Meet a doggie doctor who’s built solid relationships by listening carefully to his two-legged clients and their four-legged friends.
Missy, a Boston terrier, stands on an examination table at Dogwood Petcare Center, 4102 N. Mulford Road, Loves Park Ill., as owners Jerry and Lisa Lindmark support her. Their veterinarian, Dr. Andy Maxwell, strides in and greets everyone warmly, starting with Missy. As he soothes the shaky dog, whose toenails slide occasionally on the linoleum surface, he visits with her humans.
“So, did you finish your deck before that storm hit?” he asks Jerry. “You’ve been working on that for awhile, now.”
“Oh, yeah, we got it done.”
“Greg was in here with his pug last week – what’s her name?”
“Bella,” answers Lisa.
Maxwell nods and laughs. “That’s right, Bella. She’s a pistol, isn’t she?”
The three discuss the Lindmarks’ son and his boisterous pug for a few minutes. Then, the chit-chat subsides as the examination of Missy begins in earnest. The 15-year-old dog suffers from a chronic skin condition that Maxwell’s been treating. He runs his hand the length of her spine and stands her up on her hind legs to examine her belly.
“How’s she been doing with the scratching and chewing?” he asks. As Lisa describes improved symptoms, Maxwell listens attentively and checks under Missy’s flanks and between her pads.
“She’s looking 100-percent better underneath,” he says. “Don’t you think so?” He motions for the owners to look for themselves, and makes certain that they agree with his assessment before continuing. “But we don’t want to let up. Her skin is still pretty flaky. How’s she handling the antibiotics? Any stomach upset?” As he talks, he listens to the dog’s heart and examines her eyes, ears and teeth.
After getting the rest of the details on Missy’s behavior in the two weeks since her last visit, Maxwell explains that he’ll give her a booster shot and replenish the Lindmarks’ supply of pills for her. He suggests a follow-up appointment but assures them that they can call if anything changes in the meantime. They share more small talk, and then Maxwell checks to see if either has remembered anything they wanted to ask before he says goodbye.
After charting his session with Missy Lindmark, Maxwell moves on to his next appointment. His day is packed, with patients scheduled in 15-minute increments from open to close. But this vet is no clock-watcher, a quality he believes has helped to make him successful.
“A friend of mine was talking about his mentor,” he explains. “He said that the man always made patients feel like they had all the time from him that they needed. That’s always stuck with me. So I’ve tried not to be a poor listener. I have a ‘do unto others’ attitude. I manage my office visits so that I don’t make people wait, and so that I can give them their full due. It’s about building relationships, bonding with your clients and staff.”
Maxwell owns and manages Dogwood, a multi-unit facility providing boarding, doggie day care, grooming and veterinary care. Among the hospital services offered: diagnostic and internal medicine consults; radiology; surgery and anesthesia; in-house pharmacy and laboratory; dentistry; behavioral consultation; and emergency care.
Maxwell is a farmer’s son with a lifelong love of animals, who started his career with a mixed animal practice in his home state of Arkansas in 1982. He then moved to Prairie du Chien, Wis., for a couple of years, before settling in Rockford in 1987, to be near family members. He shifted his focus to small animals for several reasons.
“I found I had a bigger aptitude for small-animal medicine,” says Maxwell. “I enjoy having a one-on-one relationship with my patients and their owners. With large-animal medicine, I sometimes never saw a human, and I didn’t like the factory farm mentality that was evolving.”
He was an employee in three small animal practices over 10 years, before the opportunity arose for him to buy his own office. “I bought Forest City Animal Clinic from Dr. Gary Salisbury, who was operating it as a satellite of his pet hospital,” Maxwell explains. My first day as owner was Nov. 3, 1997. In 2005, I moved that practice to this location and changed the name.”
That office was located in a 1,500 square-foot space in a strip mall on Riverside Boulevard. “There were no windows,” says Maxwell with a grin. “There were days I never made it out the door, and I had no idea what was going on outside. I came to work in the dark and left in the dark. I was very busy.
“So quality of life while at work was a main goal in the new facility – I needed some windows and more space. But I knew I wanted to grow, and bring in associates. When I took my idea to the bank and found I could get the financing, I started looking for land.”
As he started his expansion, Maxwell took a careful look at the pet care market.
“Things just kind of fell toward adding boarding and grooming,” he says. “I sought advice about whether I should buy enough land for future growth or wait, and was told it would be best to get it all at once. It just so happened that an established business, Country Lane Kennels, was closing, so I knew there would be clients available. I thought we could do that well, and have a clean, well-maintained facility. I ended up building both facilities at the same time.”
The veterinary hospital is 4,765 square feet, and the kennel with grooming facility is 10,900 square feet. Maxwell employs 16 people at the hospital and 16 at the kennel.
“Hiring the right people is a big key to success,” says Maxwell. “I give lots of credit to my staff. They really care about helping others, and they love animals. They think of our clients like family. We’re big on cleanliness and odor control, too. I think that’s very important for a veterinary facility.”
Maxwell has two veterinary associates at Dogwood. All three doctors are general practice vets, but each has areas of special interest and expertise. “Dr. Sarah Bushmeyer focuses on internal medicine, and Dr. Katie Peters does exotic animals – ferrets, birds, reptiles,” he says. “I focus on surgery. It’s lots more fun sharing caseloads, and being able to consult and get someone else’s opinion.”
Maxwell shows off his newly redesigned operating room, with two tables and top-of-the-line tools, and in another room, a digital x-ray system. “This is amazing,” he says. “The images are high-quality, and we can adjust the contrast and brightness to get an even more accurate picture of the injury or condition.
“I do soft-tissue surgery, of course, but I really enjoy orthopedic procedures – fixing fractures, knees, especially torn cruciate ligaments. When the others came onboard, I was able to begin exploring new surgical techniques. One for cruciate ligaments is called tibial tubular advancement. It’s less invasive, and patients recover much more quickly, with fewer post-op complications. Just a couple of months ago, I had a cocker with its elbow broken off. I did reconstructive surgery and put in screws, and she’s good as new. It’s very rewarding, repairing difficult fractures that in the past would have resulted in crippling arthritis or amputation, and giving a pet a new lease on life.”
Since opening Dogwood, Maxwell says that the caseload has probably tripled, and the income from the practice has more than doubled. “Doggie day care has really taken off,” he says. “It’s just continued to grow since we opened. But building on that would require physical expansion, and it’s best to wait for the market to settle down. And I definitely would like a fourth doctor in here.”
Since coming to Rockford, Maxwell has seen some families through four lifecycles of pets, and he’s now treating pets of clients who first came in as children. In the Lindmarks’ case, it was the reverse. Greg, who just retired as a deputy chief for the Rockford Police Department, first brought the police dogs to Dogwood, and then his own dog; soon, his parents followed.
“Dr. Maxwell is great,” says Jerry. “Missy’s never been to another vet in her life. He treats the pets for our entire family, and he always takes the time to talk to us. Our son, Brad, brings his dog here, too. All of the people who work here are very compassionate.” ❚