Sacajawea Healthcare for Pets practice manager Dana Copenhaver, left, takes her three-legged dog Luna from Marissa Rossie after conducting a business transaction earlier this week. Sacajawea will celebrate its 40th anniversary next month, which Copenhaver said is significant milestone for veterinary clinics. Jessica Keller, the Mirror

Sacajawea Pet Health celebrating 40 years in Federal Way

Sacajawea Healthcare for Pets staff will celebrate the veterinary clinic’s 40th anniversary next month with a small party, but they know the milestone is a momentous occasion, nevertheless.

Former Federal Way veterinarian Dr. Lee Harris started the practice at 1530 S. Dash Point Road on May 9, 1977, and the clinic is still thriving after all these years. Harris gave up the reins entirely in 2010 after selling the practice to National Veterinary Associates a few years earlier, but practice manager Dana Copenhaver said the clinic veterinarians still follow Lee’s model and passion today.

“He put his heart and soul into the practice,” she said.

Although he has moved on to other things and is an author on pet behavior, Lee still takes shifts at the clinic he founded when needed and will be at the 40th anniversary celebration.

Like Lee’s original practice, the clinic provides services for an array of animals, including dogs, cats and exotics, such as pocket pets like guinea pigs and chinchillas, reptiles, birds, rabbits and ferrets, Copenhaver said. Dr. Yvette Virgin, who trained under Lee, said the veterinarians at the clinic can handle most every situation, but the services are tailored to client’s needs.

“We focus on wellness care, wellness prevention, senior wellness, geriatric management, dentistry,” Virgin said.

A big part of the clinic is its pet wellness program, which stemmed from a senior pet initiative started by Harris years ago, which focuses on taking care of older animals, extending their lives and improving their quality of life as they age, Copenhaver said. Clients can purchase “Paw Plans,” which provides various services, including wellness exams, vaccinations, lab work, internal parasite treatments and de-worming, to animals throughout their lives, for a range of prices.

“Education, wellness care, I think is the best thing we do here,” Virgin said.

The clinic has four veterinarians and 13 other staff, including Copenhaver. They have almost 4,000 active clients and perform a wide range of services, including surgery, exams, diagnostics, radiographs, dentistry and microscopic evaluations. Virgin said they really try to respond to client needs.

“We really focus on client services and education,” she said, adding sometimes clients take their pets somewhere else, but they frequently return when they realize how much the clinic offers them.

In addition to high-quality care, Virgin said clients appreciate the staff’s attention to detail and compassion, which includes mailing post cards to grieving owners if a pet passes and follow-up phone calls after appointments.

Veterinarians do a fair number of walk-in emergencies and treat animals for wounds sustained in fights, animals who are hit by cars, pets who are in respiratory distress and more, but Virgin said if they decide 24-hour care is needed, the animal is transferred to another facility.

“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Both Virgin and Copenhaver agree pet medicine has changed a lot through the years, as well as clients’ expectations for pet care, and the clinic has responded accordingly.

For example, visits with clients are scheduled to make sure the pets get the time from veterinarians necessary for their treatment, Copenhaver said. Wellness exams and vaccinations may not take much time, but dentistry work might take all morning, and the clinic makes sure it schedules enough time to suitably address the animal’s care.

As well, the vet clinic works with a lot of specialists, but instead of referring clients to the specialist, the specialists are brought to the clinic.

Copenhaver said this reflects pet owners’ desires for their animals to receive advanced healthcare.

“Standards of care have changed, so we have changed our standards of care,” Virgin added. “Just because it worked 20 years ago doesn’t mean it works today.”

Copenhaver said a big challenge is meeting the needs of all the different demographics in the area and the vast range of income levels.

The clinic has clients with very little income to some who are quite wealthy. She said the clinic offers top-of-the-line care based on the client’s budget.

“Paw Plans are a way for us to provide that care, at a discounted price,” she said, adding prevention education is also a key focus, which saves clients’ money in the long run.

Copenhaver said, rather than have somebody pay $2,500 for dentistry work on an 8-year-old Chihuahua, veterinarians will educate clients on the importance of brushing their animals’ teeth.

Being part of a corporation alleviates some of the challenges the clinic may otherwise face, too.

Copenhaver said hitting a 40th anniversary mark is significant for any business in these uncertain economic times, but especially for veterinary clinics.

She said it is becoming a trend for corporations to purchase veterinary clinics because it is “very expensive to operate a vet clinic,” and corporations know how to run the business aspect, while the veterinarians focus on animal medicine.

Copenhaver said not many clients even realize the clinic was sold to a corporation, however, because NVA purchases successful clinics and continues to let them operate as they always have, while providing different resources and support, such as business tools, IT support, equipment purchases, educational training and more.

“It’s a very unusual model, but it’s very successful,” she said.

For more information on Sacajawea Healthcare for Pets, visit its website at www.sacajaweahealthcareforpets.com, or call 253-216-8160.