Life as a feline vet is the cat’s whiskers

The first episode of Cat Hospital aired on RTÉ One last Friday night. Here IRENE HALPIN LONG chats to head vet Clare Meade, from Glanmire, about the TV show, her career and love of felines
Life as a feline vet is the cat’s whiskers
Clare Meade, founder of the Cat Hospital in Glanmire.

TV viewers are being given a glimpse into the daily life of Ireland’s only cat veterinary hospital, which is based here in Cork.

The first episode of Cat Hospital aired on RTÉ1 last Friday, featuring Cat Hospital founder, Clare Meade, and her dedicated team of staff.

The six-part observational series includes cases range from grooming and neutering to house calls and life and death medical emergencies.

Clare opened The Cat Hospital, which is located on Barnavara Hill, Glanmire, in 2009.

She trained to become a vet at University College Dublin and qualified in 1995.

After graduation, she worked with Cork equine vet, John Hyde, which provided her with a solid foundation from which to progress in her career.

She said: “John was the best boss you could wish for. He insisted I learn the principles of being a vet.

“Horses are not unlike cats. Horses are also very delicate animals and they insist on you being clean, careful, methodical and patient. These are great qualities to learn when you are a young vet.

“John was a very patient teacher and he wouldn’t let me do anything until he was quite sure that I was able to do it.

“He didn’t believe in throwing people in at the deep end. He believed in people learning in a controlled way.

“Working for a vet like John set me up for life.”

Clare worked for John for two years before moving to Dublin in 1997. She worked in a small animal practice and furthered her veterinary studies, concentrating on diagnostic imaging and feline medicine.

Rachel Callahan, Clare Meade, Breena Cass, Chloe Gibson of Cat Hospital.
Rachel Callahan, Clare Meade, Breena Cass, Chloe Gibson of Cat Hospital.

She bought that same practice in Dublin in 1998 and ran it successfully until 2006. She then sold the practice and returned to Cork with her young family.

When the oldest of her two children turned five, Clare decided to “knit her own job”.

She said: “I had always wanted to have a cat-only veterinary practice, so I decided that this was my once in a lifetime opportunity to do that.

“I decided to take an enormous risk and open Ireland’s only cat veterinary hospital. I had a gut feeling that it was going to work.

“I believed that general small veterinary practice was not meeting the specific needs of cats when they were sick.”

Clare explained why she loves working with cats.

“They are the most beautiful animals in the world. They are really enjoyable to work with from a veterinary perspective because they create a lot of conundrums. Vets like solving problems. Cats are masters of disguising illness. They don’t present with obvious clinical signs, so they don’t give you a lot to work with so as a vet, it’s your job to figure out what is wrong with them.”

The Cat Hospital in Glanmire has been looking after sick cats for ten years. Clare was driving the Cat Hospital Mini around Cork city, which bears the clinic logo. RTÉ producer, Aidan Mulcahy saw the logo and contacted Clare to ask if she would be interested in filming a TV series about her work and the feline patients at the Cat Hospital. The series was filmed in the summer.

The relationship between dogs and their owners is well understood and visible, even to those of us who are not ‘dog people’.

Parts of the RTÉ series examines the relationships between humans and their pet cats. Clare explained that there is often confusion surrounding why a person would want to have a cat as a pet.

She said: “A lot of people don’t fully understand cat ownership. A lot of people wonder, why have a cat as a pet?

“I think this documentary series is going to show people the joys that cats bring to their owner’s lives. We get an awful lot back from these little animals.

“It’s important to remember that cats aren’t hard-wired to be sociable and yet they put that to the side in their interactions with their owners and humans. Dogs are naturally social creatures so spending time with humans comes naturally to them. For cats, it doesn’t [come naturally] so it is a unique relationship that we humans have with cats because they overcome their own hard-wiring to love us and spend time with us.

“I think the series will be good for people who don’t understand cats, but it will be even more exciting for people who love cats.

“One of my particular interests is feline behaviour. We talk a lot about why cats do what they do and help people understand the world from the cat’s perspective. We are trying to explain to people that what is normal cat behaviour is not problematic behaviour.”

Clare describes the series as, “an exploration of the relationship that exists between our species and the feline species. It is extraordinary that we create these relationships in the first place. They mean so much to us and it is a fascinating part of human behaviour that we share our lives with a completely different species.”

The series continues on RTÉ1 on Fridays at 8.30 pm.

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