PLEASANTON -- Some people find a career path by accident.
Not Sue Marshall.
"I actually know in my heart that I was born to work with animals," she said. "It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do my entire life."
And the only thing better for her than working with animals is to devote an entire practice around her favorite ones: cats.
Marshall is the owner and one of two doctors at Feline Medical Center in Pleasanton, one of only a handful of clinics in the Bay Area devoted entirely to cats.
Located at 3160 Santa Rita Road in Pleasanton, the 4,000-square-foot facility offers internal medical care as well as grooming and boarding.
"By keeping it cats only, we feel that we dramatically improve their overall experience," Marshall said. "And it doesn't have that 'dog smell.' "
Marshall, 52, graduated from UC Davis Veterinary School in 1989, and has been a longtime volunteer for Valley Humane Society. Before that she was a doctor at Hopyard Animal Hospital where she worked on all small animals "except birds and reptiles."
When she was approached by Larry Gilman on his idea of opening a cat-only facility, she immediately agreed.
"I do love dogs, but cats are in my blood," she said. "I just feel like I know and understand them more than anything."
She and Gilman each have 50 percent ownership of the company; she handles the veterinary care and Gilman takes care of the business end.
"We just had a
Although Feline Medical Center has been able to keep its customer base up, the economy has taken a toll on the bottom line.
In 2009 revenue was about $995,000, which was down 1.5 percent from the year before.
The impact hasn't been on the number of visits or a drop in clients, but the services customers ask for once there.
For instance, with an older cat, the ideal course of treatment is to get blood work, a urinalysis and a whole body scan for $450.
Now, said Monika Connally, the other doctor at the clinic, "Instead of taking the Cadillac version of treatments, they might skip out on a couple of the services and just do blood work."
The center has about 5,000 customers and their cats.
Bob and Claudia Smiley of Pleasanton have brought their cats to Feline Medical Center since it opened because they appreciate the cat-centric aspect to it.
"You don't have the whole anxiety knowing that dogs are in the area and they might disturb the cats," Bob said. "We want a place that understands cats and doesn't see them as 'small dogs.' "
Marshall says it's rare to find cat-only facilities because more of the money spent at pet clinics is on dogs.
According to the Humane Society of the U.S. there are 99.3 million owned cats in the United States compared with 77.5 million owned dogs.
However, much more money in the veterinarian and boarding arenas is spent on dogs, Marshall said. One reason, she says, is that cats do a much better job at hiding their illnesses so owners don't take them in as frequently.
"Many times if they don't bring the cats in for checkups, when they get sick their health deteriorates really fast," Marshall said.
Drastic shifts in behavior or weight are often telltale signs that something is wrong.
Still, even though she agrees that an entire facility devoted to cats does cut down on potential customers, her love for cats trumped financial considerations, she said.
"We have built a reputation that has allowed us to build an amazing clientele," Marshall said. "Some of them we have been seeing for more than a decade."
Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534.
Feline Medical Center
Owners: Sue Marshall and Larry Gilman
Address: 3160 Santa Rita Road, Suite B-1, Pleasanton