A Vet Shares the Secrets of the Real House Cats of Orange County — And Their Owners
When I tell people that I am a cat doctor, I always get the same responses.
“Don’t you like dogs?”
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as a cat-only hospital.”
My reply: Yep, I do. Yep, only cats. And yep, there is! (I wish that I could afford to post this on a billboard on the 405 freeway.)
The Cat Clinic of Orange County is where the real O.C. housewives bring their kitties. You won't hear any barking, clucking or squeaking here — just purrs and the occasional chorus of meows.
We have cat-sized exam tables and equipment that only fits felines. And although our catfights aren’t staged by Bravo, some of our patients truly have their own “staff." In the heart of the O.C., the clientele isn't looking for “just a cat” clinic. They expect their kitties to be worshipped, pampered and indulged. After all, they are the Real House Cats of Orange County.
How I Ended Up Treating the Coddled Cats of Southern California
I was born and raised in the Midwest, so ending up in the O.C. — with a “PURRDR” vanity plate — wasn't exactly what I'd envisioned while attending vet school at the University of Wisconsin.
But I think that my fourth-year large-animal resident had an inkling of my future on the day that I sobbed over a tiny farm kitten with an upper respiratory infection. He patted me on the back, gave the kitten a shot of penicillin, and was likely thankful to get me out of his truck.
I knew the farms of Wisconsin could never appreciate felines the way I did (and I only had so much room on my bed for ailing cats), so off to the West Coast I ventured.
Since then, I've done more than 10,000 exams on cats. This, however, doesn't stop some of my clients from occasionally questioning whether their elite breeder’s information trumps mine, or whether they should take the advice of a friend of a friend who's “like an expert on kitty kidney failure” because she does all kinds of research on the Internet in her copious spare time.
With Newport Beach just a block away, which is known for having the largest single-family household incomes in the country, my patients arrive in style — and often in cars that outprice my first home. They're lavished with carriers made by famous designers, pink boas and designer catnip. There will be no drinking from a vat of discarded cow’s milk here!
As you can imagine, some of my cat owners can be a tad crazy, making it their mission to always keep me on my toes. Let me introduce you to just a few of the prominent O.C. cat moms who have me hopping:
Cathy lives in a very elite section of Newport Beach. Her house isn’t big, but the price tag will make your head spin. Her garage has been converted into a shelter of sorts: Cages line the walls, and the smell of litter boxes will knock you over. Inside, her boutique furniture is covered in cat hair, and kitty toys litter the floor.
She lives the O.C. lifestyle with a “house boy” who cooks and chauffeurs the rescues that she's always looking to place. Her heart is big, and her pocketbook is always open.
When I see Cathy coming, I hide in the treatment area because I know that if she manages to catch my sleeve, I will never get out of taking in a litter of kittens or helping her place a special needs foster. I admire her greatly, and wish that I could clone her, but her stories can run long as my waiting room fills up.
She's a millionaire hoarder who hides behind the title of “rescuer," but the reality is that many cats in our area owe their homes to her.
Ask any member of my staff who our number-one client is and they'll tell you it's Margie, who has not gone an entire week without contacting us by phone, email or in person, tying up our receptionist for hours. Margie will always make herself the priority, regardless of what is happening around her.
She has had up to 10 cats, some indoor kitties and some “strays." And our time together at each appointment consists mostly of her firing an endless list of questions at me. After each probing question, she promptly and enthusiastically agrees with my answer. “That is just what I was thinking, Dr. Kelly.”
I have deduced that this game we play makes her feel like she's in control, that my recommendations are actually her ideas. She occasionally calls my home number, which is why I've spent more than one holiday pacing the floor with her “urgent” concerns.
She can make the staff’s hair stand on end, but despite her rough, sometimes annoying demeanor, she has a heart of gold. Now if only I could get her out of the clinic on occasion without questions about the bill . . . .
Daphne is what I call a boomerang client, who leaves us for a little while but eventually realizes that the litter box isn’t cleaner on the other side.
When Daphne was a client many years ago, I remember strolling through the mall around Christmas while trying to talk her off the ledge regarding her latest cat crisis. I can’t say that I was sad to see her go: She never listened to my recommendations, preferring to just “talk it out.”
But things had obviously changed when her chart landed on my desk a few months ago — a chart so giant, in fact, that it needed a volume two. Well, it turns out that Daphne had been dealing with some severe health problems, which had mysteriously turned into her cat’s problems. It was uncanny how they shared symptoms.
The notes from the interim vet were extensive, to say the least. Every test had been run, and no stone had been left unturned. I dare say that the vet who copied those records felt that his prayers had been answered.
Every appointment so far has started out with what is currently wrong with Daphne: “Do you think that my eyes look yellow, Dr. Kelly?” or “I'm sorry that I was late for the appointment, but my spleen was hurting.”
I feel sorry for Daphne, but I also feel sorry for Daphne’s cat, who has her blood glucose checked while she eats. And I especially feel sorry for my staff, because they get hourly email updates on her kitty’s current mystery symptoms. This cat lady could be any vet’s nightmare, but how lucky for us that she lives in the O.C.
Why I Love the O.C. Vet Life
I really wouldn't trade my clients and patients for anything in the world. I would take my rescuer, questioner and hypochondriac over clients who say little and make my day routine and boring.
Living in Orange County, the land where the sun always shines and the housewives lounge by the sea, my life as a cat vet is just, well, purrfect.