Falling for felines


Why these three veterinarians are inspired to give cat patients better care.

Dr. Ken Lambrecht and Bug. Courtesy Dr. Ken LambrechtMotivated by Bug, the adventure cat

At 12 weeks old, my cat Bug started to change the way I lived and how I saw my role as a veterinarian. I call her an adventure cat -hiking, sailing, camping, even stand-up paddle boarding are things she learned because those were my passions. I became bonded beyond any previous pet and started thinking about optimal preventive care and what could be done for all cats based on my strong bond with her.

I was in the middle of a practice downsize (from 12,000 to 5,000 square feet) when I got her. It was the perfect time to design our new practice to be cat-friendly. The new facility-although only 2,500 square feet per floor-was three floors, so we designed an entire upstairs for cats with five different cat boarding rooms, a cat hospital room, two cat gyms with tunnels that connect to catwalks that connect to main level, two climbing walls and a cat wheel, treadmill and more. We designed two of our three cat exam rooms to have windows to the outside. We hold our monthly “Cats Night Out” in Bug's gym to emphasize the importance of environmental enrichment for all cats. We also use the entire upstairs to house and socialize cats and kittens for our local rescues-it's not a fancy facility, but it puts pets and pet owners at ease because it's built with their perspective and preferences in mind.

Other areas affected by my extremely close bond with Bug have been nutrition, dentistry and anesthesia. I also travel with Bug extensively (even to Spain and Portugal), so I'm better able to discuss details of pet travel with my clients. Bug travels with me as I paddle-board race all over the Midwest. 

Bug's fearless spirit is perhaps what has inspired me the most to do things that might be a bit beyond my comfort zone. She has-without a doubt-changed my outlook and that of my staff on the role of cats in our clients' lives.

Ken Lambrecht, DVM, is medical director and owner of West Towne Veterinary Center in Madison, Wisconsin, an AAHA-accredited and Gold-Level Cat-Friendly-certified practice. 

Bug's Cat Gym at West Towne Veterinary Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Dr. Ken Lambrecht


The Valley Oak Veterinary Center's "Kitty Committee", from left, Ashly Shearer (technician), Lena Connolly (treatment team), Carole Cornwell (reception, customer service lead), Michelle Lawson, DVM, Hannah Miller (assistant), Heather Oberlander (treatment team) and Kaela Cumbee (reception, customer service). Not pictured is Gabby Mendoza (assistant). Change with a kitty committee 

Volunteering for projects is a weakness of mine. My most recent self-appointed project is at a 15-doctor, 24-hour, general, specialty and emergency hospital where I'm a fairly new employee of just a couple of years. As you can imagine, any project in this type of environment could be daunting.

When I initially suggested the notion of improving cat, client and staff quality of life through the American Association of Feline Practitioners' Cat-Friendly Practice (CFP) program, I received mixed responses. Some of the most memorable included, “What we've been doing has worked just fine,” and “I'm not really sure all this stuff is going to make a difference.” My response to this was simple: Are you willing to try? 

So, how did I maintain a positive attitude and focus? By forming a volunteer kitty committee of staff members who were cat- and client-loving as well as curious enough to give it a try. The committee's energy and willingness to not only check the CFP boxes but their empathy and shared enthusiasm paved the way to our CFP Silver Certification. This synergistic group diluted any initial trepidation I may have felt.

And here we are now about a year later, with ongoing feline-friendly training, compassion and acceptance spreading throughout the hospital. The first person invited to our Kitty Lounge, our cats-only reception nook, closed her eyes, gently exhaled and warmly thanked us as she cooed to her cat about having a private seating area. The team also “cozied up” our patient enclosures with fleece bedding, pheromones and a hiding box, and the cats seem more at ease and friendlier while under our care. And finally, staff members come to the kitty committee with ideas on how to improve the CFP experience at our hospital.

Now when we speak about the quality of life for cats, clients and staff, the responses are, “Why weren't we doing this before?” and “What a difference this made.” Once again, the cats have told us how to get it right.

Michelle Lawson, DVM, is an associate at Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, California. 

The "Kitty Lounge" at Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, California. Courtesy of Dr. Michelle Lawson


Trained-and raised-by cats

Dr. Evelyn RicherWhen I was an infant, in an era before baby monitors, we had a cat named Lollipop II.  He would sit by my crib and when I cried he would search out my mother. I grew up with his story and the story of Lollipop I, who greeted my father returning home from World War II by laying a giant sewer rat at his feet. 

I was raised by cats, trained by cats and taught by cats: the tough, street-smart Lollipop II; Snort, who knew the New York City sewer rats were bigger than he was; ShaoBao and DaoBao, a pair of Siamese; Cinnamon, who had her litter of kittens on my bed; and Willie, whom I adopted in veterinary school because his upper respiratory infection was too severe for him to go back to the research colony.

Willie was the best teacher a veterinarian could have. He focused my attention on feline behavior normal and abnormal, chronic upper respiratory disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Over the years, as I continued to learn about feline behavior from my patients and some very wise technicians and veterinarians, I put to use the principles behind feline-friendly handling and nursing care. The Cat-Friendly Practice designation was a wonderful way to formalize and review the changes we were already making in our practice.

Listening to our patients, their body language and their needs has made practice more interesting, safer for cats and humans, and more fun for all. 

Evelyn Richer, DVM, is an associate at Cascade Animal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

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