Animal Attraction

Barbara Burroughs, of Brown Animal Hospital in South Burlington, considered becoming a physician like her father but chose veterinary medicine instead. "My mom would say that if she wanted to find out how my day had been, what had happened in school, she would listen to me talking to the dogs," Burroughs says.

by Pip Vaughan-Hughes

Barbara Burroughs started at Brown Animal Hospital in South Burlington as a summer technician during college. After buying the practice in 1988, she's doubled the number of employees and moved into a state-of-the-art facility

The first thing most people see when they walk through the doors of Brown Animal Hospital in South Burlington is a 15-foot high mural of animals peering through luxuriant jungle foliage. It's certainly arresting, but it is also telling of one of the most endearing traits of this vibrant animal safe house: On closer inspection, many of the jungle beasts prove to be cats and dogs, and most are portraits of pets belonging to the hospital's staff. "We asked them to bring in photos of their animals, and the artist, Gina Carrera, painted them in," says Dr. Barbara Burroughs, the hospital's owner and director.

The mural is just one attractive feature of many in the hospital's long, airy reception area, which stretches the length of the building. Fashionable, low-energy lamps hang from the exposed cathedral beams of the ceiling. At one end, floor-length windows allow visitors to watch the activity in the grooming room, where two full-time groomers beautify eight to 10 pets a day although more than canine vanity is catered to, judging by the bottles of SOS Skunk Odor shampoo on the shelves.

If Burroughs points out the hospital's more important features the operating theater, the treatment room, the intensive care unit, the laboratory that runs the length of the building and links the five examining rooms with a note of quiet pride, it's probably because she worked closely with architect Brad Rabinowitz on the design and construction of the building. "I felt like we needed to offer a state-of-the-art facility," she says. "I wanted a new building that would reflect the quality of care and work we offer."

Dr. Kurt Larson (left), Burroughs and Dr. Jodi Halpin spend time with a Dalmatian in one of the hospitals five examining rooms. Burroughs says the eight veterinarians on the hopsital's staff get together at least once a day to discuss cases. "It's a continuing education for all of us, pooling ideas,"she says.

Burroughs purchased the practice in 1988 from Dr. Harold Brown, after establishing a long and productive relationship with him. "When I was 8, we brought our first dog we bought in Vermont to Brown Animal Hospital," Burroughs says. "I started working for Dr. Brown when I was at college, first as a volunteer. Then I was employed for a few summers as a dog walker, technician, that kind of thing." Burroughs graduated from veterinary school in 1986, "and Dr. Brown hired me as a vet," she says. "In 1988 he turned 60; I turned 30. He decided to sell the business, and I bought it."

To understand what it would be like to own a business, Burroughs enrolled in a few continuing education classes at local colleges, but she says what she learned on the job was "infinitely better" than what she gleaned from textbooks. "One of the harder things of trying to manage the hospital is that sometimes you have to do things that may not be the best choice economically. It might be cheaper to feed all of the dogs in the kennel the cheapest dog food, but we're not going to do that because we made a conscious decision for the pet."

Seven years ago, Burroughs leased the Williston Road offices, now used by Maggie Mae's Pet Care, from Dr. Brown. In August 1994, when the business outgrew the space, she moved her practice into the new location.

In 1995, the hospital won the Hospital of the Year award from Veterinary Economics magazine. The staff has doubled since the move, to 40 employees, including eight veterinarians. In addition, Brown Animal Hospital has contracted the services of Dr. Kenney, a small animal surgeon who works part-time; and a veterinary ophthalmologist who comes in once a month. The hospital has a boarding facility that can accommodate 25 cats and 75 dogs that are walked three times a day in the hospital's fenced yard. "We have appointments from 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night, and we're double-booked. We have 45 to 55 office calls every day, and do anything from four to 10 surgical procedures daily."

Brown Animal Hospital has 40 employees, including eight veterinarians; Dr. Kenney (above), a small animal surgeon who works part-time; and a veterinary ophthalmologist who comes in once a month. Daily, the staff sees 45 to 55 patients and performs four to 10 surgical procedures, Burroughs says.

That's all going on behind closed doors. In the visitors' area, the resident cat, Beauty, purrs around the corridors and nuzzles along welcoming pant legs, giving the office a cozy, down-home feel. It's a difficult balance to strike between the gravity taking place in the surgery room and the security handed out in the waiting room by the legion of concerned workers, but Burroughs says she's blessed with a knowledgeable and supportive staff.

"I think one of the reasons for our success is that we're really fortunate to have a staff that is extremely caring toward animals," Burroughs points out. "Vets are sometimes so sidetracked by the technicalities of a case, but the technicians will keep us in touch. They are all so keyed into the animals. I call them animal advocates," she says, "and it's something the clients can sense. We all have tons of pets at home."

Halle Davis, practice manager, says the staff comes together to complement each other, another feeling that clients can't help but notice. "The fact that we have lots of vets means that there is a very broad knowledge base here," Davis says. "In fact, one new client told me she's transferring her animals' care here from Montpelier, where she lives, because she feels the long drive will be worth it for the amount of knowledge we have here."

Every day at 12.30 p.m., the vets make rounds, giving them an opportunity to discuss cases and office calls. "It's eight people putting their heads together," Burroughs says. "It's a continuing education for all of us, pooling ideas. It makes for successful outcomes."

Burroughs estimates that 90 to 95 percent of the animals seen at the hospital are dogs and cats and some smaller animals like rabbits and ferrets "what we call pocket pets," she says. "And that's another reason for our success: Dogs and cats play a much greater role in peoples' lives these days. Forty years ago, the attitude was much closer to an old cartoon that Dr. Brown kept in his office, which showed a man bringing his dog to the vet. 'If he's sicker than 10 bucks, forget it,' he's saying. These days, though, pets sleep on their owners' beds, and have human names like Molly and Bob, not Rover. And people are willing to spend more money on the health of their pets."

Still, Burroughs says there are times that the gulf between the pets' well-bring and the cost of treatment is too wide for some pet owners to bear. She says the vets' first priority is explaining what's best for the animal. "If that can't be done because of some financial considerations, we look at other options."

Burroughs was a child when she established her animal kinship. Born in Birmingham, Ala., she moved to Essex Junction when she was 8 years old. "I always knew I wanted to be a vet. Dad was a physician, and I wanted to be like him, but I felt more at home with animals. He raised hunting dogs English pointers. They were bred and raised for hunting and you couldn't touch them, so I would go and just talk to them. My mom would say that if she wanted to find out how my day had been, what had happened in school, she would listen to me talking to the dogs."

Her love of animals quickly focused into a career when she majored in biochemistry in her freshman year at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1982. After graduation, she attended veterinary school at Cornell University in New York. "I feel really fortunate to be in this profession," she says. "It's always so interesting. Something new is coming through the door all the time. It's never boring. And I love talking to clients about their pets."

Halle Davis (front) and Jan Wheelock keep the administrative side of the hospital under control with appointments running from 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night.

She loves talking to clients about her pets, too. The Burroughs family has three dogs and a cat. "We have Bambi, who's a Papillon; and Ralph, a Lab mix; who both came from the Chittenden County Humane Society," she smiles. "Then there's Sarah, who's a Lab; and Pumpkin, who we adopted from the Humane Society on Halloween. He was a little orange kitten; now, he's a big orange cat."

Although Burroughs is the sole proprietor of Brown Animal Hospital, she has made it somewhat of a family affair, enlisting her husband, Joel Goldberg, to do the company's books. "He works from home, paying all the bills," Burroughs says. "It's been so helpful for me. He's a little bit involved so he knows what he's dealing with. And he's so supportive. I don't know how I'd manage without him." When he's not working for the animal hospital, Goldberg spends most of his time at the University of Vermont where he is a professor of chemistry.

Burroughs is well aware of the difficulties caused by trying to juggle a family and a career. She has two children: Eliza, 11, and Rubin, 8. She takes Wednesdays off so she has a chance to catch up with them during the week, and isn't supposed to work on the weekends. Although, she says she winds up filling in a lot for vets who have families of their own.

"I'm very proud of being able to foster a work environment where dedicated professionals can pursue home life and still work," she says. "We have several vets who are mothers. We use part-time workers and flexible scheduling so that these women don't have to give up their careers. And that's especially important these days as huge numbers the majority of new vets are women."

Burroughs is closely involved in the running of her hospital, but she still gets a chance to practice her trade. "I see 15 or so cases a week," she says. "I enjoy the time that I spend seeing patients," she says. "It gives me a better understanding of the way the hospital is functioning. If I wasn't seeing any cases at all, I would lose that."

Originally published in July 2001 Business People-Vermont