March 2018, they officially launched, complete with a website redesign and adding several new employees.

Harris says working out of Toronto “gives us easy access to investors, advisors and events for networking opportunities. The tech community is so supportive here there’s no other city I’d want to be in.”

She remarks how running Healthy Pets is the most difficult position she’s ever undertaken, and “there’s so much to do but even on my bad days I’m so grateful to be an entrepreneur addressing the gap I see between pet owners and vet clinics. I literally wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

Photos: David Silverberg