I was shocked to learn from the Wall Street Journal that America’s pets are as fat as their owners. Nearly 50% are overweight and 20% are obese. Dr. Randy Regutnick, founder and CEO of the Fat Pet Centers, considered the pioneer in this field, was happy to talk to me about his work.
“Dr. Regutnick, how did you get started?”
“In 1995, I was a struggling young vet in Silver Spring, Maryland, and this nice lady came into my office with her pussy cat in a Radio Flyer Wagon. She needed the wagon because her cat, Rhino, weighed 44 pounds and she couldn’t lift it. Heck, the cat could hardly walk.
“I had always been a health nut, so I put the cat on a strict, healthy diet that I devised on the spot. Then, overnight, I built a customized chase wheel with a live mouse in a small cage — which the cat couldn’t reach — and within four months the cat was down to 12 pounds. The Washington Post reported my success and, overnight, I was flooded with fat dogs and cats. My practice took off. I had to double my office space and hire three more vets.
“My brother-in-law was a lawyer and he raised $500,000. We immediately opened two more stores. I hired a part-time nutritionist from my former veterinary college and started doing some animal dietary research.
“My initial success had been human-based. What we found were cats and dogs were quite different from us. It got pretty complicated very quickly.
“Basically, fat cats and dogs have many of the same problems as humans: diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, etc. So if I could develop specialty foods — and convince their owners to buy them — I could make millions . . . could you strike that last part, please?
“But I tried to grow too fast and we almost went out of business. The next couple of years we barely hung on until we figured out what we needed to do.”
“Which was what, Dr. Regutnick?” I asked.
“I mortgaged my home and hired McKunsky & Company, the management consultants. At that time, I was the smallest client they had. In fact, they demanded cash up front. But it was worth it and we’re still working together a decade later.”
“What did they advise?”
“First, raise an initial $5 million in venture capital. Second, split the business into two companies, retail stores and specialty foods. Third, bring in professional management. You know, the standard bullshit consultant steps. But I followed their advice.
“We raised the first round, opened five stores the first year, ten the second, twenty the third. Then, we raised another $20 million more, and today we have 250 Fat Pet Center’s around the country with some 300,000 patients. Last year, we started franchising.
“For our food products, we hired four nutritionists including two PhD’s to develop specialty lines of low-fat, low-carb, high-nutrition foods, which are sold exclusively through are stores or online. We also have psychologists available at every store.”
“For the pets?” I asked incredulously.
“No, you dummy, for the owners’ behavior modification. Did you ever see a cat use a can opener to open his dinner? A mandatory four-visit package runs $600 for owner and pet.”
“Well, Dr. Regutnick, you’ve found your American Dream. I’m surprised you haven’t sold out or gone public.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t comment on that right now,” he said with a wink.
Bill Regardie is the founder of Regardie Magazine.