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For many of us, our ideal career is to turn a passion into a profitable business that gives back. While that might sound easy enough, it can be difficult to achieve, which is why Healthy Paws Pet Insurance and Foundation is a story of compelling success. And all it took to found the business were two guys with impressive business backgrounds, a driving passion to help dogs, and a hurricane.
In 2009, Rob Jackson and Steve Siadek founded Healthy Paws, based in Bellevue, Washington. Healthy Paws has consistently been at the very top of customer rating lists for the past four years. Rob and Steve attribute their success to their passion for dogs, which is reflected in both the insurance side of their business and their nonprofit foundation.
“We are committed to helping dogs and cats find forever homes. Every year, 8 million dogs go into shelters and only half come out,” Rob said. “During the last couple of years, pet adoption has become like the new green movement, and we want to do what we can to help.”
Both Rob and Steve come from business careers. Rob founded a successful and people-oriented insurance company, which he sold in 2000. He then founded a youth-oriented nonprofit called Home Court in Woodville, Washington, which uses basketball to teach young people leadership skills.
Steve was a business consultant who included Starbucks and Microsoft among his clients. In 2005, he was at the top of his career managing 20 consultants who were all working on the Starbucks account when Hurricane Katrina tore into Louisiana, submerging 80 percent of New Orleans and sending residents fleeing to upland safe areas. In many cases, people couldn’t bring their pets.
“I started seeing pictures of animals that were heart wrenching,” Steve said. “I don’t know why exactly, but I had to go.”
Steve took time off work, flew to Baton Rouge, and rented a car. Before long, he arrived at a 30-acre farm outside of New Orleans. The owner offered space for some of the thousands of dogs who were separated from their owners in the hurricane and its devastating aftermath. He said the space on the farm maxed out at 300 dogs, so the rescue effort was a relentless cycle of caring, relocating, and rescuing. As soon as space was available on the farm, Steve and other volunteers returned to the devastated Ninth Ward to rescue more dogs from locked homes and yards.
“As a group, we rescued somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 dogs,” he said. “It was the best two weeks of my life.”
When Steve returned to Washington, he brought 12 rescued dogs, which led him to work with Homeward Pet Adoption Center, a Washington-based adoption group. Steve, with his business management experience, was soon running the organization, and, after a year, he had increased adoptions from 1,200 a year to 1,500. It was during this time that he met Rob, who was frequently at Homeward looking for dogs to foster.
The two men discovered they shared a passion for helping dogs, and they decided to co-found Healthy Paws Pet Insurance.
The business model would be simple and straight forward, Rob said. They would cover almost any accidents, illnesses, and even congenital health problems. They do stop short of covering pre-existing conditions. Policies run between $15 and $90 a month with no limits on payouts.
“We’re all pet parents, so it’s a sad day when we can’t pay a claim,” he said. “We like to keep our policies simple, so our motto is ‘one plan, four paws, all covered.’”
For the past four years, they have been rated in first place by numerous consumer rating organizations, including Consumer Advocate Organization, which rates Healthy Paws as No. 1 in consumer satisfaction. Pet parent Nancy Carlton, who lives in California and has a young and active dog, said the company is reliable.
“The thing I appreciate most is that they cover exactly what they say they’ll cover with no additional hassles,” Nancy said. “And submitting a claim from your vet is easy. You can take a photo with your smartphone and press a screen button and it’s submitted, and your reimbursement arrives about 10 days later.”
And Healthy Paws uses its success to give back to the dog adoption community. Their foundation, which operates as a nonprofit, currently gives grants of about $100,000 a year through its “Every Quote Gives Hope” program. For every person who contacts the company for a free pet insurance quote, the company makes a contribution to its foundation, which in turn gives grants to no-kill adoption groups to help defray medical costs.
Steve said the company is doing so well that he expects to double their annual grant funding. He said helping dogs and their people parents is the most rewarding career he’s had.
“It was a chance opportunity to save dogs after Katrina,” he said. “To accidentally come across this passion and be able to turn it into a financial success … I am very grateful.”
Top photo: Steve Siadek with rescued dog Scout, who found a forever home in Seattle. (Photo courtesy Amber Chenoweth)