The Cat Hospital of Chicago works to meet those challenges by devoting itself to cats. It is a gold-standard Cat Friendly
Practice, as designated by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (see http://catvets.com/). The hospital touts calming feline pheromones in exam rooms, exams performed wherever a cat is comfortable, individualized
attention, top-notch accommodations including heated cage floors, continual monitoring for hospitalized patients and—to play
to the crowd—no barking dogs.
Where Burk offers value in low-cost services to get her cat clients through the door, Thompson's Chicago hospital offers a
special level of attention—a devotion to easing the anxiety of cats and clients—to raise perceived value. "Since most veterinarians
are dog people, if you bring that level of care and information sharing, it will resonate," Thompson says.
However, she agrees with Burk that making the most of that often small window of opportunity with clients is essential. "It
all boils down to education and using as many resources as possible," Thompson says. The Cat Hospital of Chicago uses its
website, its facility, social media and a prerecorded loop for on-hold callers to deliver its message of cat care.
Burk, for her part, employs both old-world and new-world tactics. She writes a regular column in the small local newspaper
but also takes to social media to reach pet owners. "Everybody I see has a cell phone and does Facebook," she says. It's factoids
that society seems to want—"particles instead of articles," she says.
Both doctors agree that it may be a simple fact about the risk of rabies or how a cat conceals pain that compels a cat owner
to make an appointment. "You can always reach out and they may be open to what you have to say—you can change what they think
about medical care or quality-of-life issues," Thompson says.
Part of the challenge is that many cat owners don't realize that an optimum level of feline veterinary care exists, Thompson
says. "I can open their eyes to see value in it," she says. "For a lot of people, it's a question of what they perceive as
Once a client is in the exam room, Thompson says the best thing she can do is effectively communicate her recommendations
for treatment, but it always comes down to what the owner chooses. "Part of the population you draw will be informed and educated,
but there will always be some that just aren't interested," she says. For example, Thompson says clients used to barn cats
find the concept of indoor pampered felines ridiculous.
Burk—whose patients are mostly strays, found kittens and, often, outdoor cats—has learned to walk a fine line when it comes
to the cultural, emotional and financial barriers to compliance. "You can't stuff it down peoples' throats, but you can leave
the door open," she says.
Despite the challenges, Thompson is encouraged by the progress she sees in cat care. "Thirty or 40 years ago, how many cats
had regular care?" she asks. "A spay or neuter—maybe a couple of boosters? It wasn't a concept that existed that long ago."
Both practitioners are encouraged that what they're doing is leading to more and better care. Thompson says as other clinics
adopt cat-friendly values they'll realize it too. "I think as word gets out, you'll start seeing the cats come," she says.