Vet makes house calls at his office on wheels

VALRICO — Before it hits the road in the morning, before the Mobile Vet Clinic of Brandon can even pull down the long driveway, they're waiting. The litter of Scottish terrier puppies. The Siamese cat. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel. They're here with their owners for checkups, blood work, to get stitches removed from an eye. Dr. Bruce Anthony — fresh off a cat surgery the night before — welcomes the animals inside with kisses. "What's Dad feeding you, fertilizer?" Anthony says, cooing and holding aloft one of the black, furry puppies above the exam table. The 26-foot van is parked outside the Anthonys' Valrico home on a 4-acre piece of land off a country road. The couple's American cocker spaniels romp in the front fenced area. Anthony's wife, Liz, is fielding a stream of calls on the company's cell phone while Anthony gets busy with clients. "Is it yellow and stinky?" Liz asks someone on the other end of the phone. "Do you want a road visit? Do you want us to come to you?"

Around noon Anthony gives Liz a peck on the lips and climbs in the driver's seat. If there's a surgery or a cesarean section delivery of puppies later, she'll be back in the mobile clinic at Anthony's side to help. But for now, she stays behind at the house to handle the phone, book appointments and console owners who call to grieve about dying pets.

After three years on the road helping her husband with sick cats and dogs, she finds the book work and phone calls a little easier to handle.

"I'm too sensitive," Liz says. "There's a reason I was an English major."

• • •

Anthony steers the mobile clinic onto the pavement and eventually heads north on Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

At 55, he has found the job he loves.

Raised in Boston, Anthony's first career was in the family lumber business. But by his 40s, he knew he wanted something more.

"I wanted to do something I enjoyed," he said.

He grew up around dogs and always loved animals, so he decided to go back to school to become a veterinarian and to practice in Florida, where he wanted to live. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1995 and worked for about five years in Lakeland and Brandon at a corporate pet store.

That's where he met Liz, who came in to shop one day.

Anthony grew tired of working for someone else, so about eight years ago he went into business for himself.

He had clients all over eastern Hillsborough County.

"I'm going mobile," he told Liz.

They married and she moved into the mobile home on his 4 acres in Lithia. She had been a dog breeder for 20 years, so handling animals was second nature for her. Plus, many of her clients needed a veterinarian.

They bought their first mobile clinic eight years ago. The first year, the business made a $14,000 profit, she said.

The business skyrocketed, growing 17 percent a year.

A few years ago, they built their house on the property, complete with a brick walkway leading to a porch with white rockers.

At first they worked every day of the week, all day. Now they've scaled back — to six days a week and on call 24 hours a day. They've hired a vet technician, Victoria Leveson.

"We've called him in the middle of the night before and said we have a dog that's sick," said Danny Worley of Dover, a breeder who brought in Scottish terrier puppies for an exam. He has relied on Anthony for eight years because of his care and rapport with the animals.

"They've never turned us down," Worley said.

• • •

Anthony charges $60 for a home visit, which includes a full exam for all the family's pets. In the clinic, he can perform ultrasound, surgery, X-rays, dental work and wellness checks and give vaccinations.

A sample of their charges: X-rays cost $85 for the first film, which includes a consultation. Three-year rabies shots are $36, dog distemper vaccinations cost $35 and heartworm tests are $40.

On a typical day, Anthony may drive from Brandon to Apollo Beach to Seffner to Plant City. Gasoline ran $500 a month when he started but now tops $1,500 a month, he says.

The business is on its second, newer van — one that cost $160,000 even before it was outfitted with a surgical room, ultrasound machines and other equipment.

A little after noon on a recent weekday, he pulls it into a Valrico subdivision. He parks at the end of the driveway.

"Come on, Beau. Come on, Beau," Anthony says soothingly to a Labrador mix, coaxing him outside on his leash. With a little persuading, the 75-pound dog lumbers up the van's steps. It's a far cry from past ordeals driving him to the animal hospital, said owner Judy Bryant.

"Having to wrestle him in the back seat of the car was not the best thing," she said. The visits always required two people — her husband, who drove, and Bryant, who held Beau. "I had scars on me from trying to keep him calmed down."

Inside the mobile clinic, Anthony examines the problem: sores on Beau's paws.

"Beau, we just want to look," Anthony says, comforting the dog, who is not happy to have his paws touched. "Oh, good boy."

After a skin scrape and a look under the microscope, Anthony determines that he's not suffering from mites. The likely culprit, he decides, is a bacterial infection from running through dirty water outside.

He provides Bryant with a bottle of Cipro for Beau, and owner and pet head back down the steps.

Her bill comes to $114, which would have been double at the previous vet, who regularly put Beau under anesthetic to work on him, Bryant said.

"And he would poop all over the place. It was very hard on his system," Bryant said. "It was very traumatic."

Beau wags his tail and pulls Bryant on his leash. As the two make their way back to the house, Anthony steers the mobile clinic out of the subdivision. Another patient awaits.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or 661-2441.

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For more information

Call the Mobile Vet Clinic of Brandon at 643-8130.

Vet makes house calls at his office on wheels 09/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 11:48am]

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