Episode #25 – Dr. Dennis Horter

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the People of Animal Health Podcast. The host of our podcast is Stacy Pursell. Stacy is the leading executive recruiter for the animal health industry and the veterinary profession. She’s the founder of Therio Partners and the Vet Recruiter. Stacy has placed more professionals in key positions within the animal health industry and the veterinary profession than any executive search professional. Along the way, Stacy has built relationships with some outstanding people who are doing incredible things to make a difference.

The People of Animal Health Podcast features industry leaders and trailblazers who have made a significant impact or are making an impact in the animal industry or the veterinary profession. Stacy chats with them to learn more about their lives, their careers, and the unique and interesting things that they have done to contribute to the animal health industry or veterinary profession. She’s here to share their stories with you. Now here’s the host of our podcast, Stacy Pursell.

Stacy Pursell:

Welcome to the People of Animal Health Podcast. On today’s show, we are welcoming Dr. Dennis Horter. Dr. Dennis Horter completed his undergraduate studies at South Dakota State University and received his DVM at Iowa State University, while also acquiring a master’s degree in veterinary microbiology. He was in small animal medicine practicing both GP and ER in the Minneapolis metro area. His passion for veterinary medicine covers many areas of interest, including anesthesia, infectious disease, pain management, immunology, microbiology, preventative medicine, and surgery.

Dr. Horter received his board certification from the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in K9 and Feline Medicine. He’s a certified veterinary pain practitioner, as recognized by the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and is a board of diplomat at the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine. Dennis has served in a variety of industry and operational roles leading multiple general practice specialty in emergency hospitals across the United States. Dennis currently serves as the chief operating officer at CityVet, where he is focused on helping veterinarians own and start their own hospitals through the CityVet De-Novo platform. So, welcome, Dennis. We’re so excited to have you. And how are you today?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Hello, Stacy. Thank you for the opportun- opportunity to join today. I’m humbled by the invitation, and, um, it’s, uh, it’s a real pleasure to be here, so thank you.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah. Well, we’re so glad that you’re here, Dennis, and, uh, I know that you’ve experienced tremendous success throughout your career, but I would love to start at the very bottom and beginning of your career. What was your life like growing up and where did you grow up?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Uh, thanks, Stacy. I, uh, I grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, and, um, I was, uh, uh, one of those, uh, fortunate people that, uh, knew I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was about knee-high. Um, but I grew up on a cattle ranch. We had, uh, cattle, pigs, horses, um, and, uh, is grew up on a small town at the end of a gravel road that, uh, that nobody came by. And so that was where I, I really got my first taste of, uh, being able to, you know, get my, get the touch and feel of animal health and, uh, kind of got the bug from there.

Stacy Pursell:

Well, you told us a little bit about when you first figured out what you wanted to do professionally. You said you were, you were knee-high when you decided that you wanted to become a veterinarian, and we find that, you know, that’s the case with many veterinarians. They, many of them decide early on in life that that’s what they wanna do professionally. Um, so I’d love to hear the story of your early career in veterinary medicine. How did you get started?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah, yeah. No, I, um, you know, started, uh, you know, like I said, I, you know, m- my interest in it was, uh, from early on and, uh, you know, my, how it’s changed, um, you know, my, my vision of, of it has changed. You know, Doc Schneider was our veterinarian that came out, and he, he worked with us and our, our cattle and, uh, and pigs. And, you know, one of the things that I always knew is that when he came to the farm, um, he was there to save the day. And, uh, you know, and, and when he drove onto the farm, it was just a relief to be able to have him there.

And, uh, I always attributed being a veterinarian as being that person that, uh, uh, was, was it, kind of had the answers and had the, uh, the fix for things, uh, to be able to do. And, and, uh, so always looked up to Dr. Schneider and, uh, looked up to veterinarians as a whole and, uh, really aspired to, to really do that. And I, I, early on, I always had this knack of trying to figure out how things work and trying to fix things. And I was fascinated by infectious disease. And, uh, that kind of carried me through and, uh, you know, into undergrad. And when I went to undergrad, I, uh, had an opportunity to work on, um, uh, do, do some research in immunology, um, work with vaccines, uh, in microbials. I, uh, was able to de- develop some diagnostic assays, um, around PRRS virus in pigs. Um, I was doing flow cytometry work and looking at, uh, BVD vaccines and BVD virus infections in cattle, and developing monoclonal antibodies alongside of my, my undergraduate studies.

And so I was, uh, fortunate to get into vet school, um, at Iowa State University. And, uh, when I went to Iowa State, um, I had built some connections, uh, when, with my work at South Dakota State and, uh, was able to, uh, concurrently enroll in grad school, um, at the same time as vet school, which I always joke with people, don’t do that if you like sleep. Um, but, uh, ’cause doing, doing either of those are pretty busy, but doing together, uh, leads to a lot of sleepless nights. Um, but, uh, it was really enjoyable. I really enjoyed the, the research aspect, and I continued working on, uh, you know, different diagnostics, di- diagnostic assays, um, you know, persistence of PRRS virus, uh, published a couple papers and was able to continue to further, uh, my education in infectious disease and immunology and vaccinology as well.

So, um, and through vet school, um, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been somebody that wants to learn, uh, broadly, learn broadly across a lot of, a lot of different areas. And, you know, as I was, um, uh, kind of progressing through my early education and, uh, early part of the career, I was, uh, um, you know, constantly, you know, and had a foot in production of animal medicine. And I had a, have a great love, still had a great love for production of animal medicine, food, animal medicine. Um, but, you know, as I was going through and kind of broadening my horizons, um, you know, small animal medicine was, uh, it was really just kind of the beginning of the human animal bond and our understanding of the human animal bond and, you know, the individual animal medicine component of things, um, you know, was really intriguing to me when I’d been working on population medicine and, uh, large groups of, of, uh, of animals in the past.

And so, you know, when I, uh, got to focusing more on small animal medicine and the individual animal part, you know, having all of that, uh, background from research and diagnostics made me, it really helped me in being a, a great clinician, a great diagnostician when it came to being able to, to help in small animal and, um, you know, more than, more so than just helping to, uh, heal the animal to, you know, make the animals better. Um, it was, it was really an opportunity to kind of help enhance the human animal bond. And, you know, when I look back when I was a, a wee little kid, I, it was really that aspect too that Doc Schneider instilled in me was that, uh, ability to, you know, enhance that human animal bond, um, that we had.

So when I graduated from vet school, I was looking at, uh, different opportunities in, uh, in, in, in swine practices and mixed animal practices and small animal practice. And we, um, I ended up going into small animal, uh, medicine kind of diving all in and, uh, practiced, um, in both GP and ER for, for a number of years, and really enjoyed, um, the aspect of, uh, small animal practice. Um, so it was, it was, it was very fulfilling, very rewarding. Um, you know, uh, you know, as mentioned, I’ve, I focused a lot in medicine and, uh, surgery and anesthesia and a lot of different interests along the way. And, uh, it was, it was really enjoyable to be able to, um, you know, continue to kind of on that, develop that learning journey. Um, and that, and, and even today, I continue to learn and learn more as we go.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah, I love that, uh, what you said about the learning journey, because I find that’s, that’s really what it’s about, right? And just continuous, uh, growth and, uh, development as, as we go on in, in life and in our, uh, career. So, um, you know, you told us about how you got started in veterinary medicine, and you were mentioning, uh, working in a, in a veterinary clinic and small animal medicine. And, you know, I’m curious, how did you go from that, from working in a veterinary clinic as a, as a veterinarian to the increasing responsibility and then even in leadership roles, you know, going into industry and, um, leadership roles? So, you know, how did, how, tell us about how you made those transitions.

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah. Now my transitions, um, you know, were, are, are interesting. And I think it, uh, you know, does, it does tell a story that kind of continued learning. And so in practice, I was always, uh, you know, working to advance my medicine and, uh, to be a better clinician, to be a better diagnostician. And, uh, I always joked if I go back to vet school and do it all over again, I’d be a really good vet. Um, one of my ways of going back to vet school and doing it all over again was, um, you know, working through ABVP certification and being able to, you know, systematically go through over a number of years to be able to, you know, really make myself better and improve on that.

Um, along the way also, I had a very, I had a strong interest in anesthesia and pain management. Um, you know, and relieving and alleviating pain in, in animals is, uh, you know, a real privilege that we have as veterinarians. And, uh, it was, it was also right on the cusp of, um, you know, the recognition of pain and the better ability for us as veterinarians to be able to treat pain. And so I had a great interest in being able to do that, do it better, um, through better anesthetic techniques, better local anesthetic, uh, techniques, um, you know, use of different medications that were becoming available for us, uh, to be able to use at the time.

And so, you know, along the way, I’ve also found a, a, a large group of like-minded individuals, you know, Tammy Grub, Mark Raffey, David Martin, Mark Epstein, Mike Petty, and the list goes on. There’s a lot of, um, uh, a lot of great people that, uh, were, were kind of like-minded in those early days. And, uh, we had actually had worked together to, uh, um, you know, help kind of, you know, lift up the international Veterinary ca- Veterinary Academy of Pain Management. And so I was fortunate to be able to play a small role in being able to bring that organization, uh, to light. Um, and we worked to develop a credentialing program that, uh, um, you know, practitioners and, uh, um, veter- other veterinary professionals, veterinary technicians could go through to be able to enhance and be able to be credentialed in that as well.

And so, I, um, uh, a fun fact, I was actually the, uh, the, the, the first certified veterinary pain practitioner that, uh, that came out of that program. And, uh, I, I always, uh, will, will use that, uh, as a little bit of a rub because I, I actually just got my papers in like three days before, um, um, Mark and Mike did before they, uh, we received their, uh, certified veterinary pain practitioner certification as well. But, uh, I can, I was the only for a short period of time, but, uh, I can still claim that I was the first, uh, to be able to do that. So a little bit of a fun, fun fact to, to be able to work on there.

And, you know, it was, it was through, um, working with the International Veterinary Academy Pain Management, and, uh, I, I really got to first interact with a lot of people in, uh, industry positions. So, um, you know, the IVAPM was a, a, a very vast and diverse group of, uh, from veterinary technicians to veterinarians to industry, uh, leaders, industry research, um, academicians, uh, academic, uh, veterinarians. So there was a large group, uh, cross-functional group of people that were really helping to, to bring that up. And it was my first real experience and exposure, um, to, you know, all of the interconnectedness and all the things that we could do together.

And along that lines, you know, I, you know, I’d always looked at, you know, what I could do as a veterinarian for patients that I was able to see, uh, for, for animals that came into the hospital I was at, and then our veterinarians could be able to take care of. And I always had this want to be able to help others. Um, you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve always considered myself a teacher and, uh, you know, I love to teach and I love to be able to help people be successful. And, you know, through, um, you know, some different lectures and some wet labs that I was doing kind of in my spare time, um, you know, being able to help show people, um, you know, uh, ways to be able to do things better, more effectively, more efficiently and with better medicine for their patients was really rewarding.

And so, um, it was through those, uh, you know, interactions and opportunities and kind of also my, um, you know, continuous, continuous kind of, uh, want to be able to contribute more to the veterinary profession. Um, you know, there was an opportunity that came up. It was Pfizer Animal Health at the time, um, to be able to be in their technical services, uh, team. And so I was initially attracted to the role because it was, um, you know, it, it was surrounding myself with a lot of, uh, other experts, um, a lot of really, really high, uh, caliber veterinarians in the, in the industry. And, uh, to be able to surround myself around, you know, the knowledge and, uh, to be able to help on that.

And so I, um, I was able to, I applied and was able to take that position. And, um, you know, I, I was initially drawn because of the talented professionals as the, as veterinarians, but what I quickly learned was that, um, you know, there’s a lot of other really fantastic professionals in other areas, um, that are just as passionate and good at their craft as what I was. Um, but it was in areas of finance and business and strategy, marketing and research and development, um, and production of, uh, you know, different things. And so I was able to learn, um, a lot from, uh, a lot of other talented individuals.

And along the way too, um, you know, I’d spent a long time, um, you know, helping, uh, or working my career to be able to improve myself medically and technically and knowledge-wise to be able to, to be a better veterinarian. But also, um, I was also coming to a point where, uh, there’s an old adage “That, that people never, you know, care how much you know, but they really do know how much you care.” And through that, um, you know, it’s, it’s, you know, how do I be a better communicator? How do I be a better leader? How, how can I develop others?

Um, I’d always had a natural knack for being able to develop others, but it wasn’t something I’d actually concentrated on as a skill, um, to be able to look at that. And so it was through the exposure of this. And so there were some really great opportunities I had through Pfizer Animal Health and Zoetis to be able to develop myself as a leader that, um, you know, I, I kind of jumped, uh, head l- headfirst into trying to work on me and make myself a better leader, um, and be a better developer of people. And, um, along the way, you know, how could I create high performing teams? You know, things that I had kind of come across on accident, um, uh, doing in, in, in practice or on my own, um, you know, had worked out.

Um, but there were a lot of lessons that I’d learned along the way too that, uh, you know, kind of really helped to be able to, you know, solidify that. And so by being able to take advantage of that and, and, uh, grow, um, in that role, I became a manager, and then I was the director of, uh, Veterinary Professional Services at Zoetis, where I got to lead a, a real cross-functional team and, uh, you know, really interact with a lot of great people, great colleagues, um, and, uh, lead a really talented team, um, through a lot of different changes that, uh, that we had at the time.

So as we, um, in, in my role, um, you know, the, the, you know, more I, uh, elevated in that role, um, little, it was more about helping the, my team and helping the people, um, that, uh, that I supported, you know, how about how can I develop them? How can I make them more successful? And then also, uh, it was becoming more operational in nature. So my role became more, um, you know, about operationally oriented versus more of the technical or the medical content. And so it was really, um, a great opportunity to be able to be in a spot where I could apply a lot of learnings to, uh, to, to developing a, the team and to be able to work operationally.

And so, you know, the other component that, um, I was wa- witnessing at the time and watching was that there was a large, um, degree, um, of consolidation that was really starting to occur. So, you know, starting off it was just a few of the larger groups that, um, you know, were, uh, you know, kind of, you know, working in this area and working in this space, but was starting to see just a real exponential movement towards, um, you know, acquisitions and consolidations and some buying groups, um, some groups of, uh, management groups that were getting together at the time.

And so, you know, wa- sitting where I was, you know, and watching kind of where things were, I was also, you know, kind of really looking at this from, uh, uh, the profession view and saying, “You know what? I, you know, gosh, I had all these great opportunity to be able to do these things. How can I, how can I continue to contribute? How can I continue to remain relevant? And how can I, uh, continue to kind of expand, um, you know, uh, supporting the profession I love so much?”

And, um, you know, with, you know, kind of everything coming together, I had lunch with a friend of mine who’s a criticalist, um, and, uh, we were, we were chatting about things and she said, “You know what? You’d be really good at running specialty in emergency hospitals.” Um, and, you know, she kind of put that nugget in my, uh, in my brain, and I started thinking about that, and I was like, “You know what? I probably would.” And, um, you know, they, I had a conversation that led to a conversation and, uh, you know, I had an opportunity to be able to join Blue Pearl, um, that, and, uh, be able to, uh, run op- uh, specialty in emergency hospitals with Blue Pearl.

And so, you know, with, um, you know, the, and it was in a time where there was a lot, you know, a high degree of growth. Um, there’s a high degree of, uh, acquisitions that we were doing at the time. And, and so it, you know, to be able to go into that, I’ve always been the type of person where, you know, I really don’t wanna stand outside the car and influence which direction it goes, I kinda wanna jump in and take the wheel. And, um, I was blazing a little bit of new territory being a veterinarian in an operation’s role. And, um, you know, that that wasn’t something that, uh, everybody is always, uh, you know, very fond of. Um, because usually the skills that make us really great as veterinarians don’t necessarily translate over to some of the other skills that are good in other roles.

So it was, uh, so I’m really thankful to Blue Pearl for, you know, taking a chance on me. And, uh, you know, I think, uh, we, we, we had a really good success in being able to, um, you know, lead, uh, emergency and specialty hospitals through the time that I was there. So, um, and then from there, you know, I had an opportunity to be the Chief Operating Officer at Encore Vet Group, um, which was a, um, mostly an acquisitions group, um, for general practice, especially emergency, and was able to join there, um, during a time of, uh, massive growth, um, and expansion, and to be able to help to, uh, shape the team and to be able to help form the strategy to be able to help them. And, and of course, today I’m at CityVet, so.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah. And, you know, some of the things that you said there, you know, one word I heard you say is interconnectedness, and you know that there is so much, uh, interconnectedness within this industry, and you were talking about that with one conversation leading to another conversation, and that’s how you landed at Blue Pearl. That’s not the direction that you were necessarily thinking about going in your career at the time, but through this conversation, you know, this person talked about this opportunity, and you were open to that, you know, and that, and, and that’s really how it happens with, you know, so many people in our industry, they’re, you know, in this role and things are going well, and they’re not thinking about, um, you know, this completely, uh, other type of role in another organization until their eyes are opened.

And, you know, but, but you do have the transferrable skills to, you know, move from this position to that position. So I, I love hearing, um, the story of, you know, how you got from here to there to there, and, you know, and you also have developed people, uh, as leaders. And so I’m curious, what would you say to other veterinarians who are starting out, who are interested in leadership roles and increasing responsibility, you know, how, how can they move into roles of increased responsibility? What kind of advice would you give to them?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah, no, that’s a great question, Stacy. And, um, you know, I, I, you know, other veterinarians who are looking for leadership roles, um, and increased responsibilities, it’s out there. Um, the opportunities are abundant, and I, I think they’re more abundant today than than they ever have been. And, um, you know, a few, few pieces of advice I always share, um, for anybody looking to move into leadership or having an increased responsibility is, uh, you know, first and foremost, um, you lead from wherever you are.

Um, you know, a leader, leader is not, uh, conferred by a title. It’s, it’s le- it’s conferred by how you help support people, how you help grow people. Uh, number two, um, you know, veterinary medicine is a people business. It’s a people business that delivers veterinary medicine. It’s not a veterinary business. So, you know, very important to know and understand that, you know, in this industry, that, uh, you know, we, we talk a lot about veterinary medicine, my, my heart and my core is in veterinary medicine, but it’s really around people. Um, and being able to grow people and develop people and support people and, and lead and manage people.

Um, so, you know, I think, um, in any veterinarian who’s ever asked about, uh, you know, moving into those roles, um, you know, thinking about like the, the, uh, amount of work and effort that they put into veterinary school and developing their skills as a clinician and a veterinarian, you know, think about putting some of that effort and energy towards being, um, you know, a great leader and, uh, you know, kind of, you know, that that was a real aha moment. I always share with people in my career that, uh, you know, when I, when I started putting that same degree in focus of being a better leader, um, as, as much as what I was putting into being a great clinician, um, you know, the, the, the changes that I was able to see and, and grow through, um, we’re, we’re immense, uh, to be able to do that.

And, uh, I think, you know, lead from where you are, um, you know, be a better leader, develop others, um, and, and gain different experiences. Um, you know, there’s a lot of different experiences, there’s a lot of different opportunities that are out there. Um, if you’d have told the eight-year-old boy that grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota that, uh, he’d be a chief operating officer of, uh, of a large veterinary group called CityVet out of, uh, Dallas, Texas today, I would’ve, uh, I would’ve never dreamed, um, that I would, uh, I would be where I am. And so I think, uh, you know, you know, taking those steps and taking those chances, um, to, to step into roles that, um, you know, maybe I, I, weren’t traditional roles, um, that [inaudible 00:22:26], I think I’ve brought a lot to those and, uh, I think I’ve got a lot to be able to give being a veterinarian and having skillset to be able to, to develop in them as well.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah. And I like what you said about, you know, not being outside of the car, but, you know, getting, getting in the car and, and leading. And then what you said about, you don’t have to have the title of, uh, director or, um, you don’t have to have that title, but you can lead from, from where you are. And so, um, you know, we find that, that people that get those increasing levels of responsibility are people that we’re not necessarily given the title, but they find a way in their role, you know, to be the best they can.

And you said it’s a people business, so doing everything that they can, you know, to help the people that they’re serving, and those people that just, you know, they do lead on their own without, you know, being given the title, that then you gain that next level of responsibility because you put yourself out there, you took that risk, and somebody saw you and said, “Okay, this person’s a leader, you know, let’s give them the next, um, role.” It’s not necessarily the other way around where you get the title first and then you’re called to lead. You have to lead from where you are. So, um, so I really, I really like that.

Um, you know, you’ve had so much success, but did you ever feel like there was a point in time where, um, you felt like I’m really starting to gain traction in my career? Um, was there ever any point in time when you felt that way?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah. You know, I, um, I, I joke with people that I still don’t know what I’m gonna do when I grow up. So, um, I’ll, I’ll keep, uh, I’ll keep, I’ll let you know when I get there though. So, um, and-

Stacy Pursell:


Dr. Dennis Horter:

… growing up is a trap, so I’m just going to, uh, to keep, uh, keep learning and growing on that. But no, I’ve, um, you know, I, I’ve, um, been fortunate to be able to say that, uh, you know, there’s a lot of places where I’ve had, you know, been able to gain traction in different, uh, different aspects and different roles throughout my career. And, um, I really think the, one of the pivotal points, um, there’s a lot of, a lot of points, but one of the pivotal points, um, was, was really when I, I took that same degree in focus into developing, um, my soft skills.

Uh, you know, one of the, um, when, when I started at Pfizer Animal Health, we were working with Colorado State University on a program called Frank, uh, Frank Communications. And, uh, you know, it was, uh, it was, it was kind of a newer program. Jane Shaw had been, uh, working to develop it out there. And, and, uh, we went out there as a team to be able to, to learn and, and work through that.

And the, the, the aspect of being able to, to apply, um, you know, kind of from my science, um, you know, my science and research background, apply that to communications and, you know, thinking about, um, you know, soft skills, um, in a, in a way that you could, you know, have real research around them and you could have real evidence around them and that, uh, that and, and then take that and translate that into, you know, real points to be able to develop. It was, uh, it, it connected the two worlds for me.

Um, and it was really kind of the pivotal point in my, uh, leadership journey as well. And, uh, it was, it was very reinvigorating for me, um, it as a, as a veterinarian as well, um, to be able to take those things and apply them. And, um, you know, a lot of things in my career, I always go back to, you know, you know, pets and people taking care of patients, taking care of people, and, you know, uh, in, in terms of, you know, the, you know, being able to, you know, bring some of these things, it really opened up a journey of development for me that, um, you know, I, I didn’t, uh, realize was out there and, uh, didn’t realize just how, um, how mu how much it could help, um, you know, for along the way.

So, so that, that’s probably one of the biggest pivotal points that I would say in my career where I caught, uh, caught the most traction.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah. Um, and successful people along the way, they’re gonna have times where they, um, are, feel like they’re experiencing success, and then they’re gonna have some low points. Um, walk us through some of the highest highs and maybe the lowest low up to this point in your career.

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah, you know, it’s, um, that’s a great question, Stacy. And, uh, I think that’s very, um, you know, there are, there are a lot of highs and there, there are a lot of lows. And I would probably say, um, you know, maybe the, the one thing that, um, probably hits both of those, um, was, uh, you know, uh, you know, leading, uh, veterinary hospitals and helping support veterinary hospitals through COVID. So I was, um, I was, uh, you know, supporting and operating, uh, specialty emergency hospitals during, when, uh, you know, that day in March came in 2020. And, um, you know, I, uh, I, I always joke with people that COVID is just grad school coming back to haunt me because PRRS virus is a family of Coronaviruses. And, uh, um, it was, it was coming back to, to be able to, you know, get me.

But, um, you know, there was a lot of uncertainty, um, through that. And, uh, there was a lot of, uh, a lot of stress and especially, you know, in the early days and as things progressed, you know, being able to see what was happening early on and, uh, you know, kind of being able to do that, you know, there. So there was a, there’s a medical and a scientific, and a research aspect of, you know, knowing Coronaviruses and understanding their behavior and doing that. There’s a, there’s a, there’s a human aspect and a people aspect of being able to do that. And, um, you know, really in veterinary medicine was, um, you know, always about like, how can we, you know, how can we take care of the people that take care of the pets? Um, and, uh, you know, how do we, you know, like we, we built this profession for a hundred years of, uh, of taking care of people and pets, and very quickly we realized we’re gonna have to figure out a way to take care of the pets without the people, um, in order to be able to do some of those things.

And so, you know, early on, um, you know, we, uh, you know, we, we did some things. We, we, we, I always… One of my mantras is always, you know, fail first and fail fast. Um, so we w we worked on things to be able to, um, you know, you know, try to find different ways to be able to do this all the time, through leading with, um, through a tremendous amount of uncertainty. There was a tr- tremendous amount of uncertainty and, uh, you know, challenging things that occurred during the, those early days that, uh, you know, we didn’t know what this was gonna look like. We didn’t know how this was gonna go, um, you know, for, for things. But then very quickly, you know, there was even uncertainty about, um, you know, where, you know, were, were people still going to, you know, like, like what was the degree that we were gonna be able to, um, you know, take care of the people that were, um, in our hospitals and, and we would be able to, to make that happen?

So, you know, one great example of, uh, you know, the, uh, you know, an exceptional work of a team, you know, we put together a real small team to be able to go out. And I remember we finally, we were on this call and talking about trying, we’re gonna take care of people, how we’re gonna take care of pets without the people. And, uh, you know, we were, we’re coming up with, we were brainstorming ideas, and I said, “You know, we, we need to come up with some sort of, uh, you know, Chili’s car side to-go, um, mantra for Vet med that we can, you know, roll out and emulate really quickly. And this is a Friday, and, and go, go try it this weekend, and on Monday we’re gonna come back and we’re gonna figure out what didn’t work and didn’t work.” And that was kind of where curbside had, uh, you know, kind of come up, um, uh, you know, from, uh, from that team that was working to be able to develop and, and implement that.

And so, you know, it was, uh, you know, some of the low aspects of it was, um, you know, just the, you know, being able to, you know, you know, um, you know, having to deal with the amount of, uh, you know, challenges that were going on, and then in a very whipsaw type fashion, um, you know, then all of a sudden the, the degree of, uh, of stress we were under from being able to handle the sheer volume and amount of patients that came in. So, you know, through COVID, it, uh, you know, it reaffirmed a lot of what we already knew, which is people really have a bond that they share with their, uh, their pets that, um, is, uh, is really important. And, uh, you know, when, when everything else was going on, regardless of what was happened, people still wanted to take care of their pets, and they still wanted that care for them.

And so, you know, uh, you know, part of the, the high of the, of knowing and understanding what a valuable thing is that we deliver as a profession, but also part of a low is how do, how do we help support the people that, uh, were on the front lines of being able to do this? And so, um, you know, we, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of things that we did and a lot of, uh, you know, things that we, we learned from and, um, you know, and, uh, we had, had made it through along the way. But, um, I would say that would be one of the, the point, the challenge, one of the highs and lows, both I think of, uh, of, of what I would, uh, experience on that.

I’m very proud of, like what we did with what we had at the time. And sure, hindsight would love to go back and have a mulligan and, uh, knowing what we know now to be able to think through and work through some of the, the issues and the challenges that were happening. But, um, you know, like when I, when I look back and reflect back, um, you know, really pleased with that we did it, um, through the lens of really taking care of the people that take care of the pets.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah, there were so many challenges during that time period, uh, but then we saw so much innovation come out as a result too, because people had to adapt to those circumstances. So l- love seeing the, um, innovation come out of those, uh, those challenging circumstances at that time. What has been the most surprising thing to you, Dennis, throughout your career so far in veterinary medicine?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Oh, gosh, the most surprising thing this week or this, uh, this career (laughs)?

Stacy Pursell:

(laughs) throughout your whole career?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

I think, um, you know, that, that’s a great question, Stacy. I think the, you know, what, what I think surprises me over and over again is, um, you know, the, you know, the number of challenges that exist in veterinary medicine, but also the tenacity and the resilience as a whole of the veterinary profession. I think, um, you know, the, um, you know, it, it is a group of people that care incredibly about what they do, or we’re passionate about what we do. And, and, um, you know, it, it’s, it’s really something that, uh, you know, to be able to, to see every day, um, you know, those, those things that happen. Um, and, uh, those, those special moments that create.

Um, I think the, um, probably, you know, more, most surprising to me is just the degree that that, uh, level of passion, uh, that that occurs, um, is, is still not just alive, but it’s alive and well. Um, you know, and, you know, from a, from a public facing perspective, um, you know, veterinary medicine is a really re- well respected profession, and, uh, it still continues to be. Um, and, and so that is, uh, you know, it, it’s surprising and refreshing that, uh, you know, through all of the things that have happened over my career, um, and the things that will continue to happen that, uh, you know, it, it still remains such a, um, you know, challenging but rewarding career.

Stacy Pursell:

Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, and how have you seen the veterinary profession change over the years?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Uh, you know, a lot, a lot of different ways. I think, um, you know, one, the spectrum of medicine. Um, I think the, the span of medicine that has, uh, you know, has really changed and that, um, there’s a, there’s a high demand for higher level care, um, for new, you know, newer medications, better ways of treating things, uh, more specialized treatment. At the same time, um, there’s still, uh, a need for, um, you know, basic, uh, type things too. And I, I would say that’d be, is even one of the challenges that, uh, we see that, uh, the veterinary profession is trying to adapt to, is that, you know, there’s a, there’s a large spectrum of care and hu- in human medicine, it, it kind of goes in narrow spectrums and evolves. And in veterinary medicine, there’s still, um, a wide range, um, of things for everybody that want all, all the bells and whistles, all of the diagnostics, all of the treatments, um, no matter what to, um, you know, people that, uh, you know, are, are, are, uh, wanting just enough, um, to be able to do things.

And there’s not one that’s good or bad, it’s just, it, it’s, it’s what’s right for that patient, it’s why it’s right for that, uh, condition, it’s what’s right for that… And I think that’s one of the, you know, things that I’ve really seen is that, you know, that spectrum of medicine is really stretched over the years. And, um, you know, it hasn’t just moved, but it’s really stretched. And so, one of the challenges also that, uh, you know, to be able to practice and be able to address that really broad, uh, spectrum of that. I think the other piece that I’ve seen is, um, you know, just the consolidation, um, in veterinary medicine, um, you know, the, uh, you know, the consolidation of, uh, you know, veterinarians, um, and I think that, that veterinarians not owning hospitals, um, you know, really that has been a significant shift, um, that, uh, that have seen change over the years.

And so, um, you know, that, uh, you know, as, as, uh, owners have, have sold veterinary hospitals, there’s a real change that’s happening and, you know, kind of the tone and the feel of what’s happening when, when you don’t have an owner inside of a hospital, um, there is a different feel, there is a different, uh, difference that happens on that piece of it. So, um, you know, that’s what, uh, you know, I, I, you know, in, in terms of the change in that, um, you know, looking at the, um, you know, the, the, the degree and the amount of stress I think that, uh, that goes on.

Um, you know, there, there can be, you know, stress and there’s challenges in, uh, you know, a lot of long days that, uh, that our veterinarians put in. Um, but also, you know, there’s, uh, there’s a lot of reward. But, um, and then also just the demand for services. It’s, um, it, it’s incredible to see the, uh, continued growing demand for veterinary care, um, that, uh, you know, that we experience. So yeah, that’s just a few of the things I’ve seen over the years.

Stacy Pursell:

Which brings me to my next question as we’re, you know, looking at the future, what does your crystal ball say about the future of the veterinary profession?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Wow, the future of the veterinary profession. I think, um, if I was to summarize it in one sentence, I’d say it’s filled with wonderful opportunities and rather complex challenges. Um, so I think, uh, you know, you know, we’ve got, uh, you know, some, you know, again, all those things about, uh, you know, there’s, there’s a high degree of, uh, you know, care. There’s a high degree of demand. Um, you know, there’s, there’s a high, uh, you know, want to be able to, uh, to do this profession. Um, I think there’s also, uh, you know, things along the way, the cost of education, uh, for veterinary, uh, for, for veterinarians is, is high the cost of care from a client perspective. Um, I think the, the wellness and the wellbeing of, uh, the people in our profession, um, making sure that, uh, you know, we’re structuring things and, and doing things that help to support, uh, support that.

Um, and then, you know, I also look at it from a crystal ball perspective and say, “You know, how can I help veterinarians now find…” You know, I’ve, I’ve been, I’ve been blessed to be able to, you know, you know, love this, uh, career and, uh, you know, have a lot of passion to be able to do that. How can I, how can I share, how can I ignite that light in others, and how can I, how can I help people, you know, through that as well? So I think, um, you know, those are things that are important. I think, um, you know, the other thing about the future of veterinary medicine is, uh, um, you know, looking at, uh, you know, some of the, the evolution, right? So like, you know, we, we’ve, uh, certainly, you know, stretched and we’ve certainly grown, but, um, you know, looking at what are some evolutionary steps that are gonna happen, um, you know, to, you know, about in the future here?

And I think, you know, I, I was able to, you know, witness some evolutionary things that have happened just in, you know, thinking about the, you know, how we, we went from where we were to, you know, now our awareness of pain management and, in animals, and being able to, you know, kinda, you know, you know, look back and say, you know, you know, looking at what we did and where it is now, um, to see what’s happened and, and how that’s really grown. Um, but I think also, like some of the evolutionary components, um, you know, I think there’s a, you know, a, a real need right now, um, you know, for, for additional help in veterinary medicine. And so, um, you know, there’s a, there’s a lot that’s, um, you know, a lot of talk, um, and a lot of, lot of passion on both sides of the issue of having mid-level practitioners and mid-level practitioner program.

Um, but, uh, when you look at every other profession and, uh, you know, outside of veterinary medicine, they all have some sort of mid-level practitioner. And, uh, you know, I, I hear people get really passionate on both sides, uh, of being able to, you know, to talk about that. But, um, I, I, I think that’s gonna be an area that’s going to expand, and I think that’s an area of, of opportunity in the profession that we would probably need to look a little more closely at and, uh, to, to embrace a little bit more. And, um, you know, some of the, um, you know, the, the, the, the cons that I hear around the mid-level practitioner is that it might, uh, you know, change or challenge some of the other things.

And, and, uh, whenever I’ve looked into, you know, worked on controversial topics, um, in, in the past, I, I usually try to look for the, and not the or. Um, so I think there’s an opportunity for mid-level practitioner and for helping veterinarians and for helping other veterinary technicians and professionals as well too. And so, you know, hel- and I think we’re, we’re hitting a point where if we don’t, um, kind of, if we don’t kind of jump in and put our hand on the wheel as a profession, somebody else may. Um, so I would rather help to drive that and steer that as well.

Stacy Pursell:

Yeah, that’s some very good points there. Well, I’d love for you to share with our listeners about the kinds of projects that you’re up to today. And then I’d also like to know what a typical day is like for you these days.

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah. So I’ve got, um, so you can imagine I got a lot of pa- projects that I’m working on, um, you know, that, uh, that I’m doing. Um, you know, one of the things I’m, uh, you know, most interested in, uh, in, now I got a, I have a real strong passion for is, uh, I’m working on our, uh, our new graduate mentorship and training program at CityVet. And, uh, it, it’s, uh, you know, new graduates coming out of veterinary school. Um, you know, the, the veterinary school is really great at teaching medicine. Um, but, you know, new veter- new veterinarians need help becoming doctors. And so, you know, I’m, I’m really trying to develop a, a program that, uh, the, the not just CityVet is proud of, but the profession can be proud of, um, to be able to help provide the support, to provide the mentorship, to provide some of the training.

Um, and it’s really focused around kind of a three-legged stool around mentorship, um, developmental and functional training, as well as medical training to be able to help new graduates come out and be, um, as be, be the best that they can be. Um, and, and, uh, well, and well supported, well mentored. Um, I’m also, um, you know, working on leadership development, um, for our owner veterinarians at CityVet. Um, you know, one of the most important, um, you know, com- important driving components in terms of, uh, employee satisfaction, reduced t- employee turnover, um, satisfaction with work. Um, all of the things, you know, really centers around how well, how well your leadership is, how well your leaders are at your, uh, at the place that you work. And so, um, you know, being able to help, uh, give and guide the, the tools to be able to help them become the best leaders that they can be.

Um, and also, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m also working on, you know, projects, uh, you know, continuing on, on kind of putting ownership back in the hands of veterinarians. So, um, it, it’s, it’s kind of funny and ironic after, um, you know, kind of looking at my career, I went through periods of times where, uh, you know, I was, I was, you know, assisting in mergers and acquisitions and, you know, and, and, uh, you know, you know, consolidation on the industry. And, and actually I’ve, I’m, uh, I’m not kind of at a place now where I’m help, working on putting ownership back in the hands of veterinarians and, uh, you know, coming up with models to be able to help veterinarians become owners and be able to, to own a piece of their own practice for, for, um, uh, you know, you know, their, their own success as well as, uh, their, their ability to be able to kind of grow their own, uh, little piece of, uh, uh, piece of the world and their team. Um-

Stacy Pursell:

Well, it looks like, uh-

Dr. Dennis Horter:

You know… Go ahead.

Stacy Pursell:

Well, um, you know, that, those are such important things. I like the three-legged stool that you were talking about, um, with the mentorship, the development, and the, um, medical training. And it goes back to our, you know, point, um, that we talked about earlier about just, you know, continuing to grow and, um, and develop. So those sounds like, those sound like great opportunities, um, you know, for, for growth and development, um, within your organization. Um, you know, I’m curious about some of the other, you know, daily habits, you know, that you’ve, that you’ve allowed… What are a few of your daily habits that you believe have allowed you to achieve success throughout your career?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Yeah. I, um, you know, I, I wake up, I wake up pretty early, uh, um, you know, I, I used to wake up like 4:35 in the morning. I sleep in [inaudible 00:42:52] till about 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. But, uh, try to wake up early. I, uh, I drink water. Um, so I, I usually keep a bottle of water or a glass of water because what I find is, um, I, I run hard, I go hard and I forget to hydrate, and, uh, all of a sudden I’ll hit a brick wall at the end of the day. But I wake up, I, uh, you know, I, I try to drink at least eight to 12 ounces of water, um, to be able to kind of start off the day at least a little bit ahead of the curve.

Um, you know, I, I exercise on a daily basis. Um, sometimes that’s early in the morning, sometimes it’s, uh, it’s, it’s late at night, but I always feel better, um, you know, for, about, uh, about myself and about, uh, about things that when I get, uh, a run in. Um, I love to run. I love to mountain bike. Um, I love, uh, I love a lot of outdoor sports. Um, even in wintertime, I, uh, I have a fat bike with, uh, these big tires that I can go out and ride on snow with. So it’s, uh, it’s a great way to be able to get exercise, get fresh air, and, uh, um, you know, you know, kind of do something to, to move the body a little bit.

So, um, you know, the other thing I typically do is, um, you know, I, uh, um, you know, you know, I, I, as far as habits go, I try to stick to emails like I do for my meals. I try to have a, a, a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner with a small snack in between. And, uh, I try to handle my emails the same way. So that’s a habit that I try to maintain on the daily, uh, because I’ve, I’ve found it’s really easy to get sucked into, uh, to, to emails, um, that, uh, um, in, in my role and, and, uh, not to not, not spend as much time on some of the other things that I need to on there.

And then I, I usually try to find a point on, um, in, in every day for, uh, reflection or meditation. Uh, um, so, you know, being able to reflect on being able to have time to think, um, I found is really important for my, from a creativity perspective, as well as just from a problem solving perspective. And, uh, some of my, some of the best, uh, you know, answers and solutions have come, um, not when I’m working hard on thinking about something, but, uh, when I’m actually, you know, slowing down and, uh, you know, letting things kind of come to me a little bit as well. So those are a few things that I, I try to do, uh, as far as my daily habits.

Stacy Pursell:

We have the, that in common. I drink water too. That’s the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, is I drink a glass of water and I often will put, um, lemon in my water. I, I’m not a big coffee drinker and a lot of people are, but, um, and I especially cannot drink coffee, um, in the morning, but I get up first thing and, and drink a full glass of water, and I try to stay hydrated throughout the day as well. I think that’s important.

And you mentioned email that that’s a struggle for so many people, including myself. I like the system that you’ve come up with on thinking of it, you know, like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the snack. That’s, um, I like that idea. Um, well, I’m curious, Dennis, is there a mentor that has made a tremendous impact on your career? And if so, who is that?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Well, I, I, yeah, I have a tribe of mentors, uh, maybe a community of mentors at this point. And, um, you know, I, boy, it’d be hard to pick just one. Um, you know, I’ve, I’ve been real fortunate to work for, work with and for some great people and have mentors without, um, you know, uh, from from Doc Schneider who was our veterinarian starting off, who, who really could just, who really just believed in me to, you know, uh, you know, Chuck Swan is who I worked for in private practice. Um, you know, who really demonstrated the, you know, uh, how, how to be a real collaborative and servant leader.

Um, you know, uh, Mike McFarland, Christine Jenkins, um, are, are both a couple that really helped and helped me in terms of being, um, you know, you know, helping understand like the power of, uh, a vision and strategy and, and, uh, you know, being a good leader, um, you know, to be able to do. And, and, uh, you know, I’d say Mitch Moses would be another, um, that, uh, was a, was a fantastic mentor for me that, uh, um, he, he really helped me take my development, um, on, from a leadership perspective to another level. Um, so I, and I still stay in, in regular contact with a lot of, lot of them, um, on a regular basis.

Stacy Pursell:

So my next question is a two-part question. So what advice would you give the younger version of yourself, and then what message or principal do you wish you could teach everyone?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Oh, then you got… To my younger self, I would say never stop learning, never stop growing and, uh, don’t, don’t box yourself in, uh, take a chance. So, and what could I teach everyone? I would say, you know, if I could, if I could instill the, um, you know, the power of, uh, um, you know, kind of autonomy and, uh, you know, that leadership principle of you can lead from wherever you are, um, you know, you have a lot more power and a lot more, um, autonomy and a lot more ownership over, um, whatever that is. Um, you know, that, that, than you think.

Um, so there’s a, you know, I read a lot of books, um, you know, just, um, in, uh, terms of hobbies and things like that. I, uh, uh, my wife always jokes when we go go to vacations. She’s, uh, you know, reading, you know, fiction or, you know, uh, you know, stories. I’m usually wor- reading, leadership development or, you know, things to be able to help, uh, develop myself. And, and, um, there’s a book called, uh, Extreme Ownership, and it talks about, uh, you know, kind of how you can really own a lot more than you think you can. And, um, you know, being able, uh, to, to kind of take that same principle and philosophy, especially in veterinary medicine, that, um, there’s a lot more that you own and control, um, over, over your day, over, you know, things. And then also there’s some things that you can’t control. Um, and that’s okay, but once you decide to mean that, um, you know, being able to understand that that’s something that’s gonna happen regardless of what I do, I think that would be the thing that I would love to teach everyone.

Stacy Pursell:

I love that I, I’m not familiar with that book. I’m gonna have to put on my Amazon card, Extreme Ownership, that sounds like a great book. Well, Dennis, you’ve got the mic. So what is one thing that you wanna share with the listeners of the People of Animal Health Podcast before you drop the mic today?

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Um, so the one thing, um, no, I, uh, you know, you know, thank you for the opportunity here today. Um, you know, it was, uh, it, it was really great to come on. Um, like I said, humbled and honored to be able to, uh, to spend this time with you today. And, um, I think from, you know, the listeners for the, the People of Animal Health Podcast, um, you know, uh, you know, uh, thank you for listening. Um, you know, and thank you for, uh, for allowing, uh, me to share my story a little bit here today.

Stacy Pursell:

Well, thank you for being here, Dennis. It was such an honor to have you and, uh, so glad you could be with us today.

Dr. Dennis Horter:

Thank you.