After waging a battle with a mega animal hospital chain over one-size-fits-all vaccinations for pets large and small, a New Fairfield veterinarian plans to launch a clinic in Trumbull that he hopes will spread a gospel of holistic-like care for animals he feels are subjected to barrages of medications.
Dr. John Robb, 60, is creating his Protect the Pets animal hospital concept on the simple premise of simplifying care, for the good of pets as well their owners whom Robb believes are bombarded with bills for vaccinations and procedures by vet clinic chains that are unnecessary but administered anyway — in his opinion, to drive profits.
If welcome to the ears of some pet owners shelling out hundreds of dollars for round after round of visits under the rubric of preventative care, it is a controversial stance for others — particularly Robb’s views on rabies booster shots that cross over directly into the arena of human health.
His theories have been heard by many on Facebook and in other venues, and Robb has long run an advocacy group called Protect the Pets that has sought to change state laws on the levels of vaccination boosters that are administered.
The Trumbull animal hospital Robb is planning will not offer vaccinations but will provide a wide range of other care. He holds open the possibility of offering vaccinations if states change their regulations to allow vets to test disease immunity levels in pets to allow for minimal doses.
“I have a Hippocratic Oath,” Robb said. “I love animals. It’s coming from the heart for me.”
In Connecticut, state Reps Fred Camillo (R-Greenwich) and Pam Staneski (R-Orange) introduced a bill last January that would allow veterinarians to vary from vaccine dosage protocols if they determine it in the best interest and health of an animal; and to administer a test to determine the need for any rabies booster.
“It would seem, just on the face of it, odd that you would give a 4-pound Maltese the same rabies vaccination dosage as you would an 88-pound German shepherd,” Camillo told a Connecticut General Assembly committee last February. “I have received calls and emails from all over the country — and even some from beyond our borders — about this.”
The bill did not proceed, with a representative of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association warning of dangers posed to people by animals who are not sufficiently protected against rabies.
“Remember that the primary purpose of that immunizing animals against rabies is to protect the public, not the animals themselves, though that is a desirable and favorable benefit,” Dr. Arnold Goldman told the committee in February. “There are ... universities looking at this, but we’re not there yet.
“When the day comes that we are, I’ll have a different opinion,” Goldman continued. “But the science isn’t there to support it and I couldn’t in good conscious put a family at risk by not vaccinating exactly as the manufacturer indicates should be done.”
Robb’s own conscious developed within the vet chain industry, including as the former owner of a franchised Banfield Animal Hospital in Stamford, where his clients included football legend Frank Gifford and others from southwestern Connecticut’s elite.
In 2012, Mars subsidiary Banfield stripped him of his franchise and sent letters to 5,000 customers alerting them of his status, recommending they schedule for booster shots that Robb had deemed unnecessary for their pets. The state of Connecticut subsequently put Robb on probation.
After reading about Robb last February, local commercial property owner Hal Fischel called him to offer up space at his Trumbull Office Park on Cambridge Drive for an animal hospital where Robb could put his principles into practice.
It is an idea that Robb had long considered and for which he has had a business plan drawn up. The plans, however, have been accumulating dust over several years as he focused on the far larger stack of legal documents in defending himself from court wars with Mars, a massive entity fresh off the $9 billion acquisition of VCA.
Others are in growth mode as well, including Westport-based PetVet Care Centers, which earlier this year registered $675 million in backing to acquire vet hospitals.
“Because you have businesspeople coming in who don’t necessarily have a heart for pets — it doesn’t mean they don’t, but they’re there to make profits,” Robb said. “When that’s the focus, bad things happen at ‘the bottom’ because your focus is on profits, not on animal safety.
“Prices for veterinary medicine have gone up 5 to 7 percent a year for 20 years since ‘corporatization’ started,” he added. “It’s cut out a sector of the (population) that can no longer afford the pricing. … Veterinary medicine can be affordable and morally sound.”
Robb said the legal battles and his promotion of Protect the Pets have drained his personal finances, but said he does not anticipate any problems raising the $5 million or more it will take to start up the Trumbull animal hospital.
He envisions the facility totaling 20,000 square feet of space with operating and examination rooms. Trumbull would also serve as his primary training facility, with Robb hoping to franchise the Protect the Pets concept to other like-minded vets. He anticipates a franchise costing perhaps $350,000, including fee and cost of capital.
“In order to carry out my vision, I can’t be one guy in a vet hospital seeing 10 patients,” Robb said. “The vision is to transform veterinary medicine and bring morality back in, … and now I am going down that road.”