She arrives in what looks like a big mobile home. The "home" is really a stopover for pets whose owners may have their own mobility or transportation challenges, or who have pets that are difficult to transport. Like the cat that suddenly develops eight legs when you try to put it into a cat carrier, or the dog that simply will not embrace a visit to the vet, no matter what you say.
With Dr. JoAnn Helm's new mobile enterprise, pets get shots, examinations and even surgery without leaving the familiar environment of their owner's property. For truly home-bodied pets, Helm will come into the house to give booster shots and such. She says many pets are more relaxed in the comfort and safety of familiar surroundings, so coming into the home makes the "trip to the vet" experience less traumatic on pets and owners.
Helm said her mobile facilities are state-of-the-art. She provides a complete "surgical unit on wheels" and says she has everything a traditional veterinary clinic offers. The long interior of the mobile clinic includes an examination table with a lamp fitted to an overhead boom. There are sinks, cabinets, cages, counters, a label printer and refrigerator. Testing equipment includes a blood analysis machine, centrifuge, and digital X-ray connected to a computer. Helm credits digital technology with helping make her mobile facilities easier to manage.
The separate surgical room has monitoring equipment and a wall-mounted anesthesia unit on a panel that swings into the exam area. The removable exam table sits atop a grate covering a shallow sink. This sits next to a regular sink and sprayer unit.
"It's perfect for cleaning teeth," added Helm.
Every inch of working and storage space has been carefully considered and put to good use, including a central vacuum system. She is grateful to her husband Steve, who researched manufacturers and helped choose the Dodgen Industries vehicle that houses her practice.
Helm is able to do all typical testing on-site. She recommends yearly testing for parasites.
"There are lots of parasites in Florida," she added. "Some can cause serious problems. As a vet, grandmother and pet owner, I caution everyone about letting a dog lick your face. You don't know what could be on that tongue."
Helm loves her new working environment. Unlike the hustle and bustle typical of stationery veterinarian practices, Helm says her circumstances allow her to give her pet patients her undivided attention.
"Usually at a vet, you have other animals in the waiting room, multiple exam rooms, people coming in and out for different reasons, staff checking people in and out, and in general lots of activity. Here, my assistant Denise Gist and I are the only staff an animal or owner will deal with. There are no distractions. It makes for a much calmer visit, with more focused on treatment time."
Helm claims her "one-on-one" attention gives customers and patients an advantage, especially in cases where animals must be kept overnight.
"In most traditional vet hospitals, at some point everyone goes home at night," she said. "Animals that are boarded or spending the night recovering from surgery are alone for a few hours. In cases of trauma where an animal needs round-the-clock monitoring, most local vets must send the animal to an animal emergency hospital where they have overnight staff.
"In my practice, if an animal needs to stay overnight I simply take him home. I have several built-in cages in the mobile unit, which is locked in my barn at night. So I am able to check on the animal as often as necessary. The advantage is also evident to the animal, who can recover without having to be physically moved from one facility to another."
Helm is no stranger to veterinary medicine in Hernando County. She owned the All County Animal Hospital in Brooksville for 18 years, and spent the past few years working for other vets before deciding to go mobile.
"With my new mobile practice, I have my finger on everything," she said. "I have good quality control, and get to travel around and be outside. I love Hernando County. I'm also big on communication, and my position on the Florida Veterinary Board has given me a lot of experience with compliance to regulations."
Helm says she loves animals and the people who love them, adding "I enjoy people who can open their hearts to animals. There is so much companionship and joy in that. I also get a kick out of the stories I hear. People and their pets can be very entertaining."
Helm hopes to bring her services to local charity events. For information or to invite her to an event, call her at 877-375-4356. She is available to treat pets during weekdays and will make night and weekend appointments if necessary.
"I try to be available when people need me," she said.
Biz at a glance:
Name - A Vet to Your Pet/Dr. JoAnn Helm
Telephone - 877-375-4356
Hours - Call for appointment