WAXHAW – Dr. Susan Bonilla says she was a typical girl growing up, but always held a deep love of animals and dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian.
With that love in mind, she designed Passionate Paws Animal Hospital, a full-service spa-like dog and cat sanctuary of care.
Working for the dream
Bonilla has always had a love for animals. She says she was encouraged by her mother to become a vet if that was going to be an easy path through school.
But that wasn’t exactly the case, despite her nearly lifelong passion and success in school.
“I’ve been in the veterinary field either as a technician or a receptionist since I was 17,” she said. “Even as I got older, I never decided to get off that pathway.”
A different kind of place
Bonilla and her husband, Stephen, an MBA who serves as hospital administrator/marketing guru, wanted to make a name for themselves by being different by being compassionate.
Stephen recounted one Sunday when the business was just opening and a woman had called to leave a message for the following day.
“She was surprised when we answered, but her dog had a particular case and she only lived right around the corner,” he said. “Dr. Bonilla said, ‘You know what, I’ll just go over.’ We went over together, met the dog and took care of the dog. The woman went on Nextdoor.com and spread the word. From that moment on, it seems like the momentum has just kept building.”
So what makes Passionate Paws different? Everything.
“We’re pet parents. We do everything for our fur babies,” Bonilla said. “When we opened up this place, Stephen always asked why animals had to always sit in cold chairs or why does it have to look and smell so sterile? We decided to design a hospital for pet parents where every dog and cat would feel comfortable.”
Passionate Paws is now one of four animal hospitals within a 100-mile radius that has been granted the title of Fear Free Certified Practice, certification that validates Bonilla’s approach to pet healthcare. It is a rigorous accreditation process that also requires staff members to become Fear Free certified professionals. Fear Free for pet parents means you can be sure that your fur baby’s experience will be one that works to eliminate fear, anxiety and stress at every visit.
The differences are everywhere
When clients first walk in, the smiling faces of the front desk staff greet them. Off to the right is a new addition that just opened in October. It features a break room, veterinarian work stations, grooming stations and dog baths (more on them later).
Every exam room uses pheromones that are sprayed to give a calm, relaxing feel. Soft music hums in the rooms that are painted with soft, fresh color schemes. Each room features a doggie bed and couch for the dog and their owner to feel more comfortable and give the office more of a spa-like feel.
There is also a cat-only room that has no dog smells that could make felines uncomfortable.
There is a side door where nervous dogs could walk straight into the exam room if they aren’t comfortable walking through the front door and seeing other animals.
“Providing the level of service that we provide here was enough to start fueling word of mouth,” Stephen said. “We knew there had to be a better approach to healthcare.”
Bonilla also donates her time to the Waxhaw Police Department’s K9’s and is looking to help out with Union County Sheriff’s Office.
She also holds microchip clinics twice a year. The Bonillas plan to partner once again with South Charlotte Dog Rescue for the fourth annual Pumps N’ Pints event on May 2, 2020.
In addition, Bonilla is certified in acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapy, which often comes in handy.
“Sometimes traditional medicine might not work on your dog,” she said. “Let’s say your dog has a disease that needs steroids but would also benefit from NSAIDs for his arthritis, but cannot be on NSAIDs because of the steroids. We could do cold laser therapy, acupuncture, platelet-rich plasma injections to relieve arthritis discomfort, so it’s nice to have other options.”
Bonilla also breaks the norm with her doggie baths, which unlike the traditional slippery metal tubs with scary water hoses, Passionate Paws has no-slip pads and a gentle stream of water that won’t frighten dogs.
They even offer a monthly pet grief group for pet parents experiencing or anticipating a loss.
No discrimination here
Passionate Paws is a full-service vet, and they won’t turn anyone away.
There was one case where a dog had a troubled past during medical exams, but Bonilla was gradually able to calm her down and now she is much more relaxed for exams.
“I have dogs who have had bad experiences and have been hard to work with in the past because they’re too unpredictable, but we work with them,” Bonilla said. “We have what we call ‘happy visits’ where the dogs will visit with staff to just receive treats and love.”
That type of one-on-one treatment has worked very well.
“Clients say it all of the time that their dogs are never happier than when they are here,” Stephen said.
Part of the community
Stephen said when he first opened, with his marketing background, he knew he needed to get the new business’s name out there.
“I knew when we opened we needed to be a part of the community, so we went full in on trying to connect with the community,” he said. “From there, it was networking, and I did a lot of networking, with the Union County Chamber of Commerce and the Waxhaw Business Association, which we’re both a part of, and going to other groups and other functions and influencers.”
Then the business started speaking for itself.
Stephen said when he went to send out Christmas cards this season, there were little clusters of addresses where neighbors have obviously told one another and word of mouth has spread.
Sounds of making a difference
Stephen posted news of Bonilla’s nomination for Charlotte Media Group’s Small Business Person of the Year on Passionate Paws’ Facebook page.
The comments came fast and hit home when they were penned from colleagues, friends, and, most importantly, the human clients she helps on a daily basis.
“The comments from the story brought her to tears,” Stephen said.
Bonilla is quick to admit it because it means the long hours and dedication she has invested are worth it.
“I’m speechless,” Bonilla said. “Sometimes it’s tiring being a vet and sometimes I wonder if clients notice how much time we put in after the visit. Being recognized for how the business has developed is great, but to see I have impacted so many clients on a personal level is truly rewarding and keeps me motivated to do what I do everyday.”
Want to learn more?
Passionate Paws Animal Hospital is located at 1526 Providence Road S., Waxhaw. Call 704-256-7576 or www.passionatepawsani malhospital.com for details.