Veterinary Pet Insurance or VPI

In 1981, the first pet health insurance was started, spear-headed by Dr. Jack Stephens. In the very beginning, VPI (Veterinary Pet Insurance) insurance company, not to be confused as an agency, had to start somewhere and that was in Santa Ana, California. It was in 1988 that VPI was stable enough to start expanding nationally that I “happened to bump into” veterinary pet health insurance. I jumped on a plane to Santa Ana to meet Dr. Stephens face-to-face and inquired what I could do to help.

I immediately became involved and dedicated four years – unpaid – to promoting VPI and within a few months, as a fundraiser, I was promoted from the VPI advisory board to become an actual VPI board member. I was fully engaged with VPI until 1992. At that point in time, the Attorney General of the State of California began to shut down insurance companies. Both myself and other key board members became implemental in the fight to keep VPI accessible to pet owners. VPI is now known as the Nationwide Pet Health Insurance Company.

Research and Practice

I moved back to my home state of Pennsylvania and on May 27, 1976, fifty miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Uniontown, opened my small animal practice and aptly named it The Animal Medical Center of Uniontown, PA or AMC.

I was always interested in the future path that veterinary medicine would take. When I moved to western PA, thirty miles from where my father, a medical doctor, was chief pathologist at the county hospital, I received a gift. That gift was free pathological services and consultations provided by the great doctor William Free Baird, MD. My father. This was fifty years ago and clinical laboratory pathology/medical services were just advancing past the infant stage.

I knew very early after graduating Penn’s Veterinary Medical School, that all of this new developing medical technology would not only be available to human medicine, but without a doubt, would become just as important and accepted in providing medical care to animals too. For example, human tests like CAT scans, MRI’s and new biological laboratory testing could be utilized for animal health and treatment.

The big question was: How would the public/pet owners, be able to pay for it? There was only one answer….pet insurance.

Artwork by Wendy Penwell

Provisional License

I was permitted to leave classes early with a provisional license from the state of Virginia to practice medicine because of the great Dr. Olive Britt. She was the first or one of the first equine specific interns and resident at Penn’s New Bolton Center. Dr. Britt was the veterinarian that foaled renowned race horses Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Dr. Britt was the doctor for all of the elite horse owners/farm owners in the Richmond and Petersburg and Tidewater areas of Virginia and the surrounding area. For example, Francis Rowe, Richard Reynolds (Reynolds’ Aluminum), as well as most of the ‘first families of Richmond‘.Anyway,

Dr. Britt had an accident and cut a tendon in her hand and couldn’t do surgery. She went to Dr. Loren Evans, an impressive and incredible professor at New Bolton Center (UP’s University of Pennsylvania The School of Veterinary Medicine, large animal rural campus). Somehow, miraculously, I was chosen by her to immediately leave school early and become “her hands.” It all makes my head spin. Penn, Dr. Evans and the State of Virginia made it happen for me.

My time practicing with Dr. Britt was pretty much a fairy tale. So going forward, I did breeding work for the Gafford’s in Petersburg, VA. They went from six foals to more than twenty plus mare and over 16 foals in just the first year they employed me. They decided that the next year they could do it themselves. Their success rate plummeted to below double digits. I went from there to the planning of AMC in western Pennsylvania and of course, could not physically do both.

Companion Care Corporation – CCC Pet Food

I started a pet food company around 1992 to steer customers towards VPI pet insurance with targeted discounts and marketing. Companion Care Corporation or CCC produced avant-garde pet food that was specialized and unique. One of the foods called “Hypogen”, although not the first of it’s kind, as it was proprietary, stimulated my interest in dermatological research for pet allergies. I met Dr. Ray Heinicke at one of my supplier meetings. Dr. Heinicke was a huge influence and scientific contributor at the ‘birth’ of small animal nutrition in the 1950’s and 60’s. Every pet food produced today in America contains Dr. Heinicke’s efforts. He became influential in my research providing me access to a biochemist and nutritionist to join my research and development team. When Companion Care Corporation production was discontinued, I began research in nutraceuticals and I discovered exactly what was in Hypogen food that made it special.

Pain management wasn’t even a term that was remotely connected to veterinary medicine at this point in time. Humans were still using Bute or phenylbutazone (used in the illegal doping of race horses). I furthered my research in this area because my “area of interest” was dermatology and there weren’t any Specialists or Board Certified Veterinary Dermatologists. I took note of incredible and virtually impossible things that were alleviated (specifically ‘hot spots’) using this element from the Hypogen food. It was amazing! This just does not happen. I probably would not have even noticed without my intense interest in dermatology.

This new knowledge led to research into fatty acids, essential fatty acids, omega fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and with my new research and development crew I went on to create KnuBar™ “soft chews”. So, the “pain manage” language was now finding its way into veterinary medicine.

KnuBar™ was the first product that we put great effort into. Producing a product that was needed by my clients that would be as affordable as possible. KnuBar™ is for skin coats, eliminating dander, and for show dogs…puppies would hold their puppy coats for significantly longer. I noticed with use and with repeated client feedback that dogs on KnuBar™ had a significant amount of pain reduction.

Artwork by Wendy Penwell