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Bonus: Fido Goes South

 September 15, 2021 at 4:37 AM PDT

From KPBS and PRX… This… is Port of Entry… Where we tell cross-border stories… That connect us. Soy Alan Lilienthal., we’ve got another “Border Voices” short for you. Enjoy. *** Clip 1 mexivet_marco_mixdown Good morning, Anna here with MexiVet. So it is Saturday and we are on our way to go pick up our frequent flyer, Marco, who is going for his fourth and possibly final chemo treatment. BEAT Clip 1 Mexivet_vida Good morning, Anna here with with MexiVet. It is Sunday, working on a Sunday, Sunday morning, around 9:15, and I'm on my way to pick up a dog named Vita who is getting knee tendon repair surgery. Clip 1 mexivet_poki Picking Up Poki Good morning. It's about 8:00 AM and I am on my way to pick up a little Chihuahua named pokey who has hip dysplasia... Clip 1 mexivet_jack It is Thursday morning at around 8:30 and I'm on my way to pick up a Husky named Jack who has a tumor on his liver. BEAT So this is Anna Ginsky (Gin-ski)… And as you can hear….she’s a busy woman. In 2018... Anna started a business called MexiVet Express… first... it was just a little side gig. But now? it’s big business. She drives around picking up animals in San Diego… Clip 1 mexivet_charlie_mixdown Hey guys. How you doing? Kid: My dog is going to the hospital. Hi, he is. He's going to the vet. Do you know what he's getting done there? Yup. They're going to clean his teeth. Kid: They're all Brown and dirty. Not like you're a do this look very good. Yeah. He doesn't brush his teeth as much as you do. I bet. Then Anna takes the pets across the border to Tijuana…. Clip 2 mexivet_charlie_mixdown It is about 9:15, and we are crossing into Mexico right now. Clip 2 from Mexivet_vida It's about 10 oh eight. Um, we're crossing into Mexico shortly. They Clip 2 mexivet_marco_mixdown We are at the border. It is 8:30 and we've just crossed into Mexico really quickly. BEAT FADE Clip 3 mexivet_marco_mixdown And now Vet Playas is about 10 minutes from, from this point. Once in Tijuana...the pets get way more affordable vet care. Clip 4 from mexivet_marco_mixdown And we are at Vet Playas. And I'm going to go check us all in, even though we are quite early. BEAT Anna’s ability to easily cross the border from San Diego to Tijuana is what makes her business possible. Because the deals she gets at places like Vet Playas are pretty darn good. Clip 20 Mexivet_Moana Driving Into Mexico The x-rays here are $40. Pretty amazing. Yeah. Clip 3 mexivet_charlie_mixdown And I think that the extractions here around $10, sometimes even less per tooth when they extract so many, they probably won't charge the full 90. And, um, that's quite the deal. Cause in the U S they can be like 200 a piece. So...because of the huge price difference between the U.S. and Mexico when it comes to vet care and, actually….pretty much everything… Anna’s booming. Clip 17 MexiVet full interview Yeah. At this point I have to build in a day off. Yeah. I'm getting really, really busy. Back when we first talked to Anna last year, she was running her business solo. Now she’s up to a team of 11...6 dedicated drivers who help her cross the border with people’s pets, and four other support staffers who help with things like marketing and administration. BEAT I completely understand why Anna’s business is taking off… I have a dog I got in Mexico. His name is Talco and he is basically my son…. Alan Talco Clip Alan talking sweetly to Talco. Talco is a champ… So...I haven’t had to take him to the vet for anything serious yet…. But if he does ever need something done… I will without question do everything in my power to get my furry child what he needs. And I’m definitely not alone. Most humans I know will do almost anything to keep our animals alive and healthy. We love our pets...they’re part of our families. BEAT FADE Sometimes though, at least in the US, the price tag is just way too high... And then...we’re asked to impossible decision…. Go broke to save our animal friends….or put them down.. forever. Anna….though… Is offering an alternative to that… BEAT Clip 22 Mexivet_Moana_mixdown So we've um, so we're here at Malana's home. Um, Milan has just gotten out of the car and the family's had a chance to see her. So how are you guys feeling with having Milana back? Oh, happy. Welcome. She looks, she looks good. She looks happy. She already looks very acclimated to her new tripod. Yay. Cool. She’s using our proximity to the border here to help families like the one you just heard pay for big things like the amputation Moanna needed… Clip 21 MexiVet fu ll interview You know, it's, it's fun having a job where you are making a difference where you like really mattered to somebody, um, where you're providing this really important service to them. You know, in some cases you're like saving their pet's life and they wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise…. Ok...more Anna...and more animals… Right after the break. Regresamos en unos minutos… BEAT FADE MIDROLL 1 De vuelta al podcast. *** Clip 5 mexivet_marco_mixdown Okay. Another happy customer. And now I go home for one hour and then I go back down. BEAT So...before Anna was driving back and forth across the border to take pets from San Diego and LA to vets down in Tijuana… She was a barista at a coffee shop. And because she was on a barista’s budget…. She used to take her own dog across the border for care when she needed it. Clip 3 MexiVet full interview ….And that started probably about five years ago. Um, my dog got a quote at a vet up here in San Diego for some dental work that she needed. And it was going to be like teeth cleaning, possible extractions, blood work, you know, the usual... and I was quoted upwards of $2000 and I had just kind of had sticker shock, like, oh my gosh, for dental. And I was talking to one of my girlfriends and she was like, well, we, we get our teeth, we get our dental stuff done in Mexico. Maybe they have like doggy dental in Mexico. I was like, you're a genius! Maybe they do. Anna ended up paying just a few hundred dollars that first trip down to Tijuana… And...her dog’s teeth were as good as new. Clip 4 MexiVet full interview Yeah, from then I was hooked. Then I felt this like freedom, this Liberty to kind of give my dog the Cadillac package of vet care, you know, like little, any little lump. I was like, let's get that little lump checked. Let's do cytology on that. Let's see what it is. We can afford this. We have a hundred bucks, let's do it. BEAT Clip 4 MexiVet full interview And so, and I would always tell my friends, oh yeah, I'm going down to our vet and TJ, we're getting this done. And this done, and this done, it's going to cost this much. And I'm like bragging for three years. I'm so proud and excited of what I'm able to afford for her. And the care I can provide her. And my friends were always like, You know, that's really great. And we would do that for our pets, except for, you know, we don't know the roads, or we don't speak Spanish. We don't feel comfortable doing it. So they were always kind of pushing me. Like, you should start a business out of this. You're so comfortable doing it. You should start a business out of this. BEAT Fade Anna did eventually start seriously thinking about making crossing the border her business. BEAT So... this whole business concept is mostly based on that big gap between prices in the U.S. and Mexico. It’s a gap that can be partially explained by stricter regulations in the U.S. when it comes to vet licenses, training, insurance and a looot more. If you talk to vets in the U.S., they are not likely to recommend sending your beloved pet across the border, especially for the more serious surgeries. In fact, lots of vets in San Diego probably have horror stories they can share about shoddy vet care they’ve seen south of the border. But honestly, you can find medical horror stories everywhere. Anyway...there will always be a huge chunk of Anna’s potential customers that would never feel comfortable sending their fur babies to another country for care. But.. for those who do feel comfortable with the concept...Anna’s cross-border pet service business relies on the convenience she’s offering… People from the U.S. are definitely willing to pay others to do the sometimes frustrating and long cross-border drive for them… But also... the business benefits from this pervasive fear that so many people in the U.S. have when it comes to Mexico and especially Tijuana.. Lots of folks still think they’re in some kind of danger the minute they cross the border. Anna though? She’s always felt super safe in Tijuana. Clip 5 MexiVet full interview I have always loved Mexico. I've always, I've always loved Tijuana. Um, I've always been the one in my friend group to organize, you know, like, let's go to Valle de Guadalupe, let's go, let's go. Just grab a few beers and tacos across the border. Clip 6 MexiVet full interview for me, I knew the streets. I speak the language. Um, I feel very comfortable. I mean, even just feeling comfortable, it's kind of a mindset, you know? And so I've already kind of been able to establish that mindset of safety and comfort across the border. BEAT FADE On the surface, Anna is a quintessential gringa... blonde hair, light skin...the classic stereotypes... But...she feels more connected to Mexico than most because she grew up in a blended family and her stepsister has a Mexican father. She has vivid memories of going to his house...she says she always loved how rich and vibrant and different everything felt there… BEAT Clip 7 MexiVet full interview His house was always so colorful. It had like the awesome tile work. He was always cooking something. So it always smelled like garlic and onions cooking in there. And his personality is so vibrant and he's really talkative and he's very loving and um, welcoming for sure. And so for me, I just, from a young age became completely enamored with Mexican culture. And I went to San Diego school of creative and performing arts. So they offered, um, Spanish at, I think at the starting at the fourth grade, you could start taking Spanish classes and I jumped right in. About just as quickly they offered dances of Mexico and Spain. And I jumped right in like anything that I could get my hands on that had anything to do with Latin America. I was all in: cooking classes and, you know, making horchata in sixth grade from scratch. And to me, that was all just the best ever. BEAT Transition Anna’s family would also do occasional trips down to a fishing village at the tip of baja… And her school would sometimes take trips to orphanages in Tijuana and Rosarito…. And even in those orphanages with dirt floors and other things she wasn’t used to in the U.S.… Anna says that for some reason, she always felt more at home in Mexico than she ever has on this side of the border. Clip 8 MexiVet full interview I dunno how to describe it. It just feels like an environment that's kind of more organic and natural and one that I'm comfortable in. BEAT Clip 10 MexiVet full interview I mean, the driving is kind of crazy down there, but I think it's really exciting. I think some stuff that people might, might look at as like crazy, or maybe, um, in some way kind of like too fast or maybe a little dangerous seems chaos. That's the word I'm looking for? Seems chaotic to me, it seems like fun and there is a sense of order within that chaos, if you can figure it out. BEAT Transition 2018….Anna officially launched her cross-border business. BEAT Clip 11 MexiVet full interview I had to kind of come to the conclusion that it was not a totally crazy idea. And that took a while, I'd say that, I'd say it kind of, um, bounced around in my head for probably a year. And I was just kind of thinking about the logistics of it and, you know, figuring out what are the laws and just really drilling down into like, is that a feasible business, um, opportunity. And then once I concluded, yes, I spoke with the owner of vet playas, Ron Richards, and, and told him, Hey, I'm thinking about starting this business where I bring pets down to TJ for vet care. And he immediately was like, I have people for you. I have people that don't want to do the driving. Like if you start this business, like I have somebody for you tomorrow. It's like, okay, let's do it. And it was, it was pretty much that quick I had, I started having clients pretty quickly. For a few years, though, MexiVet was Anna’s side gig. But then….the pandemic hit...and she decided she didn’t want to be exposed so much, in so many different ways by working multiple jobs… So, she quit everything that wasn’t MexiVet and threw herself into her business full-time. Clip 15 MexiVet full interview It's funny when you, when you put all your attention into something, how suddenly it grows and you realize like, wow, I can't go back. I can't even go back to any other jobs if I wanted to, because now that I've, you know, cut off the other jobs and put all of my attention into this, you know, it's blossomed. So...for a short time when the federal government closed the border to everything but essential travel, Anna thought her new business might have to shut down… But...she looked into it and found that veterinary care is considered essential, so she was able to keep things going. And actually...the pandemic made her business grow even faster…. Vets in the U.S. were limiting visits and getting jammed up with backlogs… For Anna...that meant even more people looking for outside-the-box sending their pets to Tijuana for care. Clip 22 MexiVet full interview Yeah. I definitely have during this, um, during the pandemic, I have picked up more clients. BEAT Clip 1 MexiVet full interview The border crossing has been for the most part a little bit unpredictable. I feel like before this whole COVID thing started, I had it kind of down to a science, but now you never really know how many guards are going to be staffed in the booths. And so sometimes there's a serious bottleneck effect. That's kind of hard to anticipate, but for the most part it's been fine. BEAT So...since a pandemic and a partially closed border didn’t stop her business… Anna says she’s feelin’ pretty good about its future. Her plan is to possibly expand the business idea to other cities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Clip 23 MexiVet full interview Yeah, I mean, I think that I think the expansion opportunity, you know, any business, the expansion opportunity is only limited by what you can conjure up. Mexi vet is like my baby and it challenges me all the time. I'm learning so much with it. I'm growing so much with it. And….you know, I love the business that I'm creating and all the people that I get to meet because of it and all the stories that I get to hear. And, And you know, I've cried. I cry with clients like probably at least every week. Oftentimes like tears of happiness or, you know, whatever it is. Um, so it's been a very, I mean, the job, the business that I'm creating means so much to me. BEAT FADE So...just a quick note…we made some changes to this episode to add more details about why vet care is so much less expensive in Mexico. Thanks to some of our vet pals in San Diego for voicing their concerns. If you want more info about Anna and MexiVet, join our Transborder Facebook group. We’ll put a link in the episode notes, or you can just search for the word “Transborder” or “fronterizo” in Facebook groups and you’ll find us. BEAT Transition Port of Entry is written and produced by Kinsee Morlan. Emily Jankowski is the co-producer and director of sound design. Alisa Barba is our editor. Lisa Morissette is operations manager and John Decker is the interim associate general manager of content. I’m your host, Alan Lilienthal. This program is made possible (in part) by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people." Thanks for listening.

In this bonus episode, meet a woman who takes people’s pets from San Diego to Tijuana for more affordable veterinary care. It’s a story about the great lengths we’ll go to for our furry friends. Clarification: We made some changes to this episode and added more details and context about some of the reasons why vet care is so much less expensive in Mexico. Thanks to some of our vet pals in San Diego for voicing their concerns.