dvm360®’s Australian correspondent reports on the world’s-first certified B Corporation veterinary service and interviews the veterinarian who founded a sustainable running-shoe company.
Veterinarian Alicia Kennedy, BSc, BVMS, has always loved her older clients and the strength of the human-animal bond that people, especially older people, share with their pets. Recognizing that as life goes through its phases, the importance of a pet can increase while the capacity to care for that pet can be compromised, Kennedy started a dedicated veterinary service focused on the special needs of older people with pets.
“I’m fascinated by the connection that people share with their pets,” Kennedy said. “I have witnessed how this [connection] changes through life stages, and this awareness has shaped my veterinary style. When I assess and plan what is needed to optimize a pet’s health and well-being, I am also considering the capability and support needed for the human to deliver on the plan.
“In addition, I have always valued the role vets play in supporting pets and people through end-of-life phases and have, over the years, mastered the art of compassionate euthanasia and how best to support people through this profound time.”
Merging these 2 aspects of veterinary care into one offering resulted in Cherished Pets, a unique social veterinary enterprise that offers a private general practice veterinary service, a social work veterinary service, and a dedicated end-of-life service.
“Our social-hearted vet service continues to grow in our community,” Kennedy said. “We achieved accreditation with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute...as a Human-Animal Bond Certified practice, possibly the first vet practice in Australia to do this.
“We are also a certified B Corporation—the world’s-first certified B Corp vet service—which means we have achieved global standards for ethical business practice across all that we do, including social impact and sustainability.”
The veterinary practice takes a bond-centered approach when recommending health and well-being care plans for pets by also considering the needs and capabilities of their humans.
“We build capability in people, physical, psychological, and financial, to keep their pets healthy and together with them,” Kennedy explained. “Social impact is embedded into the DNA of our organization. It is our why, our purpose—that the benefits of healthy companion pets and a flourishing human-animal bond can be accessible to all people.”
Based in Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, the veterinary practice now employs 2 qualified veterinary social workers and has a charity arm, Cherished Pets Foundation, which provides support to eligible beneficiaries via a volunteer program and funding support.
“We offer wellness and community vet nurse visits; volunteer support such as dog walking, pet transport, and respite care; provision for unexpected veterinary costs, bereavement and end of life; and crisis care,” Kennedy said. “We are a community of pet-loving people where those with the resources are supporting those who require assistance through vulnerable times. We are anchored in our shared appreciation of the power of the human-animal bond in human health and well-being.”
Although he enjoyed competitive middle-distance running as a teenager, Sam Burke, BVMS, BSc, found less time for running during his veterinary studies and once he was working full time as a vet. However, his love of the sport and a passion for ecological sustainability led him to create Tarkine, an ecofriendly sneaker company.
“Back in 2010, my veterinarian wife, Charlotte, and I bought a run-down veterinary practice and spent the next 7 years turning it around,” Burke said. “When we owned the practice, we literally had no work-life balance. All we did was work. Having said all that, it is vital to have a way to blow off steam and escape. For me, it’s always been running. It is just an amazing way to escape from it all, run through nature, and just check out for a while.
“The clinic ownership burnt me out a bit, so after 7 years of it, my wife and I had pretty much had enough and wanted a new challenge. The idea for our shoe company Tarkine was a mix of things. I love sneakers and always thought it would be fun to start a sneaker company just for the pure sake of it. But I’m also a greenie. So I decided to combine the two and create the world’s most ecofriendly sneaker company.”
Burke said the company’s goal is to become the “Patagonia” of the running world, with Tarkine donating 2% of every sale to help save the world’s second-largest temperate rainforest—the Tarkine in Tasmania—which is under threat from logging and mining.
“A pair of Tarkines is different in a number of ways,” he said. “Our sock liner is compostable, which is a world first. After use, you can just drop it into the compost bin. Usually, these sock liners take 1000 or so years to break down in a landfill.
“Our outsole is made using recycled rubber,” Burke continued. “You’d never know it, as it looks brand new, but it isn’t. To my knowledge no other sneaker company has been able to do this. Our upper is made from recycled plastic. This part has been done before, but it is still not the norm, and very few brands utilize this technology.”
Tarkine shoes are also recycled after use into products like rubber mats because the company is dedicated to taking responsibility for the full life cycle of its shoes.
“It isn’t good enough to simply sell a pair of shoes and forget about them,” Burke said. “Once our customers are done with their pair, they simply mail the shoes to our recycling partner, and we will then place a credit on their account to go toward their next purchase.”
In 2022, Burke and his team have plans to launch a technical trail-running shoe to add to the company’s existing product range, which includes a high-mileage neutral trainer and an array of clothing and accessories. Burke noted that his veterinary background has helped prepare him to successfully run his shoe business.
“Running a vet practice teaches you a lot about life and business, from managing debt to staff disputes, building a sense of community, inventory management, marketing, and everything else. You get a rounded education,” he explained. “But if I had to choose one way it has helped [me, it is] via the customer service skills that you are forced to learn if you wish to grow a practice.
“People like to give money to people they like, and if they leave the vet hospital with a good feeling, they will tend to always return. Therefore, the life of a general practice vet is to not only manage the clinical cases professionally, but to always remember to make sure the majority of your customers are pleased with the service they received. For Tarkine, it is way less intense, and I find it much easier than managing a veterinary practice—but the same rules apply. We listen to our customers and try hard to build a sense of community that is genuine. The rest follows.”