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Countryside Animal Hospital

Veterinarian Steven Templeton, of Animal Health & Wellness in Setauket, pets his two rescue dogs Penny and Emmy. Penny, the black dog, recently passed away. Photo by Stephanie Templeton

By Sabrina Artusa

Across Long Island and the United States, private equity firms are buying privately-owned veterinary clinics. Veterinary hospitals hold steadfast against economic recessions, making them an attractive acquisition for private equity firms looking for a profitable, fragmented industry in which to invest.

The veterinary industry poses a unique opportunity for private equity firms. The cash-based industry is brimming with private practices and has reaped enormous benefits as pet ownership increases in the U.S. In 2021, an estimated 70% of U.S. households owned at least one pet, an increase of 13% in three years. According to American Pet Products Association, pet industry expenditures reached $147 billion in 2023, with $38.3 billion spent on veterinary care and product sales. 

In 2021, CareVet, a veterinary practice management group, acquired Countryside Animal Hospital, a small Port Jefferson clinic founded in 1958 according to its website. CareVet boasts plentiful employee benefits and services such as paid time off and competitive pay. The perks are especially advantageous for recent graduates, who would have the chance to participate in a mentorship program. 

CareVet is a relatively small group, with nine other investments, but it is owned by Compass Group Equity Partners, a private equity firm with over 100 investments. 

Dr. Steven Templeton, owner of Animal Health & Wellness in East Setauket, said he has noticed neighboring clinics get absorbed by corporations in the last five years. Indeed, from 2017-21, private equity buyouts of veterinary clinics quintupled in value. 

The money is a major factor in private owners selling to corporations as opposed to younger veterinarians. Contracts are often millions more than would be plausible privately. 

Moreover, younger veterinarians aren’t as eager to buy a practice. Veterinarians endure long work hours in high-stress situations, and adding 10-20 hours a week managing a business isn’t something many want to take on. The shortage of veterinarians adds to the challenge of finding a private buyer.

“Money is not the whole thing — being able to practice how you think you should practice is part of enjoying your job,” Templeton said. 

Vet clinics are undeniably lucrative and have become even more so in the past couple years. People are humanizing their animals in a way they didn’t decades ago, often treating their pets as part of the family. As a result, they are more willing to spend money on their pets’ ailments. 

This type of relationship between pet and owner was only heightened by the loneliness and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People’s feelings about their pets changed with COVID,” Templeton said. “They were their anxiety medicine.”

Before the pandemic, pet owners in the U.S. were spending less on their animals. Now, not only is there an increase in demand for veterinary clinics, but many clinics are expanding their services.

In some corporation-owned practices, employees reap the benefits of working for a bigger, richer company. They may have more paid time off, normal hours and current technology. 

Corporations reportedly have a more regimented approach to treating a pet’s health issue, with set responses to certain issues. This standardized approach may be effective but not always to a client’s benefit.

“There are templates laid out for what you have to do in every situation which makes it more expensive,” Templeton said. “You don’t have that leeway as an employee to discuss that with the client.”

The little escape artists Penny and Sadie at their home in Setauket. Owner Alexa Quinn said the two are practically inseperable, and it would have been horrible if the former went missing. Photo by Quinn

A small act of compassion can make anyone’s day, and in days such as these, they almost become a necessity. One act by a local Port Jeff resident meant a family dog was returned to a loving home. 

Barbara Ransome, director of operations of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said she was driving along Old Post Road near the intersection of California Avenue Wednesday, Dec. 2, when she spotted a puppy standing in the middle of the road. She approached it, seeing it had no tag and no collar, and waited to see if it would run. Instead it stayed there, and even allowed her to pick it up. It was a female, something like a miniature schnauzer, and she was extremely friendly, so much so that Ransome thought it was unlikely the dog was a runaway. It was so well behaved and comfortable, even around strangers. Ransome went to nearby doors but either nobody answered, or the people didn’t know who the owner was.

Joining up with her husband, Dan Tarantino, Ransome took the dog to Countryside Animal Hospital where the vet said she did not have a chip either.

“And now, I’m like, now what do we do?” she said. “And if we left it there, they would not have held onto the dog for more than maybe one, possibly maximum three days and then they would turn it over to a shelter.”

That same day, Alexa Quinn, a Setauket resident, said the escape happened when her 2-year-old daughter opened the front door, and both of her dogs, littermates, ran outside. Within a half hour, she found one on the front lawn, while the other was nowhere to be found.

“I started to freak out, [the dog] loves anybody and she’s that kind of dog, after three-and-a-half hours I was really starting to be beside myself,” Quinn said. 

She went door-to-door to ask if anyone had seen her dog. She eventually enlisted the help of a neighbor, a fellow animal lover, to help find her missing pup. A short time later, the neighbor pulled up next to her, showing her a picture on a telephone pole of her missing dog.

That was because after leaving the animal hospital, Ransome took the puppy home to spend some time with her two dogs. The young puppy was demure, calm even, as Ransome’s dogs grew excited. The Port Jeff resident even saw how the puppy climbed up the stairs after her, which proved even more that the animal was used to a normal home.

Ransome was not ready to surrender it to a shelter, even though it was missing any identification. She had a nagging feeling that some poor person was still looking for their lost dog. So, she dropped off a missing-dog poster at Save-a-Pet Animal Shelter in Port Jefferson Station, while her husband took the dog in his car and started putting posters all around. Practically right after that, Quinn called the number to ask about her dog. 

The Setauket resident went to pick up her dog from Ransome’s home. The dog’s name, it happened to be, was Penny.

“I just started crying,” Quinn said. “I know it’s something I would have done, but it’s so good to see that thought reciprocated. It was just nice to see how they were willing to help.”

Somehow during Penny’s escape, she managed to slip out of her collar. One of the first things on retrieval of her dog, Quinn said, was to go to Petco to buy her a new one.

Penny and her sister Sadie are rescue dogs. Quinn said she was working upstate when she stopped along a road after seeing a young girl with a box of puppies, a rural tableau seemingly rare in this day and age. The schnauzer mixes were all part of a litter, and seeing their malnourished and mangy status, she purchased one and took it home.

A short time later, with Quinn back in her Setauket home, the young girl called and told her there was still one dog left if she wanted it. The way the young girl spoke about it, Quinn feared what might happen next. 

Once Penny and Sadie were home together, they became inseparable. They rarely go anywhere without the other, and they are often found sleeping next to each other, their heads close together. 

“I was so sad for Sadie, too, thinking she would have lost her best friend,” Quinn said. “I’m just super grateful to Barbara for finding her.”

Such a small act of kindness, but Ransome agreed that such stories are important during a year of untold hardship and heartbreak.

“We just want to have to be kind to someone else, you know,” she said.