Novel idea becomes reality with opening of cat clinic
by Kathy S. Baker
In the year 2000, Wyoming was home to nearly 1.6 million cattle, according to the Internet almanac at Infoplease.com. That year Wyoming also ranked second among the 50 states in wool production and was third for its number of sheep and lambs. Another source puts the number of Wyoming ranches at more than 8,000 at the end of the 1990s. Cowboy State? With so many cows and sheep roaming about, not to mention goats, horses, elk, deer and antelope, Wyoming might more aptly be dubbed the “Ungulate State.”
So it was with some surprise that I recently saw a flyer advertising the grand opening of the Cat Clinic of Cheyenne.
“It may be a novel idea,” admitted Karen Parks, D.V.M, and proprietor of the new cats-only facility. So why open a feline veterinary practice in what is obviously cattle, big game and ranching country? At her previous practice in Maine, Parks treated all sorts of small animals, including dogs, cats and exotics.
Because the clinic was close to the ocean and a national park, she also tended to raptors, water birds, porcupines, fox and other wildlife. Basically, Parks would help “anything that came in.” It was rewarding, she said. But to stay abreast of treatments for so many species was also a challenge. Parks reviewed 10 or more journals a month to keep informed of new procedures in small animal care. A specialist by nature, Parks said she realized that it would be more gratifying, and ultimately better for the animals, to focus her care. By specializing, “you can narrow down your field of study,” she said. “You can really expand what you are able to do for one species.”
But why cats? And why Wyoming? Parks has treated an assortment of animals since she became a veterinarian. Having lived on a ranch, she is also comfortable around large animals, as is her husband, who has raised cattle. Plus, her “passion,” she explained, “is riding and horses.”
Ultimately, it was Parks’ years of veterinary experience that convinced her to focus on cats. Cats do better in a secure, quiet environment, she said, without the added stress of barking dogs or the presence of other animals. Plus, Parks is a self-professed “cat advocate.” When she was young, there were many years her family didn’t own pets.
“I grew up in a household that wasn’t really into their animals,” Parks recalled. “But when we did have pets, I loved them madly,” she added. “The first thing I did when I moved out was get a cat.”
As for choosing Wyoming, Parks said she had lived in the area before and appreciated the people and lifestyle. She graduated from Colorado State University’s veterinary program in 1992. She also farmed and ranched near Lander, Wyo.
“We like the community. It’s very family friendly,” she said. “It’s been a really good move, for our kids especially.” The Parks have four children, as well as three dogs, three cats and two horses.
Though open just a few weeks, Parks’ cat clinic has already attracted attention. “I’m getting Air Force clients who have seen the trend toward specialization in veterinary medicine,” she said. “I’ve even had some clients who have been to a cats-only service in other places.” Also in the clinic’s favor are statistics that indicate a growing need for cat care in the United States.
Back in 1996, for instance, Americans owned about 59 million cats, according to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The survey shows that in the same year, Americans owned about 53 million dogs, 13 million birds and 4 million horses. In its most recent National Pet Owners Survey, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that there are 73 million owned cats in the United States, compared to 68 million owned dogs. The survey shows cat owners spent an average of $104 on veterinary-related expenses in the past 12 months.
As with all new ideas, Parks realizes it may take some time for a cat clinic to catch on in a region historically associated with big animals and ranching life. But with Cheyenne’s increasingly broad cross section of people, lifestyles and pets, Parks believes that the cat clinic is a concept ” and practice ” whose time has finally come.
Parks also advocates giving cats regular physical exams, once a year for young cats and twice a year for cats 9 years and older. A major reason is to catch disease before it progresses too far. For example, geriatric problems such as chronic kidney failure and hyperthyroidism can be treated, said Parks, if they are detected early enough. Symptoms of these diseases can include weight loss, a scruffy coat and sometimes a finicky appetite.
“Unfortunately, we see a lot of them come in when they are dying,” said Parks of older, emaciated cats. By then, “the cat may have been dealing with the illness and compensating for so long that it’s too late.” What’s sad, she said, is knowing that if the disease had been detected sooner and treated, the cat could have had a better quality of life. With proper care, “some of these things are so manageable,” she said.