First you come to the “Cattail Farm” sign, with both botanical and feline images. You make your way up the long driveway toward an old farmhouse and a few barns, with a pond in back. The next sign, also featuring a striped orange cat tail, says “McSnip.”
Once in the office, you may encounter wire crates covered with sheets, each holding a post-surgical cat, or after an especially busy day, catch a whiff, or much more, of the distinctive aroma of tomcat urine.
Bingo. You’ve found Dr. Carolyn Wooley’s cats-only veterinarian practice, “McSnip,” with a focus on spaying and neutering felines. Since opening for business in September 2011, she has sterilized nearly 2,000 cats.
Outside downtown Pennington, Wooley has converted a two-family farmhouse into her home and office. She and her 14-year-old son share the property with chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, horses and miniature horses, as well as Iko, the family dog, and three cats (“one real pet cat and his two pets” – semi-feral cats who come in for meals).
From your parking spot facing a barn, you make your way through the hens often bustling around before being greeted by friendly brown Iko. You can see horses in nearby paddocks.
Neck-deep in animals, Cattail Farm illustrates something Wooley mentioned earlier: growing up in Neptune, NJ, she wanted to be a doctor until she asked herself, “Why should I be a doctor for people when I can be a doctor for animals?”
That’s why, after graduating from the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, she joined a “mixed practice” in New England where, she says, “We saw everything”: cats, dogs, cows, horses, pigs, iguanas.
From there, she moved to Philadelphia, where she started a feline practice – at the time a fairly rare thing, but “really good for the cats,” she says. “Even those who live with dogs are often afraid of strange dogs. So when they’re in a feline facility, it doesn’t smell like dogs; it’s quieter and more calming.”
Besides those benefits, she points out, “Cats have different ways of dealing with certain diseases than dogs do. People tend not to bring their cats to the vet as often as they bring dogs because cats are very silent about expressing their disease.
“A dog, when it throws up in the middle of the floor, you kind of notice it. But a cat might throw up in a closet and you don’t notice it for a few days, and by the time you do, the cat could be very ill.”
For good reason, this is not a “full service” practice. “If I start doing other things, then I can’t focus on my primary mission,” Wooley says, waving toward a line up of covered crates against one wall – in each, a cat sterilized earlier that day.
While she gives booster shots and such, she avoids complicated involvements that could hold her back from her goal of 200 sterilizations a month. However, 200 surgeries monthly or 1,000-plus a year – they’re still just a drop in the bucket, a finger in the dike, she says.
“It’ll take a lot more than a couple thousand spays and neuters, neighborhood by neighborhood,” to really make a dent in the over-population of cats, which includes owned, or domestic cats, strays and ferals. “If you do a neighborhood and miss a couple, two years later they’ll fill up the whole neighborhood again.”
McSnip clients include people with pet cats needing to be spayed or neutered, and myriad other individuals and rescue organizations involved in TNR – trap, neuter, return – who share her philosophy. (The concept is that once cats can no longer reproduce, they’ll live out their lives in the place they know, while the population declines through attrition.)
Not only does Wooley focus on spay/neuter, but she also advocates pediatric S/N. “If we can get the little guys done before they even get adopted out, that would help a lot,” she says. Adopters can promise to have it done, but they may forget it later or think it happens so many months after adoption, instead of after the kitten’s birth.
“When you’re a rescue organization and you’re trying to find homes for your cats and kittens, your whole focus is to not have so many cats.” Unfortunately, many vets were trained to spay-neuter at six months, she says, though cats can become pregnant earlier. That’s the problem – and the reason for her push for pediatric action.
“Doing tiny kittens is not more difficult than big cats,” she says. The kitten must be eating solid food on its own; beyond that, there are no age or weight requirements. “They actually do so much better with pediatric spays. They wake right back up, they eat, they act like nothing ever happened.”
As veterinarian for Montgomery Township, Wooley assures the shelter meets state standards, sets up rabies clinics and sees animals needing a vet. Currently a contract surgeon with Lambertville’s Animal Alliance, she sterilizes both dogs and cats there.
In practice for 30 years, she came to cats-only practice for a simple reason: “I’m good with cats. I’m not afraid of them, I can handle the ones that are hissing and spitting, I can understand their body language, I can usually figure out what’s wrong with them.”
With mock primness, she says, “If it is a cat, it is welcome here.” And likely follow that with her memorable cackle of a laugh.
About that tomcat aroma, think of it this way: the more toms who are sterilized, the fewer of them singing on your backyard fence at night.
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McSnip, Dr. Carolyn Wooley’s cats-only veterinary practice at Cattail Farm, Pennington, NJ. 609-737-6393; www.McSnip.org.
Freelance writer Pat Summers also blogs at www.nj.com/pets.