The past year has seen an explosion in mobile small businesses in the Bluffton area, from auto detailers to food trucks to in-home pet groomers. But Dr. Jessica Forster is the town’s first mobile veterinarian after launching Fetch-A-Vet May 13.
“I’ve never wanted to do anything else, from the minute I could talk,” said the Connecticut native who moved to Bluffton in late 2019. “I was a kennel worker when I was 17, worked there through my four years in college, worked at a beef barn and farm and as a vet tech when I was trying to get in to veterinarian school.”
Forster, the wife of Bluffton director of finance and administration Chris Forster, went to veterinary school at Oklahoma State, one of just 30 schools for vets across the country. After years of training in every discipline, from farm and zoo animals to exotics and small animals, Forster decided she wanted to focus on cats and dogs for her practice.
“Chris approached me about moving to South Carolina, said he found this town that seemed like a perfect fit for us. I was shocked but ready for the adventure,” said Forster, who was hired by a practice in Pooler, Ga. “I looked around Bluffton, but I had just had our third child and wanted to avoid emergency on-call hours. I needed day hours to be home with the kids at night. We even looked at opening my own practice, but the market seemed saturated with brick and mortar vets and the timing just wasn’t right.”
That’s when she first started thinking about opening a mobile practice. She switched gears on a brick and mortar business loan to a mobile vet truck. The only problem: With so many businesses going mobile, the properly fitted vehicle would not be available until late 2021.
Forster decided to stay part time with the Pooler practice and begin Fetch-A-Vet on her days off.
“So, I’m working out of my car for now. We’re waiting out the backlog of trucks, so for now, I’m doing local visits on Thursdays and Saturdays.” Forster said. “For now, I’m doing visits for heartworm tests and vaccines, basic physical and wellness exams, minor wounds and skin allergy issues, as well as end-of-life, in-home euthanasia care.”
Forster said that pre-COVID, there was already a need for pet owners who were less able to drive to appointments or who had pets that were skittish and anxious about being in the office around other pets.
“But the pandemic truly drove home the convenience factor for pet owners on so many fronts and it made us think as providers of how we could provide a new level of care,” Forster said.
Forster saw her first patient in Bluffton on May 13 and has already won raves from patients posting about her on social media platforms.
“It was an amazing home visit. My dog was so at ease in the comfort of our home and it was hands down the best vet experience we have had,” said Jason White, one of her first customers.”
Forster said she’s comfortable with any breed, and while she wouldn’t call herself the new Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Milan, she said seeing cats and dogs on their home turf eliminates a lot of the aggression she might otherwise see.
“They can’t talk, but that’s where 90 percent of the hostility comes from with dogs and cats – they are protective of their owners and they are extremely nervous outside of their space,” Forster said.
Dr. Jessica credits her husband for helping her to take this next career step.
“We have kids that are 1½, 3 and 6 years old, so making big leaps was hard. I moved here very pregnant,” Forster said. “Chris has believed in me throughout this whole journey and he’s made it possible for me to think big.”
Forster said she has quickly become a huge fan of the in-home visits.
“Occasionally, we may need to sedate a pet or use a muzzle just to calm them down, but by and large, it’s letting me develop more personal relationships with the animals and their owners,” Forster said. “I come equipped with squeeze cheese and Pupperoni, so I become their friend pretty quickly.”
Once she gets her fully decked-out rig, Forster will quit her Pooler practice and become a true mobile clinic with full-time hours in Bluffton and the Lowcountry, able to do spays and neuters, dental procedures, and more extensive care.
For now, she refers any cases needing hospitalization or surgery to local partners.
Clients also have the ability to use her online pharmacy in partnership with Vets First Choice, where Forster can prescribe a full array of medications.
Fetch-A-Vet’s base prices are a $60 exam fee and an additional travel fee of $25 to $50. Forster gives multiple pet discounts, and, unlike most offices, welcomes the chance to see multiple pets in the same visit.
“This is the beginning of a really exciting journey and I can’t wait to get to know families and their pets all around Bluffton,” she said. “My family and I feel so blessed to have found such a welcoming community here and I can’t wait to give back and pay forward all the hospitality.”
To see Dr. Forster’s full array of Fetch-A-Vet services, visit fetchavetsc.com.
Tim Wood is a veteran reporter and editor and dog lover.