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Fresh Faces Of Tampa: Successful Small Business Owner Dr. Rhonda Johnson

This article is sponsored by Nestle

If you are in the Carrollwood section of Tampa, then you probably know who this amazing woman is. She's saving lives every day, maybe even the furry little members of your family. Born to be a veterinarian, Dr. Rhonda Johnson has loved animals since she was a small child and has been in love with science all her life. Her journey has taken her through many years of experience catering to and loving even the most exotic animals as they were restored back to health. Learn more about Dr. Johnson and her amazing practice, Plantation Animal Hospital, below.

Tell us a little bit about your journey and background.

attended UC Davis and majored in biology with a minor in education. I received my California teaching credential and taught high school science in Carmel, CA. I then moved to Ames, Iowa after marrying my husband. The military stationed us there for him to teach ROTC, and I taught at a Sylvan Learning Center. I applied to veterinary school at Iowa State University and was accepted. I then spent the next 10 months cleaning laboratory glassware and hosing out chicken coops while waiting to start vet school. After vet school, my husband and I moved back to his home state of Florida. I began work as an associate veterinarian in St. Petersburg, FL. I worked at four different practices over 15 years gaining wonderful experience, before I purchased Plantation Animal Hospital.

What was that spark that let you know this is what you were meant to do? 

I have always loved animals. When I was 10, we found a stray dog that my father let me keep. She was the first dog we had that was allowed to stay in the house and sleep with me. Penny, short for Penelope, and I had a real connection. In addition, I loved the sciences but really wanted to be a lifelong learner with something new and challenging daily. When I was exposed to all of the information you need to possess to be a good veterinarian, I knew this was the profession for me.

What do you enjoy most about your practice?

love working with my staff, the clients and the pets. I may only get to see some pets and clients once yearly and it is like a reunion! My staff is fantastic. They are passionate about helping pets and their families. It makes me very proud to say that I own and run Plantation Animal Hospital.

Do you have pets yourself?

I have three cats and three dogs that live with me at home. In addition, I have four cats that live at the clinic and roam freely. My three cats stay at my home, but my three dogs come to work with me every day. Ella, my Corgie, is a “chow hound “ and walks into almost every exam room to look for dropped goodies or beg the pet owners for a treat. Suzy is my female Jack Russell. I took her in as a stray that had just whelped (had a litter of pups). She had a wound on her hip and was heartworm positive. Although she can be a little dominant, she is one of my best buds. My third dog is also a rescue. He is Georgie a short haired chubby Dachshund who is scared of his own shadow. He is super lovable but stays in the office most of the day and sleeps.

What made you want to start your own animal hospital, as opposed to working with someone else?

I wanted to start my own practice to allow me more time with my family.  Although I work more hours per week now than ever before, I can elect to leave early for my daughter’s basketball game or slip out for an hour to pick up my other daughter from school. These things were not possible when I worked for someone else. Family quality time is something I realize that I cannot get back once the time has passed. I worked for other people for 15 years before purchasing Plantation Animal Hospital.

What are some challenges you've faced owning your own business?

The biggest challenge we have faced is to keep our client/patient growth from exceeding our ability to provide excellent care. Our growth in the past five years has been exponential and my wonderful staff should be complemented.

We at Plantation Animal Hospital provide a wide spectrum of medical and surgical services for primarily cats and dogs. We focus on providing the type of care we would want for our own pets and communicating well with the owners.

I can remember another local business owner bringing a puppy to me that had been given to them. The puppy was very sick and they weren’t sure that it was worth trying to save it. We discovered that the puppy was just very anemic, low on red blood cells, from parasitism from fleas and intestinal parasites.

We grabbed Ella, my Corgie, and promised her a treat in exchange for some blood. She willingly allowed us to collect the 30 milliliters  -- one ounce -- that we needed. We gave the puppy the blood transfusion slowly, over the next few hours, and it went from not being able to stand or lift its head to standing and barking in our ICU chamber. That is what veterinary medicine is all about to me. Helping the ones that can and should be helped.

What makes you different from other businesses?

Because we offer both excellent care and fair prices, we have clients that continue coming to us for many different reasons. We have clients that drive from Orlando, Riverview and St. Petersburg for their pets’ routine veterinary care; but the vast majority of our clients are from the Carrollwood Community.

We are different than other businesses, and possibly some other veterinary practices, because our bottom line is to always encourage the owner to do what is best for the pet. We try to offer only the services needed at that time and only the services that are in the best interest of that individual animal with its specific age, breed and lifestyle.

What makes you and your business innovative?

Dr. Bishai, my associate, and I try to stay up-to-date with the latest testing and treatment procedures. We are both constantly consulting with local specialists to make sure we are making the best recommendations and providing our clients with all the options available for their pet’s care, long term wellness and quality of life. We work hard to educate our clients about the simple things that can help your pet have a longer, better life like heartworm prevention with intestinal parasite prevention given monthly and maintaining good dental health.

What keeps you motivated, even on the tough days?

It seems like when the days are the toughest – multiple euthanasias of chronically ill pets that you love and have taken care of forever or an owner that just doesn’t understand that testing is needed to help you make a diagnosis for a case that you just can’t figure out in knowing what is wrong with the pet – when an owner says “thank you, your caring made all the difference.” We in veterinary medicine are “givers.”  We live to help others and their pets. When that giving and effort is acknowledged by our customers, it is the fuel that keeps us going.

What is the most “exotic” pet you have come across?

When I was first a veterinarian I worked with a great number of exotic animals, but they were not pets. I worked with a wildlife rescue and seabird rescue organizations. I worked on everything from tigers and bears to tortoises and pelicans. As pets, I have seen a few marmosets, and I have done surgery on a couple of pet chickens.

What are your thoughts on community support, whether supporting small businesses or supporting the people within it?

I love the Carrollwood Community. It is so important to try to support your local community and businesses so that these small businesses can continue to provide excellent individual care for your needs. In this era of big business, it is becoming increasingly hard for the small business to compete with the mass buying power, the rent negotiating power and the tax breaks that are given to big business.  I provide all of my employees with the opportunity to have dental, vision and health insurance and with a retirement plan. If the local community did not support me, I would not be able to provide for my staff members that reside in this same community.

I think that giving back to the community is very important. I struggle with finding the time to commit to community service, but I am trying to find other creative ways to give back.

What advice would you give an up-and-coming veterinarian/animal rescue/business owner?

Do what you are passionate about! This is not an easy profession. There are many professions which require less education and provide more pay for less work. If you don’t enjoy helping others, then you won’t make it for the long haul. A love for animals is not enough to keep you going.

What advice do you want to give domestic and exotic pet owners?

A pet is a lifelong commitment to provide care, food and shelter for another living creature. It is a big deal! Think about it carefully before you take on the responsibility of a pet. If you are truly ready, having a pet will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Jessica N. Abraham-Hogan is the owner of Shorty Produkshins in Orlando, Florida, and specializes in Social Branding and Public Relations for both the Professional Services Industry and Entertainment Business. Over the last 13 years, she has worked with many publications and has created branded content for multiple organizations, Globally.

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