Leadership is providing people a clear set of objectives and giving them the tools to succeed to reach that objective. Making sure people can grow, are encouraged and rewarded for their efforts and not just working for a paycheck, is the key to success.
ElleVet Sciences’ CEO and co-founder Christian Kjaer and co-founder Amanda Howland have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of all pets. Together they developed the “Pets In Need Project,” a relief mission designed to provide much-needed veterinary care, food and supplies, FREE of charge, to pets of the vulnerable homeless communities impacted by COVID-19. The 8-week mobile pet-relief program has the co-founders driving a 38-foot vehicle to homeless areas throughout California helping homeless pets and street pets.
Kjaer is credited with developing the business strategy for ElleVet and positioning the company for its current success in a crowded hemp (cannabidiol) market, focusing on research-based products that deliver the best support for dogs and cats affecting mood, appetite, the immune system, and more.
A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, Kjaer received a master’s degree in business from the Copenhagen Business School. Kjaer is a dog-lover and horse-riding and kayak enthusiast, who currently resides in Portland, Maine, the headquarters of ElleVet Sciences. He has two daughters and many pet friends.
Howland has more than 20 years of experience in public health research and marketing and was responsible for creating ElleVet’s first clinical trial with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Treatment. The trial was the first of its kind using a specific formula of on dogs with osteoarthritis. It resulted in more than 80 percent of participating dogs showing significant or dramatic improvement while using the company’s proprietary hemp animal products
A native of Wenham, Mass., a small town north of Boston, Howland earned a bachelor’s degree from Colby College and a master’s degree in public health from the University of New England. An avid horse rider, skier and life-long animal lover, she currently resides in Portland, Maine. She has three adult daughters and one doted-on dog named Cassie, a 12-year-old Havanese.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Christian Kjaer- I grew up in Denmark in a house filled with loving parents and an older brother and sister. Besides a passion for animals,my hobbies include riding horses and kayaking. I had a German Shorthaired Pointer named Ike, who was a beautiful and fantastic dog.
During high school, I was lucky to be able to come to the U.S. to study in Mississippi, which was quite different from high school in Denmark. I become obsessed with big hair bands, which has stuck with me all these years. I went to business school and while working as a consultant, ended up working on a project with Westbrook, Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories and then ended up being hired by IDEXX, which is how I got to the U.S. and Portland, Maine where ElleVet Sciences is now located. I met Amanda in Portland and together we founded ElleVet Sciences and completed the very first clinical trial with Cornell Vet School using for dogs.
Amanda Howland- I was raised in a tiny town north of Boston Massachusetts, called Wenham with my parents and a younger brother. Like Christian, I spent many, many hours riding horses. My love for animals began with Muffin, my English Sheepdog, and my cats Smokey and Bob. I was the kid that helped all the animals in our neighborhood, rescuing baby birds that fell out of the nest or helping the baby bunnies.
I earned my bachelor’s degree from Colby College and then went to the University of New England for a master’s in public health. I became interested in as a treatment method for animals when I learned about cancer research using in humans. In 2016, we reached out to Cornell College of Veterinary Treatment asking if they would be interested in doing a clinical trial on dogs using a specific strain. This was the first clinical trial using on dogs with osteoarthritis and it was incredibly successful. And, four years later, ElleVet Sciences is thriving and helping dogs and cats every day.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Amanda Howland — “Horse Heaven” by Jane Smiley. It showed the arc of the lives of racehorses and how incredibly tragic their lives can be after they cannot race, and the lives of non-elite racehorses. It showed human kindness and hope but also the flip side and the cruelty inflicted on animals. She is an extraordinary writer and the stories resonated with me as true and accurate, and touched me. They have stuck with me for a very long time!
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
We both strongly believe in “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular” by Roy T. Bennett.
It is very true that doing what is right or standing up for what is right isn’t always the popular choice and certainly not the easy choice when it comes to going against the tide of opinion.
Developing an eight-week mobile relief effort helping homeless and street pets throughout California during a pandemic with a ‘shelter is in place’ order proved to have challenges, but we knew we needed to do what was needed. We felt and still feel it is the right thing to do and we are able to make a difference helping a vulnerable population.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
Christian Kjaer — The “Pets in Need Project” is the charitable part of our company, ElleVet Sciences. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we learned about the devastation effects it brought to homeless communities. Within homeless communities there is a large pet population and we were learning about how the homeless pet owners were making sacrifices of food and shelter for their pets’ needs. Since we have dedicated our lives to animal care, we know we had to galvanize a plan to help both the homeless pets and the new amount of street pets that have been abandoned because of challenges with the virus.
“Pets in Need Project” grew into an eight-week free mobile relief mission throughout California helping the homeless areas hard hit by COVID-19.
Many of us have ideas, dreams and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Amanda Howland — Right from the beginning of founding ElleVet in 2016, Christian and I discussed that we wanted to do good in the world. First, by making the best product for pets so we could help pets, and second, by creating a charitable part of ElleVet to help pets in need. We discussed starting an animal rescue and a few other options, but hadn’t yet landed on what would be the best way for us to give back. When Covid19 happened, it was our ‘aha moment,’ and we went into action. The homeless have fewer resources than usual, and the homeless population is increasing because of people losing their jobs and it directly impacts their pets. I said to Christian: “I think we should rent a giant RV and go to California and treat the pets of the homeless with a team of veterinarians.” He looked at me and immediately responded: “Yes, let’s do it!” Within four weeks we were on a plane to California, picked up an RV, organized a team of local veterinarians, worked with various municipalities and gained some pet-loving celebrity supporters and our relief efforts began. We often say, ‘this is a little crazy and a lot good!’
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Amanda Howland — During our first week in San Diego a woman came to the shelter with her dog, a little white Maltese mix named Sophie. During the course of giving her dog an exam, we talked to her and she told us that she was sick and needed surgery but was worried about her dog and explained that she wanted to rehome her. She was recently homeless and had previously rescued and rehomed dogs and was serious about finding a home for her dog prior to her surgery. We offered to help her by posting about adopting Sophie to our Facebook page. We reached about 30,000 people and had hundreds of requests to adopt her. After narrowing down the list we gave the information to Sophie’s owner and she found a lovely woman to adopt her dog.
Christian and I went to visit Sophie in her new home. We took pictures to share with her first mom and reassure her that she could go in for surgery without any worrying about Sophie. This made an impact on us, as we keep saying ‘one dog at a time,’ and Sophie received her ‘happy ever after.’ On top of that, we helped a lovely woman have some peace so she can focus on her own health.
Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?
Amanda Howland & Christian Kjaer First of all, the communities we are visiting have been incredibly helpful in alerting the homeless pet-owner population to come seek free treatment and improve their pets’ lives. The more people are aware of our relief efforts the more pets we can help!
Secondly, we are providing valuable information and supplies to help them after we leave, but also advice on what the community can do to help with continued support. We recently visited LakePort, California and noticed how that community takes care of each other. We saw a large number of pet clients and the community leaders attended to interact with the homeless people and learn more about their needs and concerns. It was an incredible experience and we left knowing that people are really trying to help their community.
The third thing is to ask for help. It’s funny that people are often hesitant to ask for help and that goes for communities as well. If your community needs our help with their pets, please reach out. We would love to hear from anyone who needs our services.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Christian Kjaer — Leadership is providing people a clear set of objectives and giving them the tools to succeed to reach that objective. Making sure people can grow, are encouraged and rewarded for their efforts and not just working for a paycheck, is the key to success.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Amanda Howland & Christian Kjaer — We did hear from detractors that we couldn’t make the “Pet’s in Need Project” happen. Fortunately, we didn’t listen. Here are the tips we learned from creating a mobile pet relief experience:
- If you are using a 38” RV for a relief mission, practice driving it. Christian has now mastered his driving skills, but there was a steep learning curve. Also, RV toilet paper is a thing, and you need to use it or things get concerning.
- Make sure you have all the supplies you need to be successful and learn to pivot. We set the bar high and were ready with microscopes and diagnostic tools. However, we learned on day-one that we needed to have street treatment. One example is we realized we over purchased heartworm tests, but didn’t secure enough feline vaccines. Luckily we were able to place urgent orders to stock up quickly on what we needed.
- A Veterinarian we knew told us that in 10 years he has seen 400 street pets, which he assumed was a good number. Based on our first initial weeks, we believe we will treat approximately 1000 pets in two months. That proves we are making a real impact in a short amount of time! We are working long days in the California heat and by the end of the day we are exhausted and dirty. But, when we have a line of people waiting to help their pet, we need to forge ahead.
- One thing we have learned from being entrepreneurs, while building ElleVet from the ground up, is to not be afraid of big ideas. If you allow yourself the brain space to think creatively, you can do incredible things. Don’t be afraid to act or be afraid to fall down, just learn from your mistakes and get up and do it even better. We had some major setbacks in the early days of ElleVet because no one knew what the rules were as far as pet products, but we believed in our product and that pets could benefit so we kept forging ahead.
- Work with people who have vision and believe in your vision. We have been so fortunate with the “Pets in Need Project” to work with amazing veterinarians who had the attitude of, ‘we don’t know what is going to happen out there but we will figure it out together because this is an amazing opportunity.’ It was the same with ElleVet. It was a new industry and we were learning as we went. We had a small team where the attitude was to do whatever needs doing and work together to get it done and keep our focus on doing the right thing.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Christian Kjaer — I would tell them that they will be better people for it, will be better citizens, and will know they have done something to improve the lives of others which is immeasurable. One of the things we want to do with the “Pets in Need Project” going forward is to partner with veterinary schools so that veterinarian students can rotate their services and spend a few weeks on the road treating pets of the homeless and becoming aware of the need. Our goal is to have at least four RV’s traveling throughout the country and maintain our connection and pet care with the communities we touch.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Well, Obama is the first on the list, but he’s a busy man so I would say either Jane Goodall or one of the Shedrick Family, who started the David Shedrick Wildlife Trust and rescues orphan elephants, rhinos, and other animals as well as helping with anti-poaching.