Chestnut Arbor Veterinary Hospital introduces “fear free” veterinary medicine


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Chestnut Arbor Veterinary Hospital is bringing a new concept in veterinary medicine to Matthews.

The practice is owned and operated by New Jersey native Dr. Jennifer Merlo.  After earning her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Ohio State in 2004, Merlo began her career as a vet working with horses.  Her work with horses is what brought her to the Carolinas, where she initially worked at North Carolina State University.



Due to the demanding, 24/7 nature of working with horses, Merlo made the decision to switch to small animals.  She moved to Charlotte in 2007 and worked at a number of different practices in the area, most recently at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews.

Through her work with small animals, Merlo began to develop a passion for a new concept in veterinary care: “fear free” veterinary medicine.  It’s well known that stress can impact our own health. “Pets are the same way,” says Merlo. “Even though a lot of people don’t realize it, they undergo a lot of sources of stress, going to the vet’s office being a big one.” 

Traditional veterinary offices are loud, busy, and full of unfamiliar sights and smells.  Pets are often taken away from the comfort and safety of their owners to have procedures completed.  These are all sources of stress. Pets retain the memories of these stressful experiences and may become fearful or even aggressive when the time comes to visit the vet again.  Caregivers whose pets exhibit this behavior may be reluctant to bring their pet to the vet, with the end result that their pet’s health suffers. “We can’t treat them if we don’t see them,” points out Merlo.  

Fear free veterinary medicine changes all of that.   “Everything we do is done in a way to decrease any anxiety or stress that the pets feel,” says Merlo.  Things like the design of the floors, the color of the walls, and the arrangement of the room are chosen with the animals in mind.  The air is infused with pheromones that have been proven to reduce stress in animals. The staff provides animal visitors with toys, treats and plenty of positive reinforcement.  They get down on the floor with animals for treatment instead of forcing them on to an exam table. Almost all procedures are completed in the exam rooms with the pets’ owners present.   “We just try to make it a more pleasant experience with them so they don’t assoc the vet’s office with being scary,” says Merlo.

Merlo’s passion for fear free medicine is what motivated her to open her own veterinary practice in Matthews.  “I knew I wanted to create an environment were the pets are happy to come to the vet’s office,” says Merlo. “The happier the pets are, the more likely their owners are to take them to the vet’s office, and the more proactive care we can give to our dogs and cats.”

Chestnut Arbor is a full service veterinary hospital that provides all the services a traditional vet’s office does for brand new puppies and kittens through senior pets: routine vaccinations, deworming, blood work, x-rays, general surgery, ultrasounds, and nutritional and behavioral counseling.  They are also able to offer house calls when needed for established patients as well as in-home euthanasia.

“I think what sets us apart is the way we go about doing it,” says Merlo.  “We really pride ourselves on spending time with our clients and getting to know our clients on a first name basis. We don’t do cookie cutter medicine.  We tailor all our plans to that individual patient.”

If you’re interested in trying out Chestnut Arbor’s fear free approach to veterinary medicine, give them a call at 980-262-2180 or check out their web site.  Chestnut Arbor also welcomes prospective clients to come in during business hours for a tour. Chestnut Arbor is located next to Mario’s Pizza in the Chestnut Arbor shopping center on Matthews-Weddington Road.  They are open Monday through Friday from 7:45 am to 6:45 pm with the exception of Wednesdays when they close at 2:00 pm.

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011.