EAST GREENWICH – When Keith D. Schoen’s parents treated him to a trip abroad for a high school graduation gift, they went to Scotland where he encountered “the kindest, warmest, most helpful people” imaginable.
After spending a week in Edinburgh, they moved on to Glasgow where he recalls his dad, an eminent New York pediatrician, saying, “Let’s go to the vet school.”
Suddenly, they were in the land of James Herriot for whom the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine has named its library. Herriot is the vet whose writing about his practice in the English countryside became the classic book – and then the heartwarming PBS series – All Creatures Great and Small.
He felt at home in Scotland, he notes, because, his “grandfather had gone to the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
Keith, now 31 and on the verge of hoisting the bar higher for vets throughout Rhode Island, went on to study at Cornell, leaving to spend his third year at the Glasgow veterinary school he’d visited.
Rather than being disappointed that his son hadn’t followed in his footsteps as a medical doctor, Schoen says his father was “thrilled. He’d want to become a vet himself but was allergic” to pet hair. (Which may explain why one of Keith’s childhood pets was a snake.)
Schoen completed a general internship in medicine and surgery at Oradell Animal Hospital in New Jersey, followed by a surgical internship at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, in East Greenwich.
He and his wife, Adriane, who works at PPAC, have two sons, ages 2-years-4-months, and 5 weeks. During his time at Ocean State, they fell in love with Rhode Island and its proximity to the water.
In the space of three years, the Schoens have bought a house, had two babies and now in the biggest gamble on his young life, Keith is opening a practice that he promises will set itself apart from the norm.
With a commitment to “treat your pet the best way possible, with compassion; to find out what the owner wants and match it; to let them know you really care,” he will unveil Hill and Harbour Veterinary Center at 500 Main Street, in the heart of downtown East Greenwich. It will occupy the small plaza owned by Steve Erinakes where the Gallery 500 consignment store once welcomed customers in droves.
Construction to extend the existing space is starting this month with a target date of the hospital opening in early December.
“Originally I was looking at the whole map,” says Schoen, who lives in Cranston. He says that city “has areas for sale but I kept hitting a wall; problems and issues” with city government. “I didn’t want to settle. I wanted the best. I looked at Main Street in East Greenwich.”
What he found was perfect, even including a ramp if a pet needs to be wheeled in on a gurney. Moreover, his concept “breezed through planning and zoning.” He got yet another sign that he’d made the right choice when, to his delight, the dog parade for the Main Street Stroll formed in his parking lot.
“I can’t ask for more.”
But he can give more – and that’s the whole idea.
For starters, this vet center is all about spending time listening to pet owners as well as providing the best possible treatment for their animals; it’s also a facility whose staff will know they’re valued; lastly, its credo will be an expression of Keith’s core values – honesty and respect.
“Those are my guiding principles in life,” he says. “It’s my mantra.”
Unashamedly idealistic, Schoen will not let an arbitrary time clock determine how long – or brief – a time he spends with a client. If a pet-owner needs a 30-40 minute consultation, that’s what he’ll provide.
“I’m here for you,” he states. “I’m creating an experience for the owner in a clean, state-of-the-art facility focused on personalized attention. If you have a vet who doesn’t listen, then you need to find another vet.”
At the new hospital, besides general veterinary care, he will offer specialty service in orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery as well as dentistry. Digital dental X-rays can be entered into the computer where they’ll be available if he needs to consult another vet anywhere in the world.
Moreover, Schoen, who sits on the board of directors of the RI Veterinary Medical Assn., is one of a handful of vets worldwide certified to use stem cells in a clinical setting. He plans to nurture his employees.
“I want the best staff possible,” he says. “I want people to come to work and be safe, valued, respected. If a staff is happier, they do a better job. I want to shift the paradigm for the owner, dog, the person working in the office. If I can have the staff always trying to get better, taking pride in their work, I’ll have a smart and talented staff.”
Keith will also be following in the footsteps of his dad – and James Herriot – making himself available on a personal level to clients every day. Whereas Herriot drove out into the rolling hills to meet farmers and cottage-dwellers, Keith’s father sets aside time for patients to phone and directly tell him their concerns.
“I’m creating this practice because I needed to do something different,” he reflects. “It sounds utopian but why not try?”
For more information about Dr. Schoen’s new enterprise, call 398-7807 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org  or http://hillandharbourvets.com .
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com .