The Truro Veterinary Hospital recently won the Divert NS Small Business of the Year award presented at the Mobius Awards of Environmental Excellence late last month. From left, Truro Veterinary Hospital manager Juanita Powell, owner and veterinarian Dr. Gwen Mowbray-Cashen, EfficiencyOne CEO Stephen MacDonald (category sponsor), Minister of Environment Iain Rankin, and Divert NS CEO Jeff MacCallum. Johanna Matthews (Portraits by Johanna) photo

TRURO – Most furry patients and their families don’t realize what’s happening behind the scenes at the Truro Veterinary Hospital.

In between the hustle and bustle of check-ups, vaccinations and nail-trims, its employees are working hard to save the planet.

From the environmentally-friendly (and paw-friendly) salt sprinkled on icy walkways to the homemade laundry soap for washing the reusable pet bedding, the entire care team has made a strong commitment to reducing their impact on the environment – all while caring for more than 4,000 animals annually.

Truro Veterinary Hospital owner and veterinarian Dr. Gwen Mowbray-Cashen says it was thrilling to receive Divert NS Small Business of the Year award. It was presented at the Mobius Awards of Environmental Excellence on Oct. 24 at the Halifax Harbourfront Marriott. She brought along her two children, Tara and Quinn, as well as her sister, Juanita – practice manager at Truro Vet.

Mowbray-Cashen says the win was a huge surprise, and that she and her team don’t think too much about their day-to-day environmental decisions – it’s simply how the practice operates.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing, and we like to think everybody is working hard at trying to make a difference in the world,” said Mowbray-Cashen. “We have another generation coming up, and we need to leave the planet in better shape than how we found it.”

The practice recently upgraded to programmable thermostats, energy-efficient appliances and LED lights. But its commitment to reducing waste has extended to absolutely everything that’s brought through the doors – from the reusable utensils for staff lunches, to the donated flier bags used for poo pick-up.

Mowbray-Cashen’s mother was also a veterinarian, so she started in the industry by cleaning kennels as a child. Because her mother grew up in England during the war, Mowbray-Cashen says she’s always been interested in reusing and repurposing items to save money and reduce waste.

Deborah Searle, Environmental & Education Officer with the Municipality of Colchester, says typically hospital settings produce a large quantity of daily waste. She nominated the practice for the Divert Nova Scotia Small Business of the Year because of their innovative solutions for diverting waste.

“The culture and commitment to focus on reducing waste and reusing literally everything possible at the Truro Vet should be an inspiration to everyone,” said Searle. “The number of creative ways they have found to reuse items is amazing.”

Empty IV bags are turned into plastic booties to protect little paws when dogs go outside after certain procedures. Old plastic bags are turned into heating pads by filling them with oats and sewing covers out of old blankets.

Mowbray-Cashen says they’re proud to be “paper light” and use as little as possible. They use dry-erase markers on laminated forms and questionnaires, and then transfer the data to a digital file. They email information to clients instead of printing paper copies. They reuse every sheet of non-confidential paper for jotting notes or making kennel cards.

Mowbray-Cashen says reducing waste in a medical environment can be challenging because certain things need to be trashed due to risk of infection – and other items come with extensive packaging to keep them sterile.

The practice’s surgery gloves, for example, come in a paper folder inside a plastic envelope. Mowbray-Cashen says they chose to purchase these particular gloves because the plastic and paper can be recycled, while other brands’ packaging cannot. She even reuses the gloves when she can, by holding a pet’s bandages in place.

“We’ve embraced the idea that to make a difference, you have to start with yourself,” said Mowbray-Cashen. “You can’t wait on big corporations to change.”

They have an extensive recycling and composting program – producing barely half a bag of garbage a day, practice-wide – and Mowbray-Cashen says regular “garbage audits” have been helpful.

“You can learn so much about your buying habits by going through your garbage – at home or at work – and seeing what can be changed,” said Mowbray-Cashen. “This is the only earth we have. We have to protect it.”