Workplace Culture

Pavlov’s Dog … Didn’t Have Pet Insurance

By Rita Pyrillis

Dec. 20, 2015

Austin, Texas, business owner Annie Liao Jones understands how important pets are to young and single employees who consider their furry and feathered friends part of the family. So when looking for ways to attract top talent in a tech friendly town with a tight job market, offering pet insurance seemed like a good idea.
But her own experience with pet policies and their various rules and exclusions gave her pause. When her pug swallowed a guitar pick and needed emergency surgery, she was dismayed to learn that the procedure was not covered.
“I guess because it was his fault, we weren’t covered, which was frustrating considering I had been paying monthly premiums precisely to cover emergencies,” said Jones, owner of Rock Candy Media, a marketing firm and ad agency. “Dealing with pet insurance was disheartening. There were just too many rules.”
So last August when she learned that a local startup clinic was offering a pet wellness plan that features unlimited office visits for a set monthly fee, she decided to offer it to her workers.
The plan is offered by a clinic called ZippiVet and includes two annual physicals, key vaccinations, dental cleanings, deworming services, and various diagnostic procedures, including electrocardiograms. Pet owners pay $40 a month plus a $50 startup fee. However, Jones covers the cost for her workers. So far 11 of her 15 employees have signed up for the program.
“The people who work for me are between 25 and 28, and none are married or have kids,” she said. “I have this upwardly mobile millennial class of people that I want to keep happy, and this sets us apart. It’s cool that it raises morale, but it also make me feel good that I’m taking care of their No. 1.”
Pet ownership has been steadily increasing over the past decade, and the millennial generation now makes up the fastest growing segment of pet owners, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association. About 68 percent of Americans own a pet, according to the nonprofit trade group.
Savvy employers that want to attract young and talented workers are realizing that one way to workers’ heart and loyalty is through their pets.
“Employers who are really engaged with that segment of the workforce are trying to do different things to appeal to them,” said benefits consultant Jeff Griffin, founder of JP Griffin Group in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Pet care benefits, identity theft insurance, flex schedules, time off to participate in charities, all those things are important.”
Sam Kimelman, 26, vice president of strategy at Rock Candy Media, said that pet friendliness would be a deciding factor for a future job search. He shares his office space with Riley, a black Labrador mix.
“It gives the impression that they are looking out for my work-life balance and my overall job satisfaction,” he said. “It doesn’t directly impact how I work, but it makes me feel more comfortable that my work provides a pet-friendly environment.”
He said that ZippiVet’s wellness program, called ZippiCare, makes it easy for him to budget for Riley’s health care.
“They’re clear about the costs and what’s included in the plan,” he said. “Before I took Riley in twice a year for checkups for vaccines. Since I know it’s a fixed cost, I decided that making it a monthly thing that I pay automatically would make it easier to fit vet care into my budget. Any time that I can make something a more predicable cost, it’s a good thing.”
With advances in veterinary care, such as chemotherapy and pacemakers, pets are living longer, but that comes at a high price. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners were expected to have spent nearly $16 billion on veterinary care in 2015.
While pet insurance has become an increasingly popular employee benefit, pet wellness plans are relatively new, according to Paul Stone, co-founder of ZippiVet. ZippiCare is modeled on a wellness plan offered by Banfield Pet Hospitals, one of the country’s largest chain of veterinary clinics and a pioneer of the concept, he said.
While pet insurance is designed to cover emergencies, pet wellness focuses on preventive care.
“People are timid about going to the vet because they are afraid of being surprised by a large bill,” Stone said. “A wellness plan allows them to budget care costs for their pets.”
Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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