For Flanders Veterinary Couple, Community Is Paramount

By Anya Bochma

The Flanders Animal Care Centers is a facility that has attended to local clients and animal patients for two decades. Serving Mt. Olive, Roxbury and the surrounding areas, the AAHA-certified center has a satellite office in Landing, and had undergone a complete reconstruction in 2005 which saw the Flanders building razed and replaced by a newer, state-of-the-art office better suited to serve patients with its laboratory equipment.

Yet Animal Care Centers, owned and operated by Drs. Chris Hallihan and Kristen Casulli, has been a vision for the doctors – who are a married couple – since veterinary school.

As Becky Hammond, staff manager who has worked with Hallihan and Casulli for over 12 years, stated, Casulli grew up in the area and was determined to open her practice there.

“We decided to stay in Mt. Olive – we both loved it and wanted to have kids here,” says Hallihan, a native of Hackensack, who worked for the same veterinarian as his wife after the two graduated veterinary school.

Having worked at the Flanders location since the mid-90s, the couple made their dream a reality when they officially purchased the business in 1999.

Since then, they have dedicated their business to being up to date with all veterinary developments, and two years ago achieved the prestigious AAHA certification. The American Animal Hospital Association is the accrediting body for companion animal hospitals in the United States and Canada and the “premiere standard of veterinary excellence,” as Hammond put it. Every aspect of the practice was analyzed by AAHA – from equipment to staffing standards – before certification was issued.

“You really have to perform at the top of the industry [to achieve AAHA accreditation],” Hammond commented. “It’s probably one of the things we’re most proud of.”

While Hallihan echoed this sentiment, he also added that a major source of pride is being a family practice with major roots in the community.

“We pride ourselves on being a family practice. My daughter is interested in becoming a veterinarian, and may some day take over the business,” the vet stated.  “We just want to improve on our community, and with our office in Flanders, we don’t plan on going anywhere.”

“It’s very important to Chris and Kristen to have the small town feel,” Hammond added.

Both the office in Flanders and the satellite location in Landing see rather “average” patients, primarily cats and dogs, although Hammond recalled occasions when the vets treated pigs, chicken, sheep and lizards. Exotic birds also occasionally make their way into the waiting room.

Animal Care Centers, which currently employs five doctors and about 20-25 staff members – who vary from technicians to administrators – offers a wide variety of animal care. Among these are routine physical exams, which the practice asserts are “essential for early detection of health issues and discussions on behavioral problems.”

The staff doctors also recommend yearly laboratory testing, such as fecal, urine and blood tests. According to the Center’s website, “fecal tests can detect intestinal parasites that can be harmful to pets and their human companions. Blood tests and urine tests can recognize early signs of health problems.”

Additionally, the veterinarians advise on medication to safely treat or prevent heartworms, intestinal parasites, ticks and fleas.

The location at Flanders offers boarding for a variety of animals, as well as wellness plans, exotic pet care, oncology and pain management.

The kennels at the Animal Care Center offer to “feed, walk, water, play with and pay attention to” pets in an enclosed pen where the pet can get “supervised exercise on natural grass under shade trees.”

According to Hammond, a significant number of boarded animals have special needs, such as issues with mobility or insulin regulation.

“These pets require special attention and monitoring, and a different level of care and feeding,” Hammond stated.

Although the facility is not an adoption center, it has in the past facilitated adoptions, particularly of special needs animals. Recently, a team of staffers from the clinic had traveled to South New Jersey to rescue animals in a hoarding situation. Animal Care Centers took the cats in, rehabilitated them and had them adopted.

Both Hammond and Hallihan stress the importance of staying up-to-date with technological developments in the field. To this end, the office offers critical care and emergency services, digital radiography, ultrasonography, telemedicine, anesthesia, pain management, laser therapy, cardiology, ophthalmology and endocrinology, among others. The facility features a full in-house lab and a dental suite on the premises.

“Chris and Kristen make notes of all developments in technology, and invest in that,” Hammond stated. “For instance, the in-house lab allows for a quicker diagnosis.”

Additionally, the clinic has been certified as a “Cat Friendly Practice” by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. As Hammond explains it, clients tend to bring dogs to the vet more often than cats, partially because illness in felines may present itself differently.

“Cat-Friendly” practices use techniques and protocols that make the visit less stressful for cats; the facility in Flanders, for instance, has a different entrance for feline patients. Staff were required to undergo “cat-friendly” training to achieve this certification.

Hammond enthused about the training provided by Hallihan and Casulli.

“Chris and Kristen are all about family, which includes staff, clients and patients.”

The doctors’ efforts to help the staff include paying for continuing education that involves traveling to conferences several times a year.

“It’s a tremendous benefit for staff careers, “ Hammond said.

Another on-site training program offered to staff members is nutrition and appropriate healthcare for pets.

Animal Care Centers likes to stay involved in the community through sponsorship of various endeavors, including library events, the town dog parade, tricky trays of service organizations and the annual Hopatcong Lake 4-H show.

“We try to give back to the community,” Hammond stated.

For his part, Hallihan is not looking to open more office locations, focusing instead on growing the family practice in Flanders and its Landing satellite, while staying abreast of technological developments.

“We don’t plan on going anywhere,” Hallihan said. “We’ll just keep improving the Flanders office.”

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