Having pets can be costly, and high vet bills often make it difficult for otherwise loving owners to properly care for their pets. Veterinarian Jeff Young understands the plight of many low-income pet owners and his Colorado clinic, Planned Pethood Plus, prides itself on being a low-cost solution with high-quality results.
Jeffrey Young was born and raised in Indiana. He graduated from Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1989 after working as an Animal Control Officer during his college studies. In 1990, he established Planned Pethood Plus, Inc. and subsequently created an organization called Planned Pethood International that seeks to help animals all over the world. Dr. Jeff has performed over 175,000 surgeries and is an advocate of early-age spay/neutering and developing worldwide sustainable low-cost healthcare for animals.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Jeff has trained numerous young vets from all across the globe, owns and operates a mobile spay/neuter clinic, has overseen innumerable animal welfare projects, served on many humane society boards, given speeches at colleges, and won several awards such as the Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center Award of Achievement and the El Grito 5K Humanitarian Award. Dr. Jeff is now focusing his attention on building similar clinics in other parts of the world. Since 2015, he has been the subject of Animal Planet’s Dr. Jeff Rocky Mountain Vet television series, which has garnered excellent reviews and ratings. The show’s third season is currently being aired while the fourth season is actively being filmed. Recently, Dr. Jeff discussed his veterinary experiences and his plans for the future.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you first get interested in becoming a vet?
Jeff Young (JY): I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a vet, I was always bringing animals, bugs, lizards, and lots more home.
MM: What was your childhood like? Do you think the way you grew up somehow fostered or impacted your career with animals?
JY: I was a military brat. We moved around a lot and that was hard, people came and went. Animals often came and went. I did spend summers at my grandparents and one had a dairy farm and the other had a farm with pigs and grew corn and soybeans. The summers on the farms were incredible for me.
MM: How did you establish your veterinary clinic, Planned Pethood Plus? Why did you choose that name?
JY: I made a pledge to my boss when I was working at animal control that when I graduated I would dedicate my career to overpopulation. Since Planned Parenthood dealt with reproductive issues, I thought Planned Pethood Plus would let people know we are all about spay and neuter and the “plus” means we do a lot more. I saw overpopulation as the single biggest cause of death and neglect to cats and dogs.
MM: How did you secure a show on “Animal Planet”? How has the series impacted your business and life?
JY: Evidently, Animal Planet wanted to get back into having a vet show on. They were the first to start the trend but haven’t had a vet show for a while and a lot of other channels had several successful shows. I got a call from a production team called Double Act out of England and they told me they were looking for a vet for a TV show. I told them I might be interested but it would be very controversial and they should check out my Facebook page. They did and called back within a few hours and they were out the next week. The rest, as they say, is history.
MM: You operate a “low cost” clinic. How do you juggle the expenses of vet medicine with the low fees to your patients?
JY: We always had good balance, we had over 70,000 clients prior to the television show and I have not advertised for over 10 years. Everyone thinks we get big grants but that is just not the case. We do ask for donations for my non-profit and many of my clients donate. But, in the end, I just do things for rock bottom prices. The bottom line is that there are many ways to solve problems far less than top-of-the-line medicine. Also, I never count my time. I love what I do and would rather be working the just about anything else. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should sometimes.
MM: A big reason why many people don’t adopt pets is because vet bills are so high. Why are the rates inflating so rapidly? How do you think more clinics could offer the low rates that you do?
JY: We are trying to move human medicine over to animals and in doing so we have to change more and more. I feel it is immoral, and many times unethical, to charge thousands of dollars. I am very pragmatic and we live in a world where people and pets don’t get proper healthcare. I have no problem trying to help people if I can give their pet quality of life. In the end, we (vets) want it both ways – you should have your animal and be willing to pay $5,000 for a surgery but if you can’t afford it, we will kill it for $300 dollars. Where is the intrinsic value of the animal? We sure don’t want animal status to be determined in the law or we could be sued for a lot more money. Currently animals are viewed as personal property in the eyes of the law, so replacement costs are all you have to pay—much like breaking someone’s TV. There is no need for shelters to euthanize animals just because they have conditions like ringworm or a limp. Those issues can be fixed pretty easily and, if there was a widespread and cost effective way to do so, many more animals would be saved. All shelters should have a vet, an animal trainer, and an animal behaviorist. A lot of the shelters in England operate that way and we could really learn something from them.
MM: You have a fantastic team of doctors, aides, technicians and other administrators — one of whom is your daughter. How do you choose who to hire?
JY: We try to find people who are not afraid of work and can handle high volume. A lot of people like the idea of what we do and as soon as they are hired they want to change things to slow down. You have to want to work every day. I mean, one year at Planned Pethood Plus is like 3-5 years anywhere else. I want people who believe in our spay and neuter policy and understand we deal with a lot of poor and working class people.
MM: You also co-own another clinic in Slovenia where your wife, Petra, is originally from. How did you come to co-own a clinic in that nation? Are there any big differences between European veterinary practices and American ones?
JY: I don’t really own the Slovakian clinic. Look at our Spay It Forward Program, many places there are very much like us in America but many eastern European countries are very behind. They seem to have a lot of regulations that prevent competition. It’s a hold-over from communism and plus the corruption is a lot more prominent when it comes to animal issues like the street dog population control. I like to establish clinics where they are most needed. I’ve been traveling the world for years, mostly doing speeches on behalf of Dog Trust International. My roots building clinics in other nations goes back about 12 to 15 years; it’s nothing new and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. I’ve been involved with the Mexican clinic since 2010 and I will be in Romania in June. I did this long before “Animal Planet” but the show has just given my career and projects a lot more attention.
MM: You have battled — and defeated — cancer twice. Has that experience changed your view on life and work?
JY: Not really, I never planned on dying and I am still too busy to die. Once the International Training Center in Mexico is fully operational I want to build one in Montenegro. We are all going to die but it is how we live that matters and I still have things to do. I love my life and my work.
MM: Which cases have touched you in particular?
JY: One of my favorite memories is a little puppy that had a heart condition and I did a heart surgery that I had never done before. It was a very small puppy and it did great, and a few months later the little boy attached to the puppy sent me a really nice Christmas card. I love helping animals but, in the end, they are almost all connected to people and I also love helping people. I feel I have been lucky in life and I do believe that those of us that are blessed are obligated to help those who have more difficulties in their life. I am very well read on religion and I know what Jesus would do.
MM: What are your major goals over the next ten years?
JY: I am hoping to be able to do a little scuba diving; I love it and I did it for a while but haven’t had time over the last few years. But I really want to get a second International Training Center in the country of Montenegro. I feel in a five years’ time frame we can have the largest most comprehensive street dog population control program. This will make great science and help with political decisions.
MM: What do you think the vet industry can do to improve services in the near future?
JY: I don’t think that with the technology progression of medicine that things will get better until humane groups start opening full service hospitals. The problem is most groups that have the money don’t want to offend the vet profession. I see a greater and greater disparity in what vets want to provide and what people can afford. Heck, I would love to do high end stuff but I would be doing so much less, for so many, but I would sure make more money. Essentially, the Vet Association intentionally slows down low-cost efforts and they create sanctions that would not—and frequently do not—hold up in court. The problem is that most non-profits do not have the time or the money to go to court to argue their case. Changes to the basic veterinary system are needed and a lot of asinine regulations need to be repealed so low-cost, non-profit, clinics can operate without the threat of being sued.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a vet?
JY: Don’t lose your compassion and don’t believe for a second that technology should come first over our own humanity. You can make a good living without taking advantage of people. Be honest and be willing to work hard. If you’re going to open a low-cost clinic, be prepared for push-backs from the vet associations and also be prepared to deal with some difficult clients. I’ve had to remove people from the premises on more than one occasion.
MM: What’s the most rewarding thing about being a veterinarian?
JY: Seeing animals get better while seeing smiles on the faces of their human caretakers plus you are only limited by your imagination. I don’t believe in putting people through the ringer and I am happy to provide services at reasonable rates. I like helping people as much as the animals. I work twelve hours a day but I don’t mind at all. My work is my passion.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
JY: I do see pharmaceutical companies as being a big part of healthcare cost both for human and animals with no regard to animals or people. We have created oligopolies and the foxes are guarding the hen house, so until we stand up and say enough is enough nothing will change. People and animals are just not bottom lines for corporations. Also, the vet industry should make themselves more accessible to people who have questions. For instance, people should know to come and talk to a vet about what kind of dog to get before they adopt a breed. I see a lot of cases where people get dogs without researching the breed first and then have trouble handling them. I adopted a Labrador once after a family surrendered it since their elderly grandmother couldn’t take care of it properly. I would never have recommended a Labrador for an older person. Similar issues happen with exotic animals; most of the trouble we see with reptiles is either related to improper diet or environment. People really need to do more research before they get a pet. Education needs to be a priority and a vet can help with that.
[Featured Image by Jeff Young]