Going to the vet is stressful. We know it, and our pets know it, but we’ve all come to accept the fact that the stress is just part of the process. Except, what if it’s not?
Bond Vet is a new clinic that focuses on delivering better care by strengthening the human-animal bond (hence the name). The startup was founded in 2019 and builds on years of research into animal psychology and our pets’ tenuous relationship with the built environment. Designed by Brooklyn design firm Islyn Studio, the aesthetics of Bond Vet’s clinics weigh pets’ experiences as much as ours, using elements like soft flooring for dogs and elevated benches for cats.
The startup launched with one location in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Since then, seven more clinics have sprung up around Manhattan. With cofounder and chief veterinary officer Dr. Zay Satchu at its helm, it’s betting that a design-forward clinic can deliver a more comfortable experience for animals, which in turn means more compliant pets that are easier to treat.
Animals who are fearful, anxious, and stressed are so common in the vet world that the concept has been abbreviated to FAS. There’s even a certification program called Fear Free (with a witty tagline that reads “taking the pet out of petrified”) that trains vet professionals and pet owners to understand animals’ body language and recognize signs of FAS. For dogs, it could be panting and dilated pupils; for cats, it may be a tucked tail and ears pinned to the side. “Animals have body language just like we do, and they’ll show you different ways that they are uncomfortable,” Satchu explains.
As early as 1981, it was clear that vet visits are stressful for animals: A study involving 462 dogs entering a vet clinic for a routine exam found that 70% were reluctant to enter. And while studies of the same caliber haven’t been done with cats, anecdotal evidence from vets who treat felines at home and in clinics suggests the same is true for them.
Satchu cofounded Bond Vet after working in clinics from Boston to Dubai. “What I found true in every clinic environment is it was always designed around the human experience, never the pet experience,” she says. “We weren’t thinking through that concept in the early days because it wasn’t important.” She says that is in large part a reflection of how we perceived animals. “They were a belonging; now they’re much more a part of the family,” she says.
Satchu enlisted the help of Islyn Studio, and the team created a space built around the pet experience. The result is a multisensory, Scandi-infused space designed to make pets feel more at ease.
Bathed in natural wood and soft lighting, the lobby features a vinyl floor that is both slip-resistant and soft for puppies, like mine, who can turn into Bambi on a slippery floor. If the floor changes from one room to another, the border can stop a dog in its tracks, so the clinics are designed with seamless flooring throughout. Satchu says studies have shown that reflective white walls and fluorescent light can have a negative effect on animals, so walls are painted in pastel hues, and warm lighting permeates all common areas.
Bond Vet caters to dogs and cats, and while the two don’t always get along, the clinic was designed so they could coexist. In the lobby, double-decker terraced seating allows cats to be perched on higher ground.
“We know cats like to be elevated, especially when they’re feeling stressed out, so they can see what’s going on around them,” Satchu says, noting that the traditional vet experience is particularly stressful for cats. Unlike their four-legged canine counterparts, who spend lots of time frolicking in the outside world, cats are practically homebodies. “Putting them in a carrier is a stressful event, let alone coming into a space,” she says.
Cats, like dogs, have a powerful sense of smell, so when they come into a space, Satchu says the smell of dogs can induce a lot of stress. To alleviate that, and rid the space of animal smells, the team made sure the air inside the clinic is exchanged about 10 times an hour. “There’s a huge investment on the HVAC system to make sure we turn the air over in the room,” she says.
If this sounds extreme, you obviously don’t have pets (or maybe you just don’t love them enough). All jokes aside, the level of care available at a Bond Vet clinic is a reflection of today’s market. In 2020, Americans spent more than $100 billion on their pets, a figure that could almost triple over the next decade.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic puppy boom has been good for business. During this unprecedented time, puppy sales and animal adoptions have increased by more than 40% nationwide. Online retailer Chewy grew 47%. And veterinary jobs are expected to grow 16% by 2029, which is almost four times higher than other occupations.
From the very start, Bond Vet leveraged technology to offset its costs. By building in a telehealth model with a remote team of vets, the company says it’s able to pass on savings to customers. For instance, the cost of an ER visit can be 50% less than at other emergency pet hospitals. In the last two years, Bond Vet has grown to a 100-person staff across eight locations in New York City. There are 20 more clinics in the pipeline slated to open over the next two years, in the city and elsewhere.
“Maybe 20 years ago we wouldn’t have been as successful,” Satchu says. “But a modern-day consumer of pet health products today has different expectations, as they should.”