What a bottle of ketchup — with Xylitol — should tell you about VPI

People who know me even a little will not be surprised to know that I’m an organized person, and an organized thinker. This is not unusual in our profession, of course, or in the sciences in general.  Along with being organized, I like to plan, and I prefer a linear path to addressing a problem.

I do travel a great deal, though, so I’m used to rolling with the punches. Flight delays, missed connections, missing luggage:  I’ve dealt with it all, many times. But in the middle of a recent business trip (more on that  in a minute) I found my plans disrupted for part of a day by something I never could have imaged: A bottle of ketchup.

And what happened says a lot about who we are at Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), and what that should say to my veterinary colleagues.


lassieeThere’s a reason why we’re Veterinary Pet Insurance —  a couple of them, really.   VPI is the first health-insurance company for pets in the United States, issuing our first policy — to Lassie! — 32 years ago this week. We were founded by visionary veterinarians who could see that veterinary medicine was rapidly becoming more complex and advanced. They also realized that many veterinarians would not be able to practice the top-quality medicine they wanted to without some financial help to pet-owners who wanted that care. It was becoming apparent that pets were going from something most people got for the kids to something many people got not quite but almost as kids. Veterinarians wanted to provide the kind of care most people wanted their animal companions to have — if only pet-owners could afford it.

And so it began: Veterinary Pet Insurance.

Flash forward 32 years, and we’re not alone in offering insurance to help with pet healthcare — although we’re still the Big Dog in the field.  We remain alone, however, in the degree that veterinary remains not just part of our name, but also our DNA.  We remain an organization with no shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians in key roles in our company. And we support the veterinary community in more ways than helping your clients to pay for the good care you give the pets we all love.

knoxvilleI was on one of those trips in support of our veterinary community last week and into this one. First  to Ohio where I participated in on one of Denise Tumblin, CPA’s “Well-Managed Practice” seminars, then on to Knoxville, Tenn., where I helped Dr. Jim Wilson talk to veterinary students about business management and career development at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. As I was traveling from Ohio to Tennessee over the weekend, one of our VPI associates went grocery shopping. The label on a new brand of ketchup caught her attention, albeit not in any way the company intended. Instead, the reason she did a double-take was because of one word on the label.

That word? Xylitol. And because she knew what that meant to veterinarians, pet-owners and pets, she took a picture: The one you see at the top of this post. Xylitol in ketchup? There’s not a veterinarian in practice today who can’t see the potential problem with that.  Which our associate knew as well , of course, because that’s the kind of people who work at VPI: People who know veterinary medicine, and who care about pets. She knew that Xylitol could be deadly to pets.

After she shared it with me, I used my social media channels (on Facebook and on Twitter) to alert my colleagues, and our VPI communications team shared it to pet-owners through those social media channels ( Facebook | Twitter) as well. (Hashtag #killerketchup was the catchy tag for it.)   I was just arriving for the day in Knoxville when I asked for an update. My veterinary colleagues were sharing, and sharing, and sharing! The word was getting out, and I have no doubt we’ve together saved the lives of some pets, because of a bottle of ketchup, a sharp-eyed VPI associate, a lot of sharing — and a company that keeps “veterinary” in more than its name.

And that’s why I honestly don’t mind having my plans shaken up a little now and then. Like a bottle of ketchup, but without the pet-killing sweetener, please! Please follow me on my social media channels so I can continue to help you help your pet-owners provide better care for their pets.