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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Colorado's Cat Care Society Updates Its Cat Clinic

“To Be a Friend to All Cats”

Walking down a flight of grey steps at Colorado's Cat Care Society leads to a bright light at the bottom doorway. Once inside the Cat Clinic you are greeted by a giant orange tabby named Max.

Max does his thing at the Cat Clinic.
Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“He does tricks,” says Hilary Harman, the Front Desk/Room Assistant at the clinic. She holds a tiny cat treat in her fingers a few inches above Max’s head. Max then stands on his hind legs to reach the treat, which he eats with a few quick chews. “Well,” laughs Harman, “he does one trick.” Considering his size, the feat is quite impressive. 

The Cat Care Society is a special shelter in Lakewood, CO. As the name suggests, this animal shelter is cats only. That is because cats can face unique challenges when it comes to pet adoption and medical care. Especially in dog-centric Colorado, the Cat Care Society fulfills a needed void in animal rescue.

Founded over 20 years ago, the Cat Care Society is home to the city’s homeless, injured and abused cats. The shelter is also unique in that is it “cageless,” the cats roam free in and around the shelter. Some of the cats are divided into groups and housed together in different rooms that fit their personality, such as a room for shy cats and a room for kittens. Some cats have free reign of the shelter’s main hallway. When guests enter the lobby, they are often greeted by resident cats at the front desk.
Colorado's Cat Care Society. Photo by What's Pawsitive.

What people may not know is that as a part of the shelter’s services, the Cat Clinic in the downstairs portion of the building provides medical care for the shelter’s residents as well as services available to the public. While all pet owners should have a regular veterinarian to care for their pets, the Cat Clinic can provide some services at a significantly lower cost. With a minor remodel and some new equipment, the Cat Clinic can now serve more cats.

Heather Allen is the Executive Director of the Cat Care Society and spearheaded the update of the clinic shortly after being hired as Shelter Manager in 2015. When she was promoted in January 2016, the clinic changes were her main priority. The clinic also hired new head veterinarian Dr. Katie Weisanen in February.

Visitors can enjoy a new waiting room area that is comfortable for cats and their families. A colorful cat mural and an art gallery wall invite patients into the space to sit on the new furniture. Special kennel covers are available for “scared-y cats.” Cats who are unhappy about a vet visit can have these soft covers placed over their kennels to provide a bit of peace and quiet.

Cat Clinic mural. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“We’ve put a lot of new protocols in place because we want to ensure it is a fear free vantage point and calming environment for the kitties,” says Allen, “and we have a really seasoned staff that are very good with cats and love interacting with them. So if you have a scared cat, you don’t have to worry. We will take very good care of them.”

As Allen gives a tour of the clinic, one of the biggest updates is the least noticeable. While the clinic still occupies roughly the same square footage, the smaller modern equipment, and a little storage reorganization, has increased the clinic’s work area and efficiency. Here Allen and Dr. Katie proudly show off their new toys.

First is an Idexx Labs blood work machine for in-house blood tests. In partnership with Idexx Labs of the US, however, for every test they do that is sent to the lab, the clinic gets $10 off of their total bill. They haven’t had to pay a bill the last few months. Another new tool is the Urine Culture Test. Since felines are susceptible to urinary tract diseases, this test kit looks for bacteria in the urine. While the culture test doesn’t provide all the answers, it is still vital.

“It doesn’t tell you what antibiotics to use,” says Dr. Katie. “It doesn’t tell you what bacteria it is, but it does give you a ‘yes or no,’ which is nice because some things you need to know right away. Sure, eventually you do need to know what [kind] the bacteria is, but sometimes you just need a yes or no.” For stray cats who come into the shelter with no medical information, this can be an important test.

Tonopen to test for glaucoma. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
“It will save us from treating cats that don’t have UTI,” Dr. Katie continues. “If it’s negative, you don’t do antibiotics. We used to do an antibiotic course because it looked like [a cat had] UTI. Even at our cost it’s still $75-85 to get a culture sent out. Getting an answer in house helps to save some of that cost.”

Another small, but mighty piece of equipment is the Digital Dental X-ray tool. This tiny piece of equipment puts cat dental x-rays on the computer instead of having to print large chemically-made photographs that also take a long time to develop. Photo x-rays also take up a lot of space. This digital x-ray is a tiny sensor that goes inside the cat’s mouth to take pictures of the cat’s teeth and then send the images as a digital file directly to a computer screen where Dr. Katie can look at it. While expensive, it is faster and cat-sized. The entire system fits inside a small black box.

Another interesting item is a Tonopen that quickly and easily measures intraocular eye pressure. This equipment, which looks and is held like a pen, is used to test eyes for glaucoma. The clinic also now has one Circulating Water Blanket System, used when the cats are under anesthesia. It is important to keep a cat’s body temperature up to normal while under anesthesia and traditional heating pads have been known to cause burns. A Circulating Water Blanket works better and safer. Allen hopes to get a second one soon. For Dr. Katie, this new equipment is important to have.
An exam room at the Cat Clinic. Photo by What's Pawsitive.

“The dental x-ray was an emergency [need] to me because I didn’t feel like I could do a dental medically correctly until I got that. Certainly we could have hand-developed the film, but then you have to keep the cats asleep for an extra hour, which is not good. In house blood work was also an emergency, Now we can actually treat critically ill animals.”

All of these items come with a large price tag. Even when purchased used from other clinics, the Digital X-ray Machine alone was $7,800 and the Circulating Water System, Urine Culture Test, and the Tonopen were together around $2,000. However, Allen found creative ways to obtain the funding. While she applies for traditional grants from several organizations, she found that online crowd funding is faster. Using her 20 years of non-profit and animal rescue experience, Allen knows what works and what doesn’t.

“Crowd funds are more successful if they’re under $20,000 and they’re even more successful if they’re under $10,000 because the idea of a crowd fund is that you get a large volume of people donating $5 or less, so the lower [the dollar amount] is, the easier it is to hit.” The crowd fund for the new equipment was $13,000 and Cat Clinic supporters came through.

Not all of the updates are expensive. Allen has secured a contract for the clinic to carry Royal Canin brand prescription pet food. They sell it to the public and in exchange the shelter gets it for free for the cats that have special diets. Allen is working on getting regular cat food to sell as well. Currently between 15 and 18 shelter cats require a prescription diet.

Max and Harman at the front desk. Photo by What's Pawsitive.
The clinic has also updated its online administrative computer systems to keep tract of its public patients, to make and keep appointments and to make information easier for clients to access. The clinic can now text appointment reminders and other information to people instead of relying on old fashioned snail mail. With all these cost saving measures the clinic has been able to hire an additional vet, Dr. Barbara Goodrich, two vet technicians and make Harman’s front desk position full time.

All of these updates serve a dual purpose. Not only will this equipment help the shelter’s cats, but by increasing services to the public, the clinic can provide a revenue source for the shelter. Allen is in the process of looking at other spaces in the downstairs area for expansion of the clinic to increase the clinic’s value. She says they have added almost 200 new clients since the updates began. Staff and volunteers have become clients as well.

With increased services come extended hours. Currently the clinic is only open Tuesday through Friday from 8-5 PM, which doesn’t really fit with most people’s work schedules. The clinic plans to increase its hours from 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday and open a half day on Saturday so working families can bring their cats to the clinic. Allen hopes to have the clinic operating under the new hours by mid-September.

A vet tech and Dr. Katie (left) help a cat with ear mites.
Photo by What's Pawsitive.

While the clinic is undergoing all these updates, the care the clinic provides to cats both inside and outside the shelter is of the utmost importance. To help everyone’s cats, the shelter offers low-cost services and special pricing for families that need financial assistance. See the Cat Care Society’s website for more information and to fill out forms to see if your family qualifies.

Some of you might be thinking why is this so important? They’re just cats.

“I’m so glad to be working in a place that has all this,” says Dr. Goodrich.” Some people may think, ‘Oh gee, cats don’t really need all this.’ Yes we do! These things keep the cats safe while they’re under anesthesia to monitor them closely and to keep them warm. And to have good [dental] radiographs especially in cats, much more than dogs and much more than people, the dental pathology tends to be under the gums. I’m thrilled to be working at a place with this kind of technology.”

Allen has plans to do another round of updates to purchase a new digital x-ray machine to replace the old photograph x-ray machine and an ultrasound machine. Expected costs are upwards of $23,000 for the digital x-ray and a new ultrasound is $10-12,000. Dr. Katie believes she can find a used ultrasound for around $8,000. Allen has already applied for grants for the equipment, however, it will be weeks before she finds out if the shelter will receive the grants. She thinks these items are too expensive for a crowd fund. Although, depending on the grant money received, she might be able to do a crowd fund to make up the difference.

Says Allen, “These are all the big things that we’ve done to improve the quality of care for the animals that come through here, for both the public cats and the shelter cats. They get quicker care and more efficient care.”

A Cat Care Society resident 
Photo by What's Pawsitive.
Adds Dr. Katie, “I’ve only been here since February, but it feels good...We’re so much busier then when I first started. And I was at a VCA hospital before I came here so I wanted to be able to offer the same quality of medicine and I almost can. When we get the digital x-ray, that will be the thing to push us over the edge. It’s been a cool place to be over the last few months.”

The cats at the Cat Care Society think so too.

If you would like to donate to the Cat Clinic at the Cat Care Society or to any of the shelter’s programs, visit the website and click on How to Help.