The COVE marks a milestone: a decade of caring for Suffolk’s pets

Published 11:51 am Thursday, May 19, 2022

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When The Center of Veterinary Expertise (COVE) opened its doors in May 2012, the 24/7 emergency and specialty veterinary hospital was Suffolk’s only independent practice of its kind, surrounded by a handful of other clinics offering various models of emergency care. Some were corporate-owned, while others were independently owned, but didn’t offer the breadth and depth of services or around-the-clock coverage.

Today, many of those corporate entities have gone by the wayside, and The COVE remains the region’s only independently owned and operated emergency and specialty animal hospital. The practice has thrived, building a large and growing roster of clients and referring veterinarians.

To what do the founders attribute The COVE’s success over the past decade?

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“We built this practice on the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion and integrity,” said Jeff T. Stallings, DVM, DACVS, a board-certified veterinary surgeon who co-founded The COVE. “Our priority has always been to apply those values to provide the best possible care to our beloved companion animal patients, not to optimize the bottom line for shareholders.

“This unwavering focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a health care experience as possible despite the sometimes-difficult circumstances that bring us together. Our longevity is a testament to the soundness of this focus.”

Co-founder Merrilee T. Small, DVM, DACVIM, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist, added: “Our core values also have always guided the way we honor and invest in our team. This has enabled us to attract and retain an exceptional team of highly qualified professionals over the past 10 years.”

Since its founding, The COVE has quadrupled the size of its team to more than 115 staff members. In addition to Drs. Stallings and Small, it includes Colleen Fox, DVM, CSAVP Dentistry, one of the few veterinarians in the region trained to provide advanced dentistry and oral surgery. The team also has the equivalent of 10 full-time veterinarians covering inpatient and outpatient emergency services around the clock. Rounding out the team are licensed veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants and a client-service staff.

The COVE has handled more than 106,300 patient visits over the past decade and treated illnesses and injuries ranging from persistent coughs to major trauma. It has attracted patients from as far away as Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Emporia, Richmond and the Eastern Shore.

Another COVE initiative that reflects the practice’s core values is its Helping Animals Together (HAT) Fund.

“This charitable fund enables us to provide some financial support for critical patients that have an excellent prognosis but might otherwise be euthanized due to their owners’ financial limitations to pay in full,” said Danielle T. Russ, LVT, BS, BA, AS, hospital administrator. “I’m proud to say that since its inception in 2014, the fund has raised more than $30,000.”

The COVE also supports the Suffolk area through participation in a range of local pet-friendly events, including Bark in the Park, Move Your Mutt, K9 and Kids Camp, Passion for Paws Picnic and Mutt Strutt. In addition, The COVE is proud to be a Platinum sponsor of the Hampton Roads Pet Loss Partnership, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional support for people and families who are experiencing or anticipating the loss of a beloved pet.

Another example of how The COVE walks the walk when it comes to its core values – particularly “commitment” and “community” – is the fact that, except for one evening to celebrate its staff, the practice remained open 24/7 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we say we’re here for this community, we mean it,” Stallings said.

What’s on the horizon for The COVE’s next 10 years?

“We are excited about expanding our facility, and recruiting more specialists and quality team members,” said Small, referring to providing veterinary care that aligns with the practice’s core values. “We’ve been successful because we’ve responded to what our community needs. That will never change.”