Many months prior to opening Club Cat last year, I excitedly promoted on social media about my plan to open Orange County’s first luxury cat hotel. Shortly after, I received a private LinkedIn message from an elementary school mate with whom I hadn’t spoken or seen since sixth grade. In his message, he congratulated me on pursuing my dream.
When we spoke, I was thrilled to learn that the kid I called Greg as a child is now Dr. Greg Wolfus, a veterinarian and a faculty member at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Most importantly, in our talk, Greg introduced me to a concept that I hadn’t previously given much thought to – access to pet care.
If any good has come out of the COVID pandemic, it is that pet adoptions have soared. This makes sense given pets provide us with so much comfort. However, a recent Access to Veterinary Care study found that although the majority of pet owners surveyed consider their pets to be part of the family, one third of respondents experienced barriers to care, mainly financial. With COVID presently wreaking havoc on our economy, many fear barriers to care will increase as more and more pet owners find themselves out of work.
I hope what I have learned from reconnecting with my childhood friend* who has dedicated his life to pet care will inspire you all as much as it has inspired me.
CC: What initially drew you to veterinary medicine?
GW: It was a love for biology and animals. I actually enjoy plants as much as animals, but I got the chance to go to veterinary school and am so grateful for the opportunities that veterinary medicine has afforded me.
CC: What do you find the most rewarding about teaching? The most challenging?
GW: By far the most rewarding aspect of teaching for me is seeing the “Aha” look on a student’s face who has done something for the first time. For example, the first time they perform
phlebotomy or surgery and have success, my soul is filled when I witness their “Aha” moment. It is instant gratification as an educator. A more long term reward is seeing former students go on to have professional success and someday become teachers or mentors themselves. The most challenging aspects about teaching veterinary medicine are meeting the needs of all constituents; specifically speaking, weighing the need for students to have learning opportunities with the patients’ need for care and the clients’ need for service. Sometimes, these needs are compatible and sometimes there is conflict.
CC: A fairly recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that cats can contract COVID-19, at least in the laboratory – meaning there is a possibility they can contract the virus from humans. None of the cats died of the virus thankfully. There is still no evidence that cats with COVID-19 can pass it to humans. Should we cat parents be concerned?
GW: This is a difficult question as we are in the beginning of this pandemic and there are still a lot of unknowns. That said, there is some research that shows cats can spread the virus to other cats and can shed the virus in similar loads as humans do, but I am unaware of any studies that have shown direct transmission from cats to humans. In the Netherlands, they have shown minks may have the ability to transmit the virus to humans. So should cat parents be concerned? It depends on the situation. Indoor only cats are only exposed to members of the household; if the cat is COVID-19 positive it presumably got the virus from one of the humans. But cats that go outside and get exposed to other cats or animals or humans may have higher risk of contracting the virus and, if it can spread from cat to human, could increase their human family’s risk of exposure. I expect more research and information (including a study currently being conducted by my Tufts University colleagues) will shed more light as to the level of concern cat parents should have over this issue.
CC: You have been proactive in the compassionate care of animals for a while now. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University opened a low-cost primary care clinic for underserved pets at Worcester Technical High School in Massachusetts. Can you explain what compassionate care of animals is?
GW: Compassionate care can have a number of definitions. In human healthcare, compassionate care oftentimes refers to the medical care associated with hospice care and end of life comfort. At our veterinary clinic, we typically refer to compassionate care of animals as meeting the medical needs of the animal while overcoming barriers and obstacles that inhibit access to care. For example, we provide subsidized compassionate care to owned animals who live with people who have financial limitations and transportation limitations.
CC: How can cat and dog parents get involved if they are inclined?
GW: The easiest way to get involved is to firstly become more informed, and then secondly, ask yourself if it should be that some animals who are lucky enough to live with resourced families should get more access to care than other animals. If we agree that all animals deserve access to care, then together we can promote the benefit for both human and animal healthcare. That may mean physically helping at an animal shelter, not-for-profit clinic, or traditional veterinary clinic; or directing donations to these agencies or speaking up on social media about the need for more equal access to animal health care. This is our society and together we are responsible for promoting the values we believe in.
CC: Tell us about your own pets!
GW: I am blessed to live with several animals. Historically I raise a flock of backyard chickens. I also have 3 rescue chihuahuas (Lil George Lopez, Notorious BIG, and Sydney) and the world’s best cat named Puddles. These animals not only give me love, but also teach me how to be a more understanding and compassionate veterinarian, educator, and human. They make me a better person.
Thank you Dr. Wolfus and all your students who have become veterinarians across the country for taking such great care of our pets!
*Dr. Wolfus is not affiliated in any way with Club Cat, LLC and none of the following content in our Q&A should be considered an endorsement of Club Cat or any particular product or service.