The Dog House
How ISU alum Chris L. Middleton went from a high-tech marketing guy to insuring pets
In a south Boise office, canines are king but a Bengal is top dog.
Chris L. Middleton, who graduated from Idaho State University in 1988, is president of Pets Best Insurance, one of 13 companies in the country providing health insurance for cats and dogs.
“We sell policies in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.,” said Middleton, who attended ISU on a track scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in management and organization.
Middleton joined Pets Best in 2010 as marketing director after working 18 years in finance and marketing for Boise tech giant Hewlett-Packard.
Why Pet Insurance?
Veterinary medicine has become so sophisticated over the years that conditions once considered terminal or debilitating can be successfully treated, extending the quality of a pet’s life for years, say pet insurance advocates.
But vet bills for cancer treatments, surgery or disease management can be costly, forcing financially-strapped pet owners to put an animal down.
“Our mission is to stop economic euthanasia,” said Middleton. “We have a lot of flexibility in our products to allow consumers to get a product that matches their needs.”
Policies range from comprehensive coverage for accidents and illness, including heredity and congenital conditions, to wellness and accident-only plans. Customers can choose reimbursement rates and deductibles. Pet insurance companies in the United States do not cover pre-existing conditions.
Pets Best insures approximately 60,000 dogs and cats with the typical premium costing about $520 a year excluding wellness coverage, said Middleton.
A Day at the Office
he American Pet Products Association—a trade organization that keeps tabs on pet ownership in the United States—estimates that up to 47 percent of households own a dog and 37 percent have a cat.
Walk through the halls of Pets Best on any given day and you’ll witness that passion for pets firsthand. More than a dozen dogs (and an occasional cat) accompany their owners to work. They snooze on mattresses, nibble on snacks and attend staff meetings. A little dog named Moe—his back legs paralyzed when he was hit by a car several years ago—zips around in a custom-made wheel chair.
“It’s great being able to bring our pets to work. Pets make the office more fun, and all those happy faces help to reduce stress,” said information systems director Paul Crane, who brings his dog Tobey to the office several times a week.
Crane, who graduated from ISU in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and computer information systems, is one of Middleton’s 63 employees who navigate the complexities of pet insurance daily.
“It’s an intensely regulated business and navigating those regulations on a state-by-state basis is a very significant challenge,” said Middleton.
Although only 1 percent of cats and dogs in the U.S. are insured, pet insurance is one of the fastest growing insurance categories in the country.
A committed pet owner himself—his dogs Attie and Otto were at his side during the interview—Middleton enjoys the small-business environment of Pets Best.
“You get to come in every day, work with a great team and see directly how your efforts matter,” he said.