Tails of Help winner at Urban Animal Summit Innovation Showcase

Phone Interview May 19, 2014

Participants: Dr. Jenn Willans and Katie Disher, Member Communications Committee - Tails of Help

Veterinarian Jen Willans, practice owner at the Landing Animal Clinic in Calgary, Alberta since 2006 and a practicing veterinarian since 1998 was kind enough to take the time to talk with Tails of Help about her winning presentation at the Urban Animal Regional Conference. Dr. Willans was asked by the Urban Animal Program to make a presentation at the 2014 Prairie Conference that took place on April 28, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta. Dr. Willans’ is founding president and board member and supporter of Tails of Help, and chose to do a presentation about the charity organization. The Tails of Help presentation was selected to move to the Summit Level and will compete against other showcases in the future.


Katie: You won the Prairie Conference Innovation showcase, congratulations!  What was your initial reaction when you found out you won?

Dr. Jen Willans: My reaction was very positive and I think it’s good way for Tails of Help to help build awareness.  Participating in this conference series and winning this award makes me happy.

K: How does it make you feel that your presentation for Tails of Help was selected to move to the Summit Level?

DJW: It makes me very happy; I hadn’t attended one of these events before, and I didn’t know what to expect. There was a varied group of attendants and participants, and I was pleasantly surprised that my presentation on Tails of Help won.

K: What impact does winning the presentation award for the Urban Animal Summit have on you and your involvement with Tails of Help?

DJW:  I view winning this award as helping our short-term goal to build awareness of Tails of Help, within the public and veterinarian communities. Because we are new, it’s hard to get in front of these platforms.  This was a very interested, engaged assembly that attended. Among the attendees were veterinarians, pet stores, pet by-law groups, humane societies, and other special interest groups.   The greatest impact of my presentation was that it allowed me to share our story and let interested people know Tails of Help exists. The kinds of people, attending: Humane Society, animal services, bylaw, people involved in animal healthcare, pet store, pet food, pet insurance, I am probably missing a few, these people are passionate about animals, just like we are. If we (Tails of Help) can spread awareness with these interested parties, we can further spread our cause across the province.

K: What does it mean for your Tails of Help presentation to be moving to the next level?

DJW:  Moving forward with this presentation, what I hope is that I’m going to continue to build awareness for Tails of Help. Alberta is the second province to start an organization that helps financially challenged pet owners. The first one was the Farley Foundation in Ontario.  Ultimately, it would be great if something like this  (Tails of Help and Farley Foundation) had a presence in every province.  I truly hope to build awareness for Tails of Help and to motivate other provinces to do something similar to help families and pets.

K: What qualities do you think Tails of Help has that made your presentation stand out?

DJW: I think it was the concept behind Tails of Help that made the presentation stand out.  Most people can identify with the need we are trying to fulfill and with what our goals are as a charitable organization. I think Tails of Help has a broad appeal; people attending these innovation showcases are people that are involved in the animal care sectors and Urban Animal Program. All of the innovation showcase attendees wish to enhance the human/animal bond in the communities where they live.  The broad appeal of the cause of Tails of Help makes it relatable to the majority of people in animal services.

K: What is the Urban Animal Program / Regional Conference series?

DJW:  I too had to research this program prior to participating in the conference. The Urban Animal Program has the goal to unite stakeholders in the animal industry to address the urban animal challenges that many of our communities face. The Urban Animal Summit and Regional Conferences are intended to showcase successful projects that are involved in enhancing the urban animal experience. From what I understand, their Innovation Showcase is only a few years old, so it really is quite new.  Each year, participants are invited to attend and speak about an innovation or program they would like to share. For example, last year, the group that won is a group that was operating a high volume low cost spay/neuter program. They ended up winning the national summit.  

These Urban Animal Conferences have gained traction and their goal is to get people from the different parts of animal care sectors together. Ironically, these groups don’t talk to each other very much. Humane societies and veterinarians sometimes don’t talk to each other often enough, people who run pet stores don’t talk to bylaw groups - and that is the benefit of attendance at these conferences. The conference acts as a forum for different stakeholders to discuss issues in the community.  A topic of concern at this most recent conference was animal sourcing; the issues around where to people find and adopt their pets. Attendees at this conference had valuable input on how this process can be improved. Kijiji was there—thousands and thousands of people buy animals off Kijiji. The Urban Animal Regional Conference is a forum to get groups talking and trying to solve common problems that affect them. Within the Urban Animal Program, the organization creates a showcase. The showcase is a new thing that allows organizations and people to speak about issues impacting their community. Attendance at the regional conference and attending the show case presentations is very useful for me, as I own a veterinarian practice.  It is easy to develop tunnel vision, where I kind of create my own bubble and don’t realize there are other stakeholders out there who face similar challenges as I do.  The Urban Animal Regional Conference allowed me to raise awareness for Tails of Help and to learn about concerns that can have an influence on my practice.

K: What are your biggest challenges as a veterinarian?

DJW: As the owner of a practice, by biggest challenge is running the business of the practice. I’m the CEO; I have to manage the Human Resources function, manage, the financial aspect, marketing, controlling inventory and expenses.  This aspect is the MOST challenging. It is challenging to make sure I keep up to date with scientific advances.  My knowledge must always be improving to help patients and improve their lives.   There is the business management, veterinarian tasks, and then there are the communication challenges.  Communicating with my staff, relaying information to the public, and continuing to share information is a huge undertaking. If I don’t do a good job communicating, pets cannot get help. As a veterinarian, I have to thoroughly explain why I’m recommending what I’m recommending so that the family understands the best plan of treatment.

There are a lot of challenges with being a vet and a practice owner. One of the obstacles we, as veterinarians deal with is when clients can’t afford what is best for their pets. This is something our whole profession deals with. People become vets to help animals.  We (veterinarians) do a ton of pro bono work, but we have to make a living somehow. This type of stress can be difficult on the entire veterinary practice team.  It can be stressful dealing with a distraught client because they cannot afford to pay for their animal’s treatment. I am very fortunate; I have a practice in area of the city that I don’t have to deal with this issue very often. This is the reason why the ABVMA wanted to be involved in starting something like Tails of Help.  Tails of Help and the motive behind it has an impact on the psychological health of veterinarians and their staff whom deal with pets and their families every day.

K: What are your biggest challenges as a supporter of Tails of Help?

DJW: Right now, since Tails of Help is so new, so our biggest challenge is getting word out about our organization and our cause.  The key is making sure vets know we exist. Right now, we have funding available for pets and we have a 3-year fundraising goal, but there are still veterinarians out there that don’t know we exist. Getting that word out and letting practicing veterinarians know Tails of Help is available to aid them and their patients is indeed our biggest challenge right now. 

K: How do you think your involvement in the Urban Animal Program can increase Albertan’s awareness of Tails of Help?

DJW: I think the Urban Animal Program is another communication avenue.  I don’t know how much of an impact it will have, but the Program has different areas; different participants from the animal care sector and it is another opportunity to get the word out about Tails of Help. I don’t know what kind of an impact it will have, it’s new to me.  I believe time will tell - any publicity is good at this point.

K: As an Albertan, how can I become involved in the Urban Animal program? The Summit Series?

DJW: I don’t know if I know the answer. I was asked to attend because the Tails of Help initiative was nominated for the Innovation Showcase. Veterinarians are often asked to participate and in a room of 40 or 50 people, perhaps 5 or 6 are veterinarians.  The other participants are stakeholders from the animal care industry that want to address the issues facing urban animals.   I think the true goal of the Urban Animal Program and the Regional Conferences/Summit Series is to get sectors talking and tackling some of the problems that are common.

K: Anything else you would like to add?

DJW: For Tails of Help, it is good for us as an organization (me, in the case of the regional conference) to meet the people at the bigger humane societies in the province. At Tails of Help, we want to keep pets with their family. If a pet is sick and the family can’t afford to care for it, one of three things happens: 1.) the pet continues to be sick, 2.) the family surrenders their animal or 3.) the family must euthanize their pet for human reasons.  At Tails of Help we think that if we keep animals with their family, we reduce the burden on the other services in the province. We want the Humane Society to know we are here to help share their burden. Often times people call the Humane Society and say we can’t afford to care for our animal and the Humane Society will take them in. We (Tails of Help) want to be seen as an organization to help the Humane Society, not compete with them. For our organization to grow and be seen as an organization that can help, it is important we participate in events such as the Urban Animal Program Regional Conference/ Summit Series to spread the word about our goals with other animal care stakeholders.

To read more about the Tails of Help winning presentation at the Urban Animal Summit, please visit this link:

To learn more about the Urban Animal Program please visit http://www.urbananimal.com/