Advocate for info
TrailBlazer manager educates pet parents, including what to ask their vets
Does this sound familiar? You schedule a medical appointment and wait patiently, in anticipation, in an exam room—only to feel swept into a whirlwind when the doctor whips through the door.
This isn’t just a phenomenon at physician’s offices. It happens with veterinarians as well. Whether human or animal, the need for care makes North State health professionals extremely in demand; unless there’s cause to pause, the practitioner could be out within minutes. If a question percolates, then …
Lori Wells understands. She’s store manager at TrailBlazer Pet Supply and owner of Wells Pet Nutrition, through which she offers consultations to animal owners about holistic health and wellness plans. Customers frequently ask Wells questions they might ask their vets if they visited their vets as regularly as the pet store—and could spend as much time in conversation.
“Maybe we aren’t building relationships like we used to and maybe vets are so busy, but people go in and the vet says, ‘Give [your pet] this and call me in two weeks if it doesn’t work,’” Wells said. “[Some vets] are not giving education around why they’re prescribing or what the product is going to do.”
Wells hears from people who are “so miserable” because of ailing pets, she told the CN&R. They’ll say to her, “I’ve tried everything. I’ve gone to the vet. I’ve spent thousands of dollars.” She may end up devoting 45 minutes to a single animal’s issues.
Often, Wells finds that pets benefit from better-quality food. This impact prompted her not only to study nutrition, but also find a way to reach more owners—and pets—in need.
“I became passionate about it,” said Wells, who worked three years for the Butte Humane Society before taking the job at TrailBlazer five years ago.
She created a series of classes for pet owners to address common inquiries: skin and coat, teeth, anxiety and other topics.
Tuesday lunchtimes in June, Wells is conducting a series of pet first-aid courses. The next session, June 13, will cover emergency assessment and wound management; June 20, types of emergencies and how to respond; June 27, pet CPR and choking. (See box for more information.)
“Ultimately the classes came from me spending 20 to 40 minutes explaining on the floor to an individual person … specific topics that would be a better use of my time if people would come in and hear a lot about at once,” Wells said. “Meeting together is also valuable, because it’s a forum for people to see that they’re not alone, there are other people going through issues they’re going through, and it gets better.”
Mary Pat Nowack, owner of a 2-year-old Brittany spaniel, appreciates the group setting as well as the advice. She and her husband, Tony Edler, got Keegan as a puppy—and, saying “I don’t know what I don’t know” as a first-time dog owner, Nowack has attended each session.
“Everybody you talk to is an ‘expert’ and a lot of the stuff [you hear] is contradictory,” Nowack said. “I’m not saying Lori is the final word, but the way she approaches the class—the references she’s citing, some of the science she’s citing—just gives you more information before you make your decision.”
Ryan Soulsby, program manager for Butte County Animal Control, told the CN&R via email that his department accepts “all effort[s] to bring a happier and healthier animal community” to the county.
“A proper diet and nutrition plan can improve many common animal issues,” he continued. “Animal owners should seek advice from a licensed animal nutritionist or veterinarian to customize a nutrition plan that’s best for your pet and their lifestyle. When it comes to diagnosing your pet’s symptoms or aliments, your veterinarian should be your only source for information.”
Wells stresses that she is no substitute for a veterinarian. She’s neither a vet nor a vet tech. She studied human nutrition through Portland Community College and is halfway through a two-year pet nutrition program online through the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies.
“TrailBlazer and my mission is to connect people to experts,” she said. “I don’t have to be the resource for people; I want people … to have the knowledge that they need to empower them to make the right choices for them and their pets.
“Veterinarians are important. It’s important to develop a relationship with your veterinarian so you can feel confident to ask questions when you’re unsure why things are happening. They can’t read your mind! And there’s a lot of people who need them.”
Wells said she meets with vets to explain what she does through her classes and consulting.
“I make educated guesses; I don’t prescribe and I do not tell people [a pet] has a particular disease or illness,” she said. “That’s not my job; that’s [vets’] job.”
After an animal has received veterinary care, then Wells will recommend food or another regimen “that will help you and your pet through what you and your vet find.”
Nowack said her goal is to not need to visit the vet except for checkups. She wants to have a healthy dog, in the way she wants health in her life, and she said receiving “education helps us with that.”
Wells’ nexus of pets and health traces a decade back to Redding, where she volunteered with Prescription Pets. She and her dog, Izzy, whom she rescued from a shelter in Florida, partnered to provide animal-assisted therapy in hospital rooms, women’s shelters and a local library (the latter for a literacy program, Read with Me). Izzy remains her beloved companion and periodically accompanies her to TrailBlazer.
The program, through an organization called Pet Partners, exposed Wells to medical privacy laws (HIPAA) along with high-level dog training. She also assisted with marketing and outreach, leading to her position with Butte Humane Society—and, ultimately, TrailBlazer.
“For me education is such a huge piece,” Wells said. “Once people have the tools, and know why their [pet] isn’t feeling well, then we know how to change it.”