Make a mark on your community and communicate Fear Free practices while teaching children kindness and compassion for animals: Host a teddy bear clinic.
A teddy bear clinic is a fun outreach program and gets kids involved in caring for their pets in a kind, gentle way. Here’s the gist: Kids bring in a favorite stuffed animal or doll, and vets and techs from your practice conduct an exam, sharing info and tips along the way. It’s a fun way to drum up new business for your practice while sharing your values with the community.
Spread the Word
Teddy bear clinics are a good way to educate clients about Fear Free, says Stephanie Beeson, DVM, KPA CTP, owner of Beeson Veterinary Behavior Solutions. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the ways Fear Free practices specifically reduce stress before, during, and after the surgical procedure through a real-world scenario. It’s an opportunity to discuss with owners (parents) directly how Fear Free techniques are applied in your clinic to reduce stress and lead to a more positive experience for pets. Pets who are less stressed are more likely to be brought to the clinic and receive the care they need.”
Dr. Beeson has done teddy bear clinics in conjunction with open-house events that give the public a behind-the-scenes look at veterinary surgery and get kids and families engaged in the practice. It’s not unusual to have lines of families waiting to come through and participate.
“In a teddy bear clinic, it works well to have a doctor and tech working with the kids to perform the ‘surgery’ and then have staff present to chat with parents about the surgery process that is being done,” Beeson says. “Ideally, you would walk them through premedication, anesthesia, the surgery, and recover and illustrate how your clinic excels at this process. Show them what makes you stand out.”
Planning and Marketing
Running a successful teddy bear clinic requires planning, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. At the most fundamental level, a successful event requires marketing, ordering supplies, organizing activities like crafts, and plans for crowd management. You can plan a small open house with teddy bear repair as the featured activity or a larger event with several family-friendly and kid-friendly activities.
“Have a plan for how you are going to line people up or keep track of who is next. Have other activities and learning stations for people to participate in while waiting,” Beeson suggests.
Here are five ideas for easy-to-set-up activities:
- A coloring station
- A “vitals” station where children can bring their teddy bear to a tech to be weighed
- Crafting a collar and ID tag
- If your clinic includes grooming, integrate a pretend nail trim or brushing.
- Games: bingo or tic-tac-toe using fun terms, equipment, or even the names of the vets and techs at your practice, or a scavenger hunt
While the events require planning and prep, they serve as a fun marketing vehicle to attract new clients and to create a stronger connection with existing clients. “I consider any event successful when I have the opportunity to engage with people, tell them what I do, and show them how we can help,” Beeson says. “I would consider an event like I would any marketing opportunity. If I am marketing my clinic well in general, then I would expect to see increases in the number of new clients and in overall revenue.”
Here are five simple, low-cost marketing ideas to kick off the event:
- Post the information to your social media pages and re-share details at least weekly until the date of the event.
- Add event information to client receipts or appointment reminders.
- Hang signs or create postcards for clients to pick up at the reception desk.
- Use your email list: Send a digital invitation to your client list that allows them to RSVP and place a reminder on their own calendars.
- Provide a few key talking points for office staff to use in client communication. Simple, no-pressure statements work well. For example, “Are you free next Saturday? We’d love for you and your kids to join us for our teddy bear clinic.”
Not sure where to start? Jodi Chick, a Vancouver-based dog blogger who writes about pet-related DIY projects and who is an active volunteer at her local shelter, created a series of free resources. While hers specifically addresses shelters hosting teddy bear clinics, the ideas and inspiration might help your clinic get started. Her post and free printables can be found here.
Chick says, “Hosting a Teddy Bear Vet Clinic event isn’t just a great opportunity to meet new clients, it’s also a valuable educational event that can help cement your clinic as a cornerstone of knowledge in your community and help promote responsible ownership in children for years to come. Plus, it’s good, wholesome fun for the whole family.”
One final tip before you jump into your first teddy bear clinic: Document the entire process the first time through. Capture your plans and activities, templates or printables, vendors, and supplies ordered and used. Then hold a de-briefing afterward to record what did and didn’t work. That way, if your practice deems the event a success, you can easily recreate it annually with your notes, templates, and client feedback.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.