Much of the success of the Weight Watchers program comes from the group meeting format. Mutual support, nutrition re-education, and competition are cited as the motivators in the group dynamic. Impressed with the model, my original idea for my pet weight management program was a club setting where dog owners and their dieting pets met twice a month.
Pet’s weights would be recorded with recognition of successful dieters, while nutritional concepts and feeding tips would be exchanged, and even a joint walk or exercise event could be worked into the meetings. It is a format being used by some veterinary hospitals across the U.S. But why wait for your veterinarian to offer the program? Start your own diet club!
Make the Contacts
With the web making social interaction so easy, it should not be difficult to find others in your locality that share the same concern for the health of their pets. Pet stores are generally very interested in posting such ideas or even hosting the events because it can generate foot traffic for their business. They are even more willing if you provide the promotional efforts and organize the event yourself.
Grooming parlors, pet boarding and day care facilities, and dog parks should all be very approachable for such a concept as well. And don’t rule out underused public and school facilities.
Pick a Vet
All dieting should have veterinary supervision. Approach your veterinarian about the concept. If they are not interested, maybe they know a colleague with expertise who might be.
Inquire about local veterinary associations and ask to present your idea at one of their regular meetings. Associations are always looking for fresh speakers for these venues. They are also a great resource for identifying veterinarians in the area that have special interests or expertise in nutrition.
More and more specialty hospitals are adding rehabilitation specialties to their services. Such facilities are a great place to find a veterinarian interested and knowledgeable about nutrition and dieting.
Design the Program
Together with your veterinary advisor you can design the program. Details should include screening requirements (lab work, physical exams, etc.), the individual consultations to provide the dieting program and menu selections, monitoring and meeting frequency and meeting locale, formats and presentations.
Locale becomes very important if exercise is part of the program. Pedometers for pets are now available and are a great way to monitor exercise adherence between meetings. Decide on a nominal fee for participants to offset expenses, or approach pet oriented business or philanthropists who might be willing to underwrite the project for advertising or marketing opportunities. You might even want to include a health care professional, registered dietician, or Weight Watchers leader in your program to help owners with their own weight issues.
I hate to bring it up, but because we live in a very litigious (i.e., "sue happy") society, it is very important to seek legal advice and draft a liability waiver. This helps protect you and your veterinary advisor should injury to owners or pets occur during a meeting. Your veterinary advisor will have to decide if his/her personal or business malpractice insurance is adequate for potential problems from the dieting program.
Personal Satisfaction and Possible Personal Gain
What could be more satisfying than being at the forefront of the "war on obesity" and helping others re-invent their own and their pets’ lifestyles? For the right individual, this could also be a great business opportunity; by standardizing the club model it could be replicated worldwide. Food for thought.
Dr. Ken Tudor