Veterinarians employ different approaches to care for the country cat and the city cat

Veterinarians employ different approaches to care for the country cat and the city cat

The obstacles to regular care are often the same for the scruffy barn cat as the pampered high-rise feline. The solution may be to use different tactics to get culturally different cat owners to comply.
Apr 30, 2014

Dr. Steph Burk
Steph Burk, DVM, has a long history with most of her clients. Owner of Western Hills Veterinary Clinic, she was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio, and returned to her hometown to practice veterinary medicine after graduating from Ohio State University in 1988.

Her community is mostly rural and low-income—the Section Eight housing capital of the county, she says. "I know what they're up against with their finances," Burk says. Within a five-mile radius of Middletown, the median household income is less than $50,000. Burk says not a day goes by when she's not talking to someone about how to manage payment or provide the best treatment they can within their means. "Nevertheless, people try to help their pets," she says.

In a former steel town where the largest employers are now big-box stores like Walmart, Sears and Target, Burk has realized that to get more pet owners through the door, she has to play the big-box game. "If you offer something at even a little bit of savings, even if it's not a lot, people really pick up on that," she says. The reality is that people see value in discounts, coupons, "BOGO" (buy one, get one) deals and loyalty rewards.

The majority of Dr. Steph Burk’s feline patients are found pets and, given the rural area she serves, they are often outdoor cats as well. Serving a low-income area, Burk says cost is often a barrier, so she now offers low-cost tomcat neuter days and vaccine clinics to get clients who would otherwise never cross the threshold of her door into the clinic. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN WARD)
So this year Burk has done two things she never thought she'd do in her practice: offer a low-cost vaccine clinic and conduct a tomcat neuter day. She says both endeavors provide a needed community service but also (and more importantly for her business) they get more pets—specifically cats—through her door.

Burk holds the vaccine clinic once a month and is already seeing it generate new clients. There is no exam and therefore no exam fee, just the cost of the vaccine. Right now she says the clinic is drawing about 80 percent dogs, but she hopes it will catch on with more cat owners as well.

Dr. Daphne Thompson is an associate with the Cat Hospital of Chicago, a gold-standard Cat Friendly Practice, as designated by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CAT HOSPITAL OF CHICAGO)
"There's still this misconception that cats don't need regular care, but people do feel they have to get around to getting a cat neutered," she says. Hence her decision to offer a tomcat neuter day.

As with the vaccine clinic, Burk knew she would be providing a needed community service—at the very least, the neuter day might put an end to the seemingly endless litters of black-and-white kittens being dumped in the area. "Somebody's tomcat was having a field day out there," she jokes. But it was also a deliberate move to get cats she knew were not getting regular—or any care—into the exam room.