Most folk find cats irresistible so it’s hardly surprising that having a live-in feline at your practice works wonders for business. By Clea Sherman
One day in 2016, the vets at Galston Veterinary Clinic in Sydney’s north noticed an unaccompanied patient waiting at their front door.
The grey short-haired cat was in need of medical attention, with an injured eye and several missing teeth. After bringing her in and giving her the care she needed, the staff also realised she was expecting a litter.
Now affectionately known as ‘Misty’, this clinic cat—subsequently treated to a free desexing procedure—has seen all her kittens find good homes. Knowing a good thing when she sees it, she has well and truly made Galston Vet Clinic her home.
According to clinic owner Dr Sandy Read, “Misty moved in and took over the place! The staff do everything for her, including brushing her fur and cutting her nails. She likes to sit at the front desk and happily laps up the attention of our customers. They are very accommodating, opening the door whenever she wants to come in and out.”
Misty lives onsite, enjoying free access to Galston Vet Clinic’s upstairs apartment, or ‘cat flat’, as it is known.
Beyond saving her from life as an alley cat, Dr Read and the staff have come to see their clinic cat as an important part of their team. “Clients look forward to seeing the cat when they come in,” says Dr Read. “She is also very intuitive and will go and sit with clients during a euthanasia procedure to comfort them.
“Misty is also like a customer service manager,” Dr Read explains, “You can’t visit the clinic without a cuddle and a face bump. Children love her and will ask where she is.”
Psychologist Dr Rachel Hannam agrees cats can be an excellent contributor to goodwill and customer experience at a vet clinic. As clinical director of North Brisbane Psychologists, Dr Hannam had a therapy cat at her clinic, which she would invite clients to hold during counselling sessions.
“Cats can be an excellent icebreaker,” she shares. “They come without judgement and are a good way to start a discussion.”
As Dr Hannam notes, cats are well-recognised for their therapeutic presence and ability to offer emotional support and comfort. In the US, there is a cat named Xeli who lives at Denver International Airport and has the official duty of providing free cuddles to people affected by delays, jet lag and layovers. Some hospitals and aged care homes also have therapy cats doing the rounds.
It makes a great deal of sense for vet practices to have the cool and consistent presence of their own clinic cat. Dr Hannam also points out that like any customer-facing business, “Vets will have customers who may have autism or Asperger’s, or who will struggle with anxiety. Having a cat on the team can help the person connect to the surgery and make speaking to strangers easier.”
One of the other benefits of a clinic cat is having a blood donor on site. “Misty, being the special cat that she is, has a rare blood type,” says Dr Read. “This means she is a resource if we need her.”
Dr Hannam recommends an older, well-behaved cat as a clinic cat although, as so many pet owners and vets discover, often it is the cat who chooses them. Clinic cats are often either homeless or have been rejected by their owners. Collaroy Plateau Veterinary Hospital’s live-in cat, Butternut, was the latter (see breakout).
It’s sadly often the case that once cats pass kittenhood, they are passed over for adoption. From Dr Read’s perspective, Misty serves to promote rehoming older cats. “She needed a home and we gave her one. There are healthy animals being put to sleep so we do see having Misty as doing our part.”
Misty rules the roost at Galston Vet Clinic and never lets a dog get the better of her. “She is very arrogant and lets everyone know who is boss!” laughs Dr Read.
A moggy marketing machine
At Collaroy Plateau Veterinary Hospital on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Butternut the cat has free reign, although this has led to some unfortunate loss of product.
“She is prone to slash food bags open and help herself!” exclaims practice owner Dr Caroline Wood. “Sometimes we have to offer what’s left to customers as a ‘Butternut discount’.”
Butternut has made her presence known as Collaroy Plateau since she was a few months old. Customer Kathryn Sadler is always pleased to see her. “Butternut makes the place feel more relaxed. She is also confirmation that the vets at Collaroy Plateau are animal lovers. They’re following their passion, which is reassuring for me as a cat owner. You don’t get the same sense at every practice you go to.”
Clinic cats can also play an excellent role in word-of-mouth and social media marketing. Clients will mention they love their vet practice to friends, in part because of the friendly onsite cat. Practices can also have some fun, promoting their furry resident on Instagram and Facebook.
“Butternut is four and every year we have a little party for her. On her second birthday, she was accepted to Hogwarts and when she was four, she went off to ‘Vet School’. She’s a bit of a mascot and the face of the clinic so it’s nice to keep the story going,” says Dr Wood.