Dr. Christopher O'Toole built Bloor West Village Animal Hospital to help care for local families and their beloved pets. Run on a practice philosophy to treat all pets they see as they would treat their own, it's no wonder that locals entrust them with care for such important family members. Along with Associate Dr. Serena Caunce, Bloor West Village Animal Hospital staff strive to be lifelong learners who surpass their clients' expectations by making pet health a number one priority.
With a practice offering wellness programs, digital radiology, acupuncture, surgical procedures, dental procedures, dental radiology, advanced pain management and hospitalization on site, they have become a key part of this thriving neighbourhood. As the ten-year anniversary of opening Bloor West Village Animal Hospital approaches, Dr. Christopher O'Toole reflects on the influence his practice has had on his community, and the impact it's had on him.
When did you discover that you wanted to become a veterinary doctor? What made you choose this career path?
Growing up in the north we always had dogs and I'd always loved animals. We lived in North Bay and my family was always very involved in Pony Club – which meant a lot of horse riding and competitions. A veterinarian was also a close family friend, and from a very young age, I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian. My family even saved some artwork that I completed when I was just in grade four where I'd said that I wanted to be a vet. There was a time in high school when I thought I might want to pursue something else, but by the time I was in university I completed an undergraduate degree in Zoology and then went on to Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.
What inspired you to open your own veterinary practice? Why did you decide to do so in Bloor West Village?
I was lucky enough to work in a wonderful hospital, but always knew I wanted an ownership role. I felt confident enough to branch out on my own. When building my practice I'd take informal polls on neighbours and people with pets I'd meet at the park or dog park to find out about their likes and dislikes in veterinary practice so I could apply this knowledge to my own business. I always liked the neighbourhood of Bloor West Village, and was living there at the time I first opened my practice, so it just made sense to work in the community where I was living. And we're about to celebrate 10 years in business next March!
Can you tell me a little about how you integrate alternative medicine with more traditional veterinary medicine to better serve your clients?
My wife is a naturopath so her influence has been a key part to our success with integrating alternative medicine. I had worked with acupuncture in previous practices as well as in my own with fantastic results. We use a number of herbal remedies to help clients address common behavioural issues in their pets with more options available all the time – things like chews that contain theanine are helpful in calming anxiety riddled dogs, there are diets that include proteins that are calming, or items like plug-in pheromone products to help animals, such as cats, who are inappropriately eliminating in the home.
What makes your practice so special?
We pride ourselves on our customer service. We realize that healthcare can be daunting and complicated, so we do our best to ensure that we have adequately explained the reasons behind our recommendations as well as possible outcomes and risks. We also strive to continually build on our protocols. We keep very current on our clinical skills, anaesthetic protocols, diagnostic tools and pain management protocols.
How does your passion for animals translate into your practice?
It's nice when you get to hang out with creatures that you like every day. Pets are usually really friendly. Some dogs don't like going to the vet, some are nervous, same with cats, they'll head butt you to show you some affection, or wait for you to be done, but just the same it's fantastic to get to work with such wonderful animals on a day-to-day basis.
What is the most unusual animal you've ever treated?
During the rotation at school, I had the opportunity to treat both a Canada Goose and some falcons. You need to be very careful, particularly with giving medication to falcons, who are really fast. When they have infections, you need to hide their medication inside a mouse.
What are some things that pet owners can do to make the vet's work easier, or to help minimize emergency vet visits?
It is trite to say, but true, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is much better for everyone involved, especially the patient, to deal with issues when they are minor as opposed to letting symptoms linger and progress.
What are the biggest changes you've seen in Bloor West Village since opening your practice? How do you make sure your business adapts to these changes?
The rise of condos in Bloor West Village has been fast – when I started my practice there was just one single condo across the street. But one interesting thing about BWV is that despite it being filled with condos, because of the proximity to High Park, it hasn't changed the size of the pets people have in their families. With easy access to such a wonderful park, you can have a larger pet even in a condo.
Has being a parent changed your approach to helping clients integrate pets into homes with children?
Having gone through it myself definitely helps, but most pets don't present any problems. With small children and pet adoption, it's up to the prospective owners to know the animal's history before integrating them into the home and making sure you are comfortable with the way they interact with the children and that the children interact with them.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Personally – my family. I have beautiful children, a wonderful wife, and every day they do something new that absolutely floors me. I'm so inspired by my family, and I want to be successful for them.
Professionally, it's that moment, every once in a while when I look around at work and have this sense of satisfaction that my fantastic team and I have built something that wasn't there before, all while we were able to help other people along the way.
Can you share something about yourself that you are working on improving?
As a vet, you aren't taught in school how to run your own business, manage the business, or manage the human resources end of things. As a vet, you don't expect to have to tackle challenges like replacing employees when there is turn over, and you need to be able to accept that you can't always have things run the way you want them to be. Your job needs to include being able to work around these obstacles, and tackling new things like training new employees to become a part of your team.
You have your black belt in tae kwon do. Have any lessons you've learned through this practice taught you anything you've been able to apply to your business?
My son and I are going for our third degree in just a few weeks, and I got my first degree around four years ago. When his twin sister was taking dance class, he wanted to try Karate, and we tried it but it was too rigid and intimidating. So, we checked out a tae kwon do family class one Saturday. I nearly died in the first class! I'd previously hurt my knee and while I was doing the warm-up I realized that you never stop moving. When my wife came to pick us up, she asked the instructors how we did, and they said, "He did fine (referring to my son), but we're not too sure about the other."
Soon I was taking my own classes along with the family classes. He and I both fell in love with tae kwon do, because it's not about being macho or trying to hurt each other. My son is nine now, so we've been taking a class for five years, and it's a great outlet. They run you so hard in class that you forget about everything else.
As someone who has always played sports and been disciplined in that way, this aspect of tae kwon do wasn't new to me. The bigger lesson I've learned through this practice is respect for everyone around you. Everyone refers to each other as Sir, which is a very respectful way to greet people.
What is your favourite thing about Toronto?
I grew up in a small town in North Bay and when I moved to Toronto I gradually got to know different parts of the city. I love all the different communities side by side. When I went to U of T I never left the Annex, then I worked on the Danforth and spent my time there. Later, I worked on a project in High Park and I fell in love with it, which was when I decided to open my business here.
What can or should we do to improve our city?
Transit would be the biggest. My wife and I have gone to London and the subway system there is so much more expansive. If you don't live close to the subway you're out of luck.
And how can we improve the city for our pets?
More park areas, education about pet overpopulation, and education about the benefits for pets and humans surrounding the human-animal bond.