Travelin’ doc Katie Fanning
Dr. Katie Fanning, DVM ’12, rests on her haunches in the living room of an Urbana, Ill., home, tossing treats to a Beagle named Fred, who sticks his snout in the air and howls, either in delight or anxiety. What’s certain is that his encounter with Fanning is unlike any the 10-year-old dog has experienced with a veterinarian.
“You don’t ever have to go to a vet’s office again, Fred,” assures pet owner Alex, hugging her dog. “Katie will come to you.”
The house call is what propels Fanning’s practice, Vet on Wheels. Pets don’t visit her. Instead, she visits them—by bicycle, car or, on occasion, foot. Based on her research, Fanning believes she’s the only vet in the Urbana-Champaign area who makes house calls.
Her attire is as informal as her appointments, consisting of T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Her hair in a ponytail, Fanning could pass for the girl next door, save for the stethoscope garlanding her neck during visits. “I’m seeing pets that haven’t seen a vet in years,” she says. “It’s scary for them to get into a car and ride to a clinic, where they encounter people they don’t know. In my case, it’s just me visiting their homes with a peanut-butter treat.”
As a preventive primary-care vet, Fanning conducts exams, collects fecal samples, administers vaccines, addresses general maladies and, when necessary, provides in-home euthanasia. When ailments exceed the scope of her services, she refers pet owners to a clinic or the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
“Pets are so important to their owners,” Fanning says. “That’s why house calls give me so much gratification.”
Fanning formerly engaged in more conventional methods of care. After working in a traditional veterinarian’s office for three years, she realized “spending 12 hours per day in a brick-and-mortar clinic wasn’t for me.” In mid-September, Fanning launched Vet on Wheels and logged 60 house calls within a month.
Around town, she navigates a Jamis Aurora touring bike equipped with wicker basket and cargo trailer for carrying her paraphernalia. Some days, the bike logs up to 15 miles. If distance precludes the two-wheeler—some of her clients reside 20 miles north, in Rantoul, Ill.—she drives her Subaru hatchback. Should a client reside around the block, she walks, with shoulder bag in tow.
One such walk finds Fanning greeted by Molly, an energetic, 4-month-old gray kitten. Her owner, Pat, a substitute teacher, doesn’t own a car, making visits to a clinic a logistical challenge. “That’s why I called Katie,” Pat says. Fanning settles on the floor, waiting patiently for Molly to approach. In just a few minutes, the cat’s examination is complete and she has received her shots. No muss, no fuss.
Fanning operates her practice in an Urbana home that she shares with husband, Jason Fanning, ’10 AHS, MS ’12 AHS, a doctoral candidate in exercise psychology, along with dogs Isaac, a black Labrador, and Walter, a Cockapoo. A bare-bones, six-by-10-foot office houses her computer and a refrigerator for medications, while other supplies lie behind a Chinese folding screen in a corner of the Fannings’ living room.
Fanning was a teenager when she began to seriously consider a career as a veterinarian. “My grandmother gave me [British veterinary surgeon and bestselling author] James Herriot’s books when I was 16,” she says. “His stories are really powerful.”
Her approach, Fanning adds, mirrors his in many ways, meaning familiarizing herself with clients while treating their pets on their home turf. Client concerns are among the reasons she founded the local Champaign-Urbana Healthy Pet Project, a non-profit organization focused on teaching community members about pet wellness.
Her focus on animals and community involvement was informed by a public health policy course she attended, taught by Jack Herrmann, ’76 VM, DVM ’78, MPH ’03, director of the UI Center for One Health Illinois in Urbana.
“He challenged us to investigate small- to large-scale solutions to big-picture issues,” Fanning recalls. “That helped me to think more critically, to be more open-minded and seek solutions, rather than use Band-Aids, to address problems.”
Fanning, who acknowledges she is a “Type A perfectionist,” works at her own pace, treating three to five animals per day. During off hours, the entrepreneur enjoys browsing farmers markets or taking bicycle rides with her husband, whom she met when both were members of the Illinois Triathlon Club.
“I want a work and life balance,” she says. “Some people advise, ‘You have to grow, grow, grow your business.’ Why?”
For Fanning, being a vet on wheels amounts to the perfect ride.