Sarah Middleton qualified from the University of Liverpool in 2003. After working in mixed and small animal practice she set up a self-contained cat-only veterinary clinic in the north east of England.
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What made you set up a cat-only practice?
I felt cats got a poor deal at veterinary surgeries. They were often in waiting rooms surrounded by dogs, were dragged out of their carriers, quickly examined and often overly restrained. I wanted to create a less stressful environment for cat owners to bring their cats to – an up-to-date first-opinion service with modern facilities and adequate appointment times to allow a cat to relax before being examined.
Observing my own three cats and the ways they react to different situations has stood me in good stead for offering clients practical advice, as well as being able to recognise the odd things cats do that you wouldn't know unless you were owned by one.
How did you get to where you are today?
Before and during vet school I thought I didn't want to work with anything smaller than a Shetland pony! After working in mixed practice, I decided I would rather keep horses as my hobby and focus on small animal work. I found cats particularly interesting (medically and behaviourally) and wanted to learn more about them, so I did the General Practitioner Certificate in Feline Practice and attended every cat-related CPD event I could. I also wanted to move away from knowing a little about many species to an expanding knowledge of one species, and the concept of the cat-only practice was born. SimplyCats opened in May 2009, and is steadily increasing in size and reputation.
What day-to-day activities does your job involve?
Arriving at work, I check my e-mail for lab results, Facebook to see what everyone is doing and then start consulting. Operations and diagnostic investigations follow morning consultations, and, unless we have any epic procedures, I am normally finished by 2 pm. In the gap before evening appointments, I attempt to go for a swim or ride my horse.
What do you like about your job?
I love my job and gain immense satisfaction from seeing the business grow, and feel honoured that clients return and new clients join the practice on many occasions due to recommendation by existing clients.
Is there anything you don't like?
As with many vets, the out-of-hours call where the cat hasn't passed urine all day but is in and out of the litter tray; the person on the phone who is registered with another vet but doesn't want to go all the way to their out-of-hours clinic; and those people who want everything done for their animal and then mention that they can't afford to pay.
Why do you think cat-only practices important?
Cats suffer significant stress if they have to wait in an environment with strange noises, smells and other animals. They are often difficult to restrain as they are already ill at ease, and this is made worse if the pressure of a short consulting slot means an examination has to be rushed, making them prone to lashing out.
Most cat-only practices offer longer than usual consulting slots to allow cats to acclimatise to the room and personnel handling them. It is important that cats are maintained in a stress-free environment to allow optimal examination with minimal interference on their behaviour to gain as much clinical information as possible.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
Go for it! Things are unlikely to be perfect, but it is more a question of getting things going and improving on them than not doing anything for fear of failure.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.
What was your proudest moment?
After three years of business plans, planning permissions, bank meetings, renovations and decorating, finally opening the doors to the practice and having our first client walk in.
… and your most embarrassing?
Thinking I was super-efficient by booking all the travel arrangements months in advance for the recent International Society of Feline Medicine congress in Amsterdam, only to find out at check-in that I had booked for July instead of June.