Marketing might not seem like a big worry for a business who performs laser therapy on dogs wearing protective eyewear – who doesn’t want to see puppies wearing glasses?
The pictures are click-bait and the patients are adorable, but the process of opening a rehabilitation clinic for pets in Ottawa is a big entrepreneurial project.
Tim Haats, 33, and Natacha Paquette, 31, aren’t just partners in life, but in business as well. Along with their black Labrador Duke, they are the faces of Rehab Fur Your Pet. Located at 1663A Carling Ave. in Ottawa, the clinic introduces us to all-things physiotherapy and physical rehabilitation for our furry friends.
Their number one priority is a pet’s physical health and overall quality of life. Their website explains how they “utilize various techniques and therapies similar to those used in human physiotherapy practices to help relieve pain, restore mobility and function, and improve strength.”
They offer a wide range of services that cater to your pet’s needs, such as laser therapy, ultrasound therapy, electrical stimualtion, massage therapy, strengthening and conditioning, thermotherapy, cryotherapy, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture and more. They use various machines and instruments, like an underwater treadmill, steps, hurdles and other exercise tools that help build muscle, increase strength, increase agility and improve joint mobility.
The facility currently has nine staff members; the owners are in the process of hiring two more. “Between Ottawa and the East End, the closest canine rehabilitation facility is probably in Montreal,” says Paquette. “We were considering the location and the demand when starting up, wondering ‘is there a need for a stand-alone facility in Ottawa that offers these types of services?’”
Some clients had to be put on a waitlist for rehabilitation services, making it obvious to Paquette and Haats that the demand is greater than expected.
“We’ve reached our main goals and actually surpassed them in a way I didn’t think was possible in a three-year period,” says Paquette. “We envisioned the business being just one practitioner operating full-time and we’re now two full-time practitioners and having a hard time to supply the demand.”
At the moment, their business is mostly focused on rehab, but Paquette envisions it growing offering a wider range of services, such as wellness and preventative therapy.
“What can I say without getting in trouble,” Haats says laughing. Co-owning a business with a romantic partner has pros and cons. Not only does Haats co-own Rehab Fur Your Pet, but he also has another full-time job. “It blurs the line between home life and work life,” he says.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re basically on 24/7 and whether you’re working or not, you’re always thinking and talking about work stuff so it’s hard for us not to talk about business, but we try to have fun with it.”
Haats explains how the couple enjoys doing their work but also get to enjoy being together while they’re doing it.
“Sometimes I tell Tim ‘OK, tonight I need boyfriend Tim, not business Tim,’” Paquette explains. They will then separately plan work nights and date nights.
“Together we make a really good team cause I’m very much a big dreamer. I have all these ideas and am ready to jump in without thinking and Tim’s more of a planner so we meet in the middle,” says Paquette, their chemistry radiating through the Zoom call.
“I have all these big dreams and then Tim has a plan to achieve them. Sometimes I’m helping Tim take a risk on something he might not be able to predict or plan as well, or he’ll bring me back down with a realistic plan like ‘we can get there in a few years, just not tomorrow.’”
After working at a boarding kennel as a veterinary technician for seven years, Paquette felt the clinic setting was not for her. “Something was missing,” she says. “I was considering going back to school or doing something else like physiotherapy, but I wasn’t willing to give up working with animals.”
Paquette then stumbled upon a program to become a certified canine rehab practitioner and decided to follow through. She moved to Toronto to do her co-op with the intention of bringing her skills back home, as she knew there was a bigger need in the Ottawa area for these types of services.
As for Haats, growing up, his parents always had pets and he always considered himself a pet person, but his interest in launching a pet rehabilitation centre developed from watching his partner chase her dream.
“When the idea came up, I was more interested in supporting Natacha in fulfilling her passion,” he says. “But the more I saw her passion and we dug into the business and the idea, I built that passion for myself. Even though I had other work, this was something I couldn’t avoid. It was like a magnetic force that sucked me in.”
Haats’ interest in entrepreneurship and business was fundamental to bringing this project to life, but the pet care industry is also something that connects with him all the way back to his childhood. Furthermore, his own experience with rehabilitation after a knee surgery got him more familiar with the field.
“The experience I had with physio set me up in terms of being able to appreciate the industry,” he says. “I also built this knowledge in the human space that translates well into the pet world.”
The under-water treadmill at Rehab Fur Your Pet is in high demand. “People call asking about hydrotherapy cause it’s a bit of a buzz,” Haats says. “But what we do is much more holistic and sometimes hydrotherapy is not the best treatment plan for a pet’s needs. We treat the conditions that come through the door with all the modalities we can provide.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rehab Fur Your Pet was considered as essential business. “We work under vet referral so because it’s prescribed by veterinary care and veterinary care was essential, we could remain open,” Paquette says. “The only thing is that owners were not allowed in the clinic.”