She ditched a sales career to start Vet Care Express.
- Posted on Aug 21, 2019
On a Monday afternoon in early May, a red retrofitted ambulance pulls up to Bill Barnack’s house in Bradenton, Florida. Cheryl Brady, the founder of Vet Care Express Animal Ambulance, walks to the front door with her attendant, Benjamin Reach. They’re here for Champ, Barnack’s golden retriever.
“Hey, buddy,” Brady greets Champ, who wags his tail despite the cone around his neck.
This is a follow-up trip for Vet Care Express. They transported Champ to and from his neuter appointment the previous week. But the retriever is experiencing swelling, so the team is taking him back to the vet. Brady has learned a lot about post-op complications over the years because she always stays in touch with the folks that have used her service. She likes to know how the animals and families are doing, and sometimes they, like Champ, need her help again just a few days later.
Champ scoots onto the stretcher. He has no qualms about leaving Barnack. “Champ is a rescue,” Brady says. “I was worried that he would be scared of a big red ambulance, but he loves the ride. He knows we’re here to help.”
In the back of the vehicle, the dog circles and lies down in one of the cages without a fuss. Brady hops in the front, and Reach gets in the back. Reach’s job is to watch over Champ as Brady drives. It’s easy for them to communicate as he monitors the animals because there’s no partition. Reach makes sure Champ stays comfortable and safe and shows no signs of distress.
“If there are any changes in a patient’s condition, he lets me know and we act accordingly,” says Brady, whose team can administer oxygen, first aid and manual CPR. Though many of the calls aren’t emergencies, there’s a substantial need for the pet ambulance service in the Bradenton area—since 2010 they’ve served more than 12,000 animals.
Brady has always loved animals. She grew up around dogs. She even studied pre-veterinary medicine in college, but there were so few veterinary graduate programs 35 years ago and most had lottery systems for admission. Very few people got in. So Brady went into corporate sales instead. She was successful, but didn’t find the work fulfilling.
“I was in my mid-forties, and I felt like I was wasting my time,” she says. She prayed often, asking God to guide her toward her calling. One afternoon she was sitting in her home office when her eyes caught that day’s quote printed on her calendar: “Allow your clouded mind to settle and your course becomes clear.”
Then the phone rang. It was a friend. She had just hit a dog with her truck and was distraught. Brady rushed to help. By the time she arrived on the scene, the dog had died. It got Brady thinking. Where was the closest animal hospital? What could they have done that might have saved that dog’s life? Then she had her light bulb moment. “It was God telling me that this was it. This was my calling.”
Later that evening, she remembered a college paper she had written about the need for animal ambulances. It still seemed like a good idea. She did some research and learned that there weren’t any in the United States. “Nothing that operated 24/7 and was medically equipped to respond immediately,” she says.
It took some time to get the business up and running. Brady continued her sales job while she developed Vet Care Express in her spare time. She interviewed staff members at veterinary hospitals and emergency clinics to figure out what kind of equipment she would need. She bought her first ambulance at an auction. Tearing out the benches in the back of the vehicle made room for cages. She bought oxygen and first aid kits. And she prayed. She prayed that she would be able to fulfill this calling.
That was nine years ago. Brady left her sales job. Now she and her team of five employees work every weekday and many weekends. They’re all certified in pet CPR and first aid. Brady is up at 5:30 in the morning. She calls the animal hospitals in the area to check if any pets need transport. Owners can also request her directly. “You call us for the same reasons you would call a human ambulance,” Brady says. “Medical emergencies, animals in distress, routine vet visits. Or if you can’t comfort your pet and drive safely.” They’ve had some difficult days, of course, consoling people who have had to say goodbye to their beloved pets. But that’s part of the job, and Brady feels grateful that she gets the chance to help in whatever way she can.
After they drop Champ off at the vet, Brady and Reach drive to pick up Eulie, a long-haired dachshund. “He goes crazy in the car and doesn’t let his mom drive safely,” Brady says. “That’s why she’s started using us.” Because Eulie can’t see outside, the ambulance is more soothing. This time the owner, Judy Elliot, comes along and sits in the back of the ambulance with Eulie.
At the vet, Brady accompanies Eulie and Elliot to their appointment. She sometimes stays for checkups to offer company and comfort, especially if the animal is particularly anxious at the doctor’s office, like Eulie. “I went to be a support for the owner,” she explains.
Vet Care Express takes Eulie and Elliot home. Then it’s back to pick up Champ. The vet drained some of the fluid causing the swelling. He’s a little dopey from the medicine but is otherwise in good shape. When they pull up to his house, Champ spots Barnack in the doorway and his whole body wiggles excitedly. Brady fills Barnack in on the details of Champ’s appointment. When she heads for the door, the retriever rubs right up against her as if to say, “Thank you.”
“We’re buddies now,” says Brady, smiling on her way back to the ambulance. She’ll check up on Champ in a few days, even though she’s sure he’ll be just fine. “He’s ready to get out there and live life to the fullest.” She knows exactly how that feels.
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