It’s official: The Pet Doctor in O’Fallon, Mo., is a special veterinary practice, one where the entire veterinary team is dedicated to making sure the pets in their care have a gentle, healing experience rather than a stressful one. That’s because today, The Pet Doctor became the world’s first Fear Free Certified Veterinary Practice.

Fear Free training and certification has been available to individual veterinary professionals since 2016. The course educates, tests, and certifies pet care providers in reducing and eliminating fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.

That includes The Pet Doctor owner, Dr. Marcy Hammerle, who became individually certified in the program’s first year. She was also the very first veterinary hospital owner to apply for practice certification when that program launched on April 2, 2018.

“We were in the process of building our new hospital when we heard a Fear Free practice certification program would be offered in the future,” Hammerle said. “We were able to build with Fear Free principles in mind – everything from slip-resistant flooring to dimmable lights to separate waiting areas for dogs and cats.”

Fear Free was founded by Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian” and 17-year veteran of Good Morning America. The intensive certification course was developed with input from a 160-member advisory group, including board-certified veterinary behaviorists, well-known veterinary practice management experts, and other leaders in the field.

“A practice like The Pet Doctor is what Fear Free is all about: the patients,” said Becker. “Pets shouldn’t be anxious, stressed, or afraid when they go to the veterinary hospital, which can and should be a place of healing. We are honored to name The Pet Doctor and its team as the first Fear Free Certified Practice.”

Hammerle said, “We’ve always had a culture of being kind to our patients. I’ve been in this practice for over 10 years, and most of my team have been with me all that time. Fear Free has been a perfect fit, and we have all embraced the process. After all, we get a lot more job satisfaction when we know we’re making our patients as relaxed and comfortable as possible.”

Hammerle was determined The Pet Doctor would be the first Fear Free Certified Practice, actually staying up until the program launched at midnight on its first day. “It’s such a big deal to be in the forefront of something that’s so good for the pets we serve. I would have been excited to be the first Fear Free Certified Practice in my town. To think about being first in the world – that’s amazing.”

The Fear Free Practice Certification process is an exhaustive one, and hospitals like The Pet Doctor that achieve certification will have successfully incorporated Fear Free in all aspects of their practice culture and leadership, including client education, staff training, and facility and patient experience.

Before a practice can apply, a majority of the veterinary team members must be individually trained and certified, and team-wide familiarity and adoption of Fear Free approaches must be in place.

After application, a comprehensive on-site evaluation by a consultant veterinarian from the Ceva Animal Health veterinary field team takes place.

“It was stressful for us when the evaluating veterinarian was here because this is incredibly important to all of us,” said Hammerle. “Our passion for offering a Fear Free experience to pets intensified the stakes. It was very emotional.”

Fear Free veterinary care is a mission for Hammerle and her team. “We are so excited to be able to give testimony to the value of everything we did here, and how important it is to take care of the emotional health of pets while they’re here with us,” she said.

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