Simmonds Veterinary Hospital

Growing up on a farm on the island of Jamaica, Dr. Debby Cougar always dreamt of becoming a veterinarian.  She never dreamed she would become a veterinarian who would lunch with the President of the United States, chatting casually about the First Family’s pet.

President Barack Obama had come to the Lehigh Valley, known for its blue-collar character and industrial struggles, to kick off a national tour to discuss job creation. On December 4, 2009, Dr. Cougar joined a small table of small business owners to talk with the president over a hamburger at Hamilton Family Restaurant in Allentown, Pa.

Having started her veterinary practice one year ago—in the throes of a national recession—Dr. Cougar was well qualified to discuss a small business owner’s struggles. She could also attest to how a US Small Business Administration backed loan enabled her to realize her dream of business ownership.

After 12 years of practicing veterinary medicine under others, Dr. Cougar was ready to strike out on her own and make her own decisions about what would be best for her patients. The weak economy and tight credit market complicated these plans, however. Dr. Cougar knew that she needed an expertly-crafted business plan and seasoned advice on presenting it to the right financing institutions. She turned to experts at the Lehigh University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to meticulously review the details needed to secure the necessary business financing.   

In the fall of 2008, American Bank issued an SBA-backed business financing loan to Dr. Cougar, at once validating her dedication and making her entrepreneurial dreams a reality.  New realities keep arriving, and she was able to express these during the lunch with the president.

“I talked about people basically lacking disposable income due to the current economic climate,” she said, also noting that small businesses like hers are finding credit and working capital harder to come by. “Any additional access to working capital, such as the micro-loan program, would be helpful. A tax credit for new hires would provide additional incentive to increase staff.”

“President Obama was very encouraging and said that once the job market improves, people will start spending more on their pets.  He also informed us of programs that they're doing with SBA loans,” she said. “Just seeing my president in person was memorable. Hearing him talk to me about his dog Bo was a definite highlight, as well as his daughters' interest in becoming veterinarians.”

Reflecting on her first year as owner of Simmonds Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Cougar acknowledged many challenges but reports business is steadily growing. She credits the SBDC for helping her chart a course for success. Already she’s hired several employees.

“I am relying on advertising and word of mouth to keep things moving in a positive direction,” she said.