It’s rare to find a doctor who takes the time to look you in the eye, genuinely ask how you’re feeling and then get on the floor and rub your tummy. Many two-legged patients might be wary of such treatment, but the extra attention at Urban Animal earns approving tail wags from four-legged friends.
“Since I was a little kid, being a veterinarian is all I ever wanted,” says Dr. Cherri Trusheim, who owns Capitol Hill’s Urban Animal with her wife, Taya Maes.
Urban Animal opened in October of last fall and offers a new model for vet care to better serve both pets and people. Especially with the difficult economy, providing proper medical care for pets has become cost prohibitive for many people. Being a walk-in clinic helps Urban Animal reduce costs so top-quality care is also affordable.
“People would leave the specialty hospital with $12,000 in bills,” says Trusheim, who worked emergency and critical care for over a decade at Seattle-area practices. “I started struggling philosophically with how that made sense. Sometimes the pet only lived a few extra months and you’re not even sure they want to go through the treatment.”
Urban Animal treats cats and dogs and not accepting appointments helps streamline the schedule and reduce overhead. For now, the clinic operates with a staff of three – Trusheim, Maes and licensed veterinary technician Rob Oatman – but still sees upwards of 20 patients on a busy day.
“People understand that they have to let go of certain things to make it more affordable. I might not be able to talk for 45 minutes every visit – even though I often do anyway!” chuckles Trusheim.
Most visits average $120, but people sometimes leave with an impressively-low $45 bill for routine exams.
The approach benefited Kimberley Lauman and her 12-year-old pug, Otis. Lauman, a Seattle University graduate student, was still traveling to her home base of Portland for veterinary care when she discovered Urban Animal. She lives only blocks away.
“We were getting close to the end and Otis was having seizures. There was testing that would have been between $4,000-$9,000, but she (Trusheim) was honest that it probably wouldn’t change the course of treatment. We agreed the best thing was to keep him comfy, which also happened to be the less expensive option,” says Lauman.
Otis passed away in November. While difficult, Lauman credits Urban Animal for easing the process for both her and Otis.
“Probably the most key thing Cherri gave me was the confidence in my own self to make decisions. She recognizes that humans are part of the experience,” say Lauman.
Part of Urban Animal’s vision is also to make the space itself welcoming, which contributes to better care. Clients such as Lauman look forward to taking pictures in the lobby’s photo booth. Trusheim’s own picture adorns the wall, a stethoscope around her neck and dog in her lap. Exam rooms are decorated with custom wallpaper made from old photos of people and pets. One room boasts a small couch and rug to keep patients comfy. A bonus was that the process further bonded Urban Animal to the greater community. Locals, such as artist Joey Veltkamp and interior designer Sarah Littlefield, contributed to the design.
“Trying to network within our personal community is important to me because we are gay-owned and operated. I already know that we’ll either be closed on gay pride day or have people filling in because we’ll be attending the parade. It’s a holiday!” says Trusheim.
Trusheim values being recognized as a family business. “It’s cool to have the doctor’s wife working the front desk,” she says. She and Maes met while working at another veterinary office, so Urban Animal feels like life has come full circle – for the entire family, which includes their three dogs.
“The first time I had dinner at her house, her pug was sitting in his own chair at the table!” recalls Trusheim. The dogs frequently visit Urban Animal – as evidenced by puppy bite marks throughout Trusheim’s office!
Trusheim foresees opening more Urban Animal locations as soon as it’s financially feasible. Keeping it neighborhood-based makes care convenient for clients and maintains affordability via the walk-in model.
Based on her experience, Lauman hopes others will have the chance to benefit as much as she and Otis did.
“I’m not particularly spiritual or religious, but walking by Urban Animal and finding Cherri, it’s amazing how that came together at the right time.”