Living in Pismo Beach – Joel Conn

Living in Pismo Beach, where we connect you with some of our favorite people who live and work on the Central Coast. Those community and business leaders who make living on the Coast such a unique and diverse experience.

Episode #4

Joel Conn
Owner of Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic

Joel Conn Owner of Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic joins Ashlea Foster Boyer, Shannon Bowdey & Jordan Hamm on Living In Pismo Beach.

Ashlea Boyer:

Hey guys.

Shannon Bowdey:

Hey.

Ashlea Boyer:

Hey. I don’t know about you, but this week is going by really quick.

Shannon Bowdey:

It is. Yeah.

Jordan Hamm:

Thank goodness. Last week of school.

Ashlea Boyer:

Last week of school is right. Yeah so. But great weather and since everyone seems to be heading to the beach, I think we’re going to do the opposite and head to one of our local state parks and have a little camping outing and change the scenery since they’re doing residents only. So I’m kind of excited about that.

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah, let us know how it goes.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. We’ll have you guys out for a socially distanced cocktail or fishing or something like that so.

Jordan Hamm:

I love it.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome. Well, I’m excited today because we have Joel Conn and I’m excited about talking with him because he’s not just a fellow Rotarian and business owner in Pismo Beach, he is also a good friend. He’s a veterinarian and co-owner of Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic, a bustling practice that also has spun off an emergency pet clinic in Northern Santa Barbara County called Pets Hospital.

Jordan Hamm:

Joel was born and raised in Blacksburg, Virginia, but migrated to California with the rest of his family following high school. He attended college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences in 2000.

Shannon Bowdey:

Joel went on to receive his Doctorate at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2006, following an externship in avian and exotic animal medicine at the Animal Medical Center in New York. Joel’s primary interests include surgery and internal medicine. He co-owns and operates the practice with his wife, Dr. Sierra Conn, also a veterinarian. They have a fiery redheaded son named Jude.

Ashlea Boyer:

Let’s welcome in Joel.

Joel Conn:

How are you?

Ashlea Boyer:

Doing well. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Jordan. Well, actually she was at Souza last year so you might’ve seen her there. She was helping me with the silent auction.

Joel Conn:

Hi.

Jordan Hamm:

Hi. It looks like you’re in a really fun place right now.

Joel Conn:

Looks funner than it is.

Ashlea Boyer:

It’s actually in his house, he has that climbing wall.

Jordan Hamm:

No way. Oh man, my kids would love that.

Ashlea Boyer:

She has three Judes, Joel. So three red headed boys.

Jordan Hamm:

Boys.

Joel Conn:

Oh boy, one is plenty.

Ashlea Boyer:

So you began the process of taking over the Pismo Beach Veterinary Clinic around 2009. Is that right?

Joel Conn:

That’s right, yeah.

Ashlea Boyer:

And how many veterinarians and vet techs and other staff do you have now?

Joel Conn:

So we have about 30 employees now, six doctors and support staff. And when we started, we had about five with kind of one and a half doctors. So we’ve managed to grow it quite a bit in the last 11 years.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Joel Conn:

We actually happened to … we were having breakfast at Honeymoon Cafe actually, when we saw the clinic was there and we decided just to go in and introduce ourselves and didn’t have any plans to buy at all and then found out it was for sale and 30 days later we owned it.

Shannon Bowdey:

Wow.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s amazing, how fast.

Jordan Hamm:

Cool story.

Ashlea Boyer:

Wow. And so I know you just completed a big expansion and we took a tour. It was awesome seeing the new boarding facilities. What other goals do you have for the business that you’d like to achieve?

Joel Conn:

So we’re always looking to kind of push the boundaries on both quality of veterinary care and also the breadth of services that we offer. So unfortunately, I wish we could expand, we’re in a really small facility and we’re kind of locked in. We love being in downtown Pismo, so we don’t want to move. But we’re only operating out of 2,700 square feet, which for us is tiny. So the way we’ve adjusted with that is we’ve increased our hours. So we were seven days a week already. We’re now open till 10:00 PM on weekdays to try to expand that.

So most recently we just did a major remodel. We built a primo cat ward with flat screen TV and on suite bathrooms and it’s really, really cool. Places for the cats when they’re boarding there, they can come out into the room and they can climb up onto the ceiling and there’s all these catwalks and things. So that was a new addition for us.

And then we’re really excited to bring on Dr. Sheradan Pate, who came to us from the East coast and she offers rehab. So we now have a full rehab service with laser therapy, acupuncture, little bit of chiropractic work, core training, and strength training. So that’s been really, really cool. And it’s awesome for senior dogs, especially that have arthritis, post-op orthopedic surgery, recovery. We have a couple of cats that are going through it that have arthritis and other conditions like that, chronic pain. So that’s really, really cool.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome. Wow.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. So we’re looking to expand that and kind of our next goal would probably be to expand our house call service. So we currently do offer house calls. Right now, of course, we’re not doing that. But normally we do and our thought is that if we could also offer almost like an offsite clinic. So for example, we go to Trilogy and set up for a day and people can go see their appointments just almost out of the comfort of their home and try to offer that kind of a service. So we’re looking into that opportunity.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. That would be awesome. There’s got to be a ton of pets out there. So yeah, I am amazed at how much bigger that building that you’re in looks when you’re in it though. I mean, you’ve really maximized the space. So it’s a lot bigger than you think.

Joel Conn:

We’ve used every square inch, that’s for sure.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah. So Joel, tell us more about Pets Hospital and the need for emergency veterinarian services in Central Coast.

Joel Conn:

So that was an idea that came up in 2016, a colleague and actually a vet school friend of mine, Deanna Brown, Dr. Deanna Brown from … at the time she was at the Central Coast Pet Emergency Hospital. She reached out to me and she said, “What about starting our own place?” And we’d been obviously colleagues for a long time, we knew each other really well. And we realized there’s this about 90 mile stretch of Central Coast with no emergency facility at all, which is like unheard of in California. And we figured about 250,000 people that are unserved by an ER so we moved fairly quickly, kind of looked into best locations. We ended up setting up shop in Orchid, which has just been awesome. It’s a really welcoming tight knit community, small community and that’s really taken off. I mean, we’re almost … our biggest problem is having enough staff because we just are so inundated and busy.

But what we really wanted to bring to that is we … I think one of the things that general practices do usually pretty well is we’re good at creating sort of that family warm and fuzzy feel or at least we try to do that. And I think, ERs generally don’t, they don’t do it. They either don’t even try to do that or they don’t do a good job doing it. And so what we want it to be is the non-ER ER, we wanted to be a warm and fuzzy ER. When you walk in there, you smell cookies, you don’t smell disinfect. You’re offered a coffee, you’re offered a remote control so you can watch Netflix on your personal TV in your exam room. Because we know it’s a scary time for people. It’s often late at night, there’s money involved, of course you’re worried about your companion. And so we see people at their absolute worst and so we wanted to create a safe place where they immediately felt like they were being taken care of. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that and we’re always looking for ways to improve that. But we’ve seen from the demand that … we’re seeing clients from North, like Paso and Atascadero that we never expected to draw from that far.

Ashlea Boyer:

Wow. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Joel Conn:

So our plan is to expand that to offer more specialty services. So we currently have a cardiologist and we have a surgery service. We’re looking to add internal medicine. We’re looking to add potentially things like dentistry, dermatology, other specialties that don’t exist on the Central Coast.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. You had a dermatologist for a while, right? Like a visiting one that came in?

Joel Conn:

Yeah, we had a dermatologist that was doing that. It’s called a locum. So she came up once or twice a month and we’re hoping to get them back. They just had such a staff shortage. She was driving all the way from Tustin. So she was stretched pretty thin. So we’re trying our best to get someone in house.

Ashlea Boyer:

Awesome.

Shannon Bowdey:

Good. Thank you.

Joel Conn:

Yeah.

Jordan Hamm:

So you talked a little bit about dentistry. We had some questions, just in our team, about dental, like pet dental care. We know it’s important, but often expensive for owners and there are more affordable ways that are advertised elsewhere. But what are your thoughts about in-house dental care at a veterinary?

Joel Conn:

Yeah. So that’s one of my favorite topics to talk about because dental care, we’ve learned a lot over the last 20 years about how important it is in pets. And it’s the number one most kind of ignored problem in pets too because it’s the kind of problem that isn’t usually urgent or it doesn’t feel urgent anyway. But we know that dental disease, just like in humans, is linked with a higher risk for heart disease, for diabetes, for kidney disease, liver disease, you name it, respiratory disease. There was a study in humans that showed that dental disease actually carries with it a higher risk for early death than smoking, which is just nuts. And those same, all of those same statistics apply to our pets. And so now that we have pets that we’re able to take better care of that are living longer. We’re able to focus on some of these other things and dental disease is a huge factor.

What we want to do is get to the point where we’re not doing rescue dentistry, which is how it’s always been in veterinary medicine. The dog comes in, all their teeth are rotted out and we’re just going in there and pulling teeth. And that’s … it’s not fun, obviously for anybody. Especially the pet. But the goal is to keep those teeth in the mouth, right? So if we can start with proactive at home, preventative care. So tooth brushing, tooth wipes, tooth treats, there’s lots of stuff that you can do at home. It’s pretty easy to do, especially if you start young. So we spend a lot of time educating our clients on how to do at home dental care.

And then just like your dentist, you brush and floss hopefully, but you still go to the dentist every 6 to 12 months or more than that and your pet, same deal. So even if you’re doing at home dental care, we want to get in there and do a deeper cleaning. We’re charting the teeth, we’re doing an ultrasonic scaling above and below the gum line. We polish, we do fluoride, everything that your dentist does. And unlike people, our pets can’t tell us when their teeth hurt. And we know it’s the number two most common cause of chronic pain in pets, dogs and cats. Number one cause is arthritis, dental disease is number two.

So it’s very often overlooked. And we see animals that come in that haven’t had dental work done that we ended up taking care of diseased teeth and they’re like different paths. They’re more energetic. We’ve seen animals that came in and moderate kidney disease, we treat their teeth and suddenly their kidney disease goes away. We’ve seen that with diabetics as well, where their diabetes either goes away or comes under better control. So really significant things that you wouldn’t necessarily think about.

So your question is why would a veterinarian versus a non-anesthetic dental, that’s what we call them, non-anesthetic dentals. So the American Veterinary Dental College as well as the American Animal Hospital Association as well as the Veterinary Medical Board considers non-anesthetic dentals to be very questionable ethically and inappropriate from a treatment standpoint. And there’s two major reasons for that. Number one is you cannot do a thorough dental cleaning, scaling, polishing, charting in an awake pet or even a mildly sedated pet. You just can’t, it’s painful. And even a pet that is very, very brave and will tolerate it, you’re not going to do a thorough job. So you miss a lot of disease and so what you end up doing is just a cosmetic procedure, which you’re better off saving your money.

Shannon Bowdey:

Right.

Joel Conn:

The second thing that’s huge is it’s very, very stressful for the pet and painful. And I’ve seen pets that have come to me that have had teeth extracted awake. I mean, it’s barbaric, nevermind unethical. And some of these pets that we see we used to be able to examine them and then they come in and we can’t get near their mouths anymore because they have this bad memory of being kind of tortured. I mean, they basically get them in a headlock and use a very sharp instrument to scale the teeth. So it’s not good for the pet either and we’re not really accomplishing anything. So it’s better to save that money.

What anesthesia does for us is twofold, it creates a pain free and a stress free environment for the pet and it allows us to do a proper job, right? So with dental disease, the disease that you can see, the tartar that you can see on your pet’s teeth, that’s not causing any problems. That stuff from the gum line up is not causing any problems. It’s this stuff under the gum line that is where the problem occurs, right? And you can’t address that in awake pet. You simply can’t.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Shannon Bowdey:

Right.

Joel Conn:

So we can take on our anesthesia, we can fully chart the mouth. We check each teeth, looking for pockets, looking for fractures, looking for tumors, looking for abscess. And we take notes on that and we take x-rays under anesthesia, which you cannot do awake, period. It’s not possible awake. And we often find things we weren’t even expecting just with x-rays. We find things that were not visible from the surface, just like human dentistry.

Shannon Bowdey:

That’s very interesting.

Ashlea Boyer:

So it’s a great investment. It ends up being a great investment because of the preventative effects that lead to so many other things.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. And we get … I mean the big downside right, is cost. It is. And the biggest cost is the anesthesia and we get that and that sucks. I mean, that is the hard part of doing dentistry, preventative dental care. But it’s like any preventative care, you pay on the front so that you don’t have to pay on the back and you end up with a healthier pet like Ashlea was saying.

The other thing is that we kind of looked at that pretty critically with our clientele. I mean, we’re fortunate, we’ve got a pretty affluent clientele. But we got a lot of people that even if they have the means, they may be on a fixed income. So we looked at, “Well, how do we make this more doable for people?” And so that’s where we came up with our wellness plans a few years ago. And so the idea there is that you can pay monthly, kind of like a cellphone bill and it covers everything you need for the year up to and including a dental clinic.

And the other nice thing for us is that now we’re getting these pets in sooner, so we’re not doing rescue dentistry, we’re doing preventative dentistry. And then it is a lot cheaper. It’s a lot faster, it’s better for the pet, and you’re not spending thousands of dollars on pulling teeth.

Shannon Bowdey:

Right.

Joel Conn:

It’s much cheaper to preventatively care for something than to reactively treat it.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yes, sure. Very true. Yeah. So Joel, not to dwell on the pandemic because I think everyone’s suffering from a bit of quarantine fatigue. However, how has the business pivoted in this new normal? And you are always essential, but how have you had to adjust and how has this impacted your business?

Joel Conn:

Yeah, so it was pretty scary for us just like any small business. It’s been kind of a scary, uncertain time. We’re fortunate that we are an essential business so we were able to stay open throughout. The biggest thing for us is if we had enough employees that were healthy enough to come to work, which we’ve been very fortunate no one has gotten sick. The main way we’ve pivoted is we now offer curbside appointments. So what that means for us is you pull up in your car, you call us from your cell phone, we go over a history over the phone while a technician comes out to get your pet from you. And then you don’t come in the hospital at all, the client doesn’t come in at all. It’s all done over the phone.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh my gosh.

Joel Conn:

So it’s been interesting. It’s been a little bit of a logistical challenge, but in many ways we’ve actually seen some benefits from it. So one of the things that we’ve noticed is that our stress levels a little bit lower just having fewer bodies, especially because we are a smaller facility. Our owners have been a little less stressed too because they’re sitting in the car watching Netflix and not waiting in a small exam room. So that’s been kind of nice. But the biggest thing, which is really interesting is the pets seem to do better generally. We’ve actually seen, we’ve seen quite a few pets that can be … that are difficult to handle with owners present. And we’ve seen these same pets during the pandemic and way easier to handle. So it’s just like dropping your kid off.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. It’s like dropping your kid off at preschool. As soon as you leave, they’re fine. But they’re grabbing onto your leg and screaming while you’re in sight and we see that same effect with pets quite a bit. So it’s been sort of interesting. I saw actually this dog today and I think we saw kind of the same thing with little Tally. She was really brave today and she’s normally a screamer.

Ashlea Boyer:

She is. Yeah, usually that’s … with her I’m that mom in the waiting room going, “She’s fine. Nobody’s dying in the back.”

Joel Conn:

It’s funny though because they pick up on our stress and then it snowballs. And so that’s been kind of actually an unexpected benefit of the pandemic. So we’ve been open for kind of businesses as normal otherwise, we still see regular appointments. We’re still doing procedures and surgeries. We’re still doing technician appointments, although it’s a little bit more limited. Like nail trims and things like that, we’ve limited a little bit. But generally speaking we’re about the same.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. The Emergency Clinic has been nuts. Really, really busy.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Joel Conn:

As you might expect.

Shannon Bowdey:

Right.

Jordan Hamm:

So I’ve read that dogs and well just pets in general can get COVID-19 as well. Is that, have you learned more about that?

Joel Conn:

Yeah, there’s … we don’t know a ton. There’s been … basically, it’s been just a couple of case studies that we’ve seen. It’s been diagnosed in dogs and cats. In most of the studies that I’ve seen, and of course, more information’s coming out all the time. They think that it was spread from the human to the pet, which makes sense because the pets aren’t really getting exposed in public, right? So it’s going from the human to the pet. We haven’t seen any cases where we think the human got it from the pet, although that’s theoretically possible. But again, most pets being kind of in the house. I mean, where is their exposure coming from? It seems unlikely. And most of the exposure they have is outdoors in the sunlight where we know this virus does not do very well.

So it does happen, there are tests available for pets and there’s certain criteria we use to decide whether or not it’s reasonable to test a pet for it. We’ve got all the same drawbacks where the tests are pricey. They can be false negatives and false positive results. So we pick our pets or in theory, we would pick our pets pretty carefully based on their symptoms. We haven’t had any cases in either of my hospitals and none on the Central Coast that I know of period. Good question.

Ashlea Boyer:

Alright. So now for a less business-like topic. So give us, we know that one of your passions outside the office and probably a way to let off some steam is a little game that I tease you about that I call Frisbee. But it’s more intense than that. So give us some details about what Ultimate is all about.

Joel Conn:

Ultimate. Yeah. So that’s been my biggest hardship during this whole thing is not being able to play Ultimate. I haven’t gone this long without Ultimate for probably 20 years almost.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh my God. Wow.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. I’ve been playing for a long time. So Ultimate or it’s sometimes called Ultimate Frisbee. Frisbee is actually a brand made by Whammo so it’s usually just called ultimate. It’s a sport that’s a little bit like football. So the field play is like football, it’s played on a 70-yard field with end zones, kind of like a football field. And the objective is for the one team to complete passes up the field and get it into the other team’s end zone and that’s how you score. The cool thing about Ultimate is it’s self officiated. So it’s guided by, it’s called the spirit of the game. So you call your own fouls. You make all your own calls on the field. So it’s meant to be kind of a spirited game. You just need some cones and a disk, a Frisbee to play and it’s nonstop action, which is awesome. So you’re constantly sprinting, running the entire time.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. You don’t know this, but somehow I have managed to keep you connected with me on my Apple watch and every now and then it tells me you’ve done some colossal amount of calories running for like, I don’t know, 120 minutes solid or something like that. So yeah, that’s awesome. You have … you go to like competitions in places right?

Joel Conn:

Yeah. So we have a pretty active local scene that I coordinate a lot of the local, it’s pickup. So anyone can show up, it doesn’t cost anything. You can be brand new, you can be experienced. We have all levels. We have all ages too from high school, even middle school, up to … I think our oldest player was close to 70 while he was still playing. So that’s really cool. It’s a really great opportunity to kind of meet people in a really nice, friendly … competitive, but friendly setting. So you can play almost every day on the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo and at Royal Grande we have games going.

But then I also play club. So club is like the next level after college, just like in any sport. So I just last year started playing Masters, which is 33 plus. So I’m playing in the older division now and we play on a pretty decent Masters team. We went to Nationals last year and we got invited to represent the United States and the pan-America Ultimate championships in Florida. So I was … I did that back in, I think it was November-ish. We got bronze medal there so. I get to brag a little bit.

Jordan Hamm:

Oh, congratulations.

Ashlea Boyer:

Well, thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us today. We really enjoyed it.

Joel Conn:

Yeah. You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Ashlea Boyer:

Alright. Well, that was a great episode looking forward to next week. And I’m Ashlea Boyer.

Jordan Hamm:

I’m Jordan Hamm.

Shannon Bowdey:

And I’m Shannon Bowdey with the Pismo Beach home team.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.