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University of Missouri

You’re In Good Paws

Vet med alumnus Jack Stephens is a pioneer for pets.

Jack and Vicki Stephens

Clearly animal lovers, veterinarian and Pets Best Insurance founder Jack Stephens and his wife, Vicki, are shown here with their 10 dogs. Photo courtesy Jack Stephens.

As a healer of animals, Jack Stephens, DVM ’72, was dumbfounded when he looked into the tear-welled eyes of a little girl at the supermarket.

You’re the man who killed my dog,” she said.

It was a seminal moment in 1979 for Veterinary Pet Insurance’s founder who now owns another insurance company, Pets Best.

It still jars me, but at the same time, motivates me to continue my quest to make sure that no pet is euthanized at a veterinary clinic because a family can’t pay for a procedure that could improve the life of a pet,” Stephens says.

More than 30 years later, Pets Best sells policies with premiums that average about $30 per month and cover from 70 to 100 percent of veterinarian bills. It can turn a $7,000 vet bill and into a more manageable $1,400. Plans can be customized for specific pets and ailments.

The idea was so revolutionary that the first pet insured was a descendant of arguably the most famous dog of all time — Lassie, star of the 1950s TV series.

Stephens, who received throat cancer radiation treatment in 1990, lives with his wife, Vicki, and nine dogs in Twin Falls, Idaho. The couple adores their canine companions, but Stephens jokes pet owners are sometimes worse than doting grandparents.

Mention you are a veterinarian at social gatherings and you quickly become overwhelmed with stories about pets. ‘My dog Jake can ring the doorbell,’ or ‘My cat can point out the sports section with her paw,’ ” Stephens says. “Now, when [someone] inquires what I do for a living, I just gleefully respond: ‘I sell insurance.’ The conversation quickly ceases. Success!”