Back to the bayou: Doctor starts veterinary practice in New Orleans' French Quarter


This burned-out doctor found the pulse of his new practice in the heart of his hometown.

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Like father, like son: When Dr. Scott Griffith (right) launched a new practice in New Orleans, he hired his son Lee Griffith (left) as his practice manage. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Dr. Scott Griffith was in the process of selling his New Orleans veterinary practices in August 2005. Then Hurricane Katrina hit, breaking the levees and flooding nearly 80 percent of the city. Katrina destroyed one of Dr. Griffith’s practices—and nearly marked the end of his career in veterinary medicine. He was burned out on practice life already, and now this.

Six years later, Dr. Griffith is not only still practicing, he’s opened the first-ever veterinary practice in the heart of the French Quarter. And he loves it. Here’s how Dr. Griffith went from burned out to happier than he’s ever been in the profession he wants to be part of for the rest of his life.

The day of the hurricane

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans, causing destruction more than 100 miles from its center. The hurricane is blamed for 1,577 deaths in Louisiana and nearly $81 billion in property damage. One of those properties was Dr. Griffith’s clinic. Click here to see photos of the devastation.

After the hurricane hit, Dr. Griffith stayed in the area for a few days to help stranded and abandoned animals. Then he was one of the million people evacuated from the city. In the following years, he tried a number of business models, working at an emergency practice in Sarasota, opening his own housecall practice, and even helping launch a Banfield practice in California. It was his experience with Banfield that triggered a new idea. “I fell in love with Banfield’s business model,” Dr. Griffith says. “No boarding, no grooming—send those services out to the experts. And it was fun doing veterinary medicine out there. I didn’t have to worry about the boarding dogs with vomiting and diarrhea or the pet that just got clipped by the groomer.”

Dr. Griffith says he also didn’t miss the headaches: trying to get employees to work on evenings and weekends and having team members not show up for work. “I went to school to be a veterinarian,” Dr. Griffith says. “I didn’t go to school to run a hotel, which is what a kennel is, or run a beauty parlor. We have good boarding and grooming specialists to refer to.”

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Dr. Scott Griffith’s practice is located on a busy block in the French Quarter of New Orleans. From time to time the street shuts down for parades, movie shoots, and even fashion events. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Finding his roots

It’s easy to imagine why Dr. Griffith was hesitant to return to the city that destroyed one of his practices. But the lure of the Big Easy eventually called him home. “I grew up in New Orleans, and I used to hang out in the French Quarter,” he says. “But I never imagined owning a business there.”

While the French Quarter is not necessarily a hub for families, there are plenty of pets around. Above the first floor of many of the business are lofts and apartments where people live. “It’s a heavily residential area,” Dr. Griffith says.

And the area was missing a critical component: a veterinarian. So that’s where he decided to set up shop. “I got the idea when I was hanging out in a dog bakery down the street,” he says. “The more I hung out in the French Quarter, the more I realized what an opportunity it would be. So I took over an art gallery space that was closing. And I went around the quarter taking pictures of animals. That’s our artwork.”

Since he established his practice on March 1, 2010, many people have stopped Dr. Griffith to thank him for filling a need in the community. Part-time residents, he says, are now more comfortable staying in their French Quarter homes for longer periods because they know there’s a local veterinarian who will help them care for their pets. And this previously burned-out doctor is happy to oblige.

The difference, Dr. Griffith says, is where and how he’s chosen to practice. A 550-square-foot clinic on Royal Street, only a block from the action on Bourbon, might not be everyone’s idea of a perfect facility or location. And Dr. Griffith admits he was nervous about the risk—no veterinarian had tried to practice in the sometimes crowded and tourist-heavy area. “Nobody thought it would work,” he says. But now, with more than a year under his belt, he’s sure this is where he’s meant to practice.

His big cat Morpheus sits in the window, soaking up attention from passers-by. From time to time the street shuts down for a parade, a movie shoot, or a fashion event—giving Dr. Griffith’s team a front-row seat. In fact, Dr. Griffith enjoys his French Quarter lifestyle so much that he rents out his house uptown as a vacation home and lives in a third-floor French Quarter apartment above a wig shop. “I’ve got to walk through the wig shop five times a day going to the office,” he says. “That makes you not take life so seriously.”

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Morpheus, Dr. Scott Griffith’s cat, takes a snooze, oblivious to the excitement outside. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Practice perfect

Dr. Griffith splits his time between two offices—The French Quarter Vet practice just a block from Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, known as the last bar on Bourbon Street, and his Garden District Pet Hospital. While he’s the only doctor for both practices, he keeps both facilities open daily, with team members on hand to schedule appointments and serve clients. A critical piece of his success, Dr. Griffith says, is the people he works with—and for.

His team consists of eight people: his practice manager and son, Lee Griffith, and technicians who also split the receptionist duties. (See “Keeping it all in the family” in the Related Links below.) Dr. Griffith says he attracts high-quality team members with his business model that eliminates late hours. His team doesn’t work evenings, and the only weekend hours are Saturday mornings, so his employees can enjoy their lives outside of the practice. And Dr. Griffith rewards team members for their service by paying them well and engaging in team building activities, such taking his team to lunch once a week after surgeries are finished.

“My staff has to be flexible and have a sense of humor to work down here and put up with all the craziness,” he says. “But a lot of them love working in the French Quarter, because it’s very different. The people enjoy music and food and their pets. It’s a place that draws people who appreciate all the good things life has to offer.”

Dr. Griffith also credits his current clients with his renewed love for practice. The diversity, from people who own condos to those who work in the service industry, means he sees every type of pet owner. But he says the common thread is their love of pets.“These are the best clients I’ve ever had,” Dr. Griffith says. “I’m more connected with my clientele than I ever have been in my entire career. I walk out my door and can’t walk a block without running into clients.”

His affinity for the community has also altered Dr. Griffith’s attitude. Today he does something he’d never have dreamed of 10 years ago: He gives his cell phone number to every client who walks through the door. “Before, you wouldn’t catch me dead answering a phone call from a client. I used to resent it,” he says. “And now it’s cool. I really don’t mind it. They don’t abuse it, and I don’t try and distance myself.”

The reward is membership in a community that’s opened its arms. “I’ve never had a practice where people come in to say ‘hi’ and ‘thanks,’” he says.

Part of Dr. Griffith’s plan was to purchase the technology that fit his practice goals. For him, this included buying in-house lab equipment for quick diagnoses and purchasing a digital radiography machine. He also uses an outside lab. Pet owners can leave the practice in a few hours with answers about their pet’s condition as well as a treatment plan.

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Here's the front of Dr. Griffith's veterinary practice. Dr. Griffith says he's lucky to work in a community that offers a European flair as well as Mayberry closeness. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Coming home

Although moving back to New Orleans was a risky proposition, Dr. Griffith says he felt the pull to reconnect with his hometown. “I feel like I’m contributing and making a difference to the local economy.”

After nearly 30 years of practice, Dr. Griffith says he’s finally enjoying veterinary medicine. While some of his colleagues are planning for retirement, Dr. Griffith plans on practicing until he dies. “I’m working until they wheel me out in a wheelchair,” Dr. Griffith says. “It’s no longer work for me.” Finding the right practice model took time, experience, and even tragedy, but Dr. Griffith says he’s lucky to be working in a community that offers a European flair as well as Mayberry closeness.

“It’s an even stronger community since Katrina hit,” he says. “The people who really love this city are staying here and making it stronger.” ■

Portia Stewart is a freelance writer and editor living in Lenexa, Kan.

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