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Kerri-Lynn McAllister, seen here with her dog Kingston, launched Pawzy in October.Thomas Bollmann/The Globe and Mail

When Kerri-Lynn McAllister’s puppy needed to be spayed, an online search came up with scattered information.

So, she channelled her tech background and, last October, launched Pawzy, a website offering vet-approved, pet-health content on dogs and cats, including a proprietary, data-driven breed quiz to help potential dog owners choose a breed that best fits their personality and lifestyle. It also provided detailed guides on the top 100 popular dog breeds, and a breeder and adoption directory.

When the pandemic hit, it quickly evolved into a software provider to help vets offer telehealth to pet owners.

Ms. McAllister, a Toronto-based digital marketer and technologist, who has spent more than a decade building online marketplaces and was a founding member of RateHub.ca, points out that almost every industry had aggregators that collect information about its goods or service – except her own.

“I realized that none existed for veterinarians,” she says. “If you wanted to shop around for options while keeping quality of care in mind, no prices were listed anywhere.”

Ms. McAllister’s goal was to create something unique to the Canadian market: a virtual one-stop shop of information on dog and cat breeds, along with price ranges and procedures offered at veterinary clinics.

But COVID-19 completely upended the business’s strategy and first-year plan, she says.

“The needs of our primary audience – pet parents – changed drastically,” she says, citing a recent company-sponsored survey that showed approximately 40 per cent of all pet owners and 45 per cent of millennial pet owners wanted their vet to offer telehealth. Of all the pet owners, only 19 per cent said their vets offered it.

While veterinarians were deemed essential services across the country, their hours were drastically reduced to respond to emergencies and essential visits only.

“The vast majority of clinics were not set up to offer telemedicine and were triaging over busy phone lines and e-mail,” she explains. “Pets that did require in-person care were dropped off at the door to clinics while pet parents waited outside.” Ms. McAllister’s team quickly realized they had to figure out a way to bridge the gap between supply and demand for telehealth. Within the first month of the lockdown, Pawzy partnered with a U.S.-based telemedicine platform that usually served the health needs of humans but could also offer a medically focused teleconferencing tool for vets.

By implementing the tool seamlessly into their practices, vets were able to virtually connect with pet owners through Pawzy Telehealth.

Thanks to a proprietary Vet Finder tool, which recently launched in Toronto, pet owners will be able to search by clinic type and service, compare ratings and reviews on Google and Yelp, and book in-clinic, mobile or telehealth appointments directly online. The tool uses much more robust search capabilities than those currently available through other listings, such as Google Business and Yelp, Ms. McAllister says.

“It used to be you could pop into the clinic around the corner, meet the staff and ask for a tour,” says Dr. Walt Ingwersen, a practicing veterinarian for the past 40 years and a member of the Pawzy advisory board. “Combined with word-of-mouth, it might have been enough to [decide] whether the veterinary care team was right for you, [but] that’s no longer an option.”

Dr. Ingwersen, who works in the animal-health division of Boehringer Ingelheim, a global pharmaceutical company, stresses that telemedicine is not a full replacement for a clinic visit, hands-on care and access to a full health care team. However, he says it could increase a vet’s appeal to younger pet owners who are willing to pay premiums for online and mobile care postpandemic.

Houston Peschl, instructor of entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainable development at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, says that the pandemic “has allowed entrepreneurs to recognize that their job is to solve problems and if they are good at it, there is a profitable model somewhere.”

“Their job is to find that model,” he says.

According to Mr. Peschl, a business becomes more valuable when it can align its vision with solving a social, environmental or health problem.

“Entrepreneurs put in the hard work to figure out the pivots and work out the bugs,” he says. “Once they start to get traction, their resilience pays off, either in becoming a profitable company or being acquired by a larger one.”

The Vet Finder tool will branch out to other cities, including Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

While COVID-19 has presented opportunities as an entrepreneur, it has been a challenging road to navigate, Ms. McAllister says.

“I’d encourage entrepreneurs to give themselves space and a little bit of forgiveness during this time,” she says.

“This is not business-as-usual, and you should be taking breaks to recharge and rethink things. It’s important for your health and it also gives you time and clarity to improve your business, or even test new ideas.”