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LEWISTON – Cats have a mind of their own, and a visit to the veterinarian can be a battle for even the most patient pet owner.

The Lewiston Village Vet is trying to change that and has just completed a $20,000 makeover that has some people calling Dr. Kristen Ruest “The Kitty Doctor.”

Ruest’s practice was chosen at random by Novartis Animal Health for the Onsior Clinic Makeover. The national sweepstakes was an effort to raise awareness of the cat pain management drug Onsior. The work was done by co-sponsor BDA Architecture, which specializes internationally in veterinary facilities.

Ruest said the practice had submitted two entries, which included clinical trials with Onsior, but when it was chosen, she initially thought it was a joke.

“I didn’t believe it,” Ruest said. “One of the secondary prizes was a fatigue mat. That’s what I thought I would win. When they called me and told me I won $20,000, I didn’t believe them. It took me a week before I said, ‘Really I won this? I don’t win anything.’ I was very surprised. We are really grateful to Novartis.”

She said the office had a wish list for equipment.

Her favorite addition is the saltwater fish tanks.

“It’s just so calming. And it’s just going to change and evolve over the next six months,” she said.

In addition to the two fish tanks – one in the waiting room and one in the cat examining room – there is also new lighting and two dedicated exam room to be used just for cats,

“The (cat) rooms don’t have other smells in them. They don’t have dog smells. So the cats feel more secure,” Ruest said. “We also have cat pheromone infusers to decrease anxiety. Cats feel like it is an OK, safe environment to be in.”

Exams are done in baskets, rather than on an exam table, allowing cats a sense of security in the room. There are also C-shaped cubbies, cat furniture, a climbing tree with shelves and a shelf near the aquarium, which allows the more inquisitive cat an opportunity to explore. The doctor examines the cat where they feel most comfortable.

Ruest said cats are allowed to exit their carrying containers at their own pace, rather than being dragged out.

“They feel like they are hiding the whole time I am touching them and it makes it easier to do an exam,” Ruest said.

Ruest said the office sees about 70 percent dogs in exams because cat owners feel that their cats don’t need to be seen by the vet.

“Cats don’t show disease until sometimes it’s too late,” she said.

In the operating room, safety and comfort, specific to cats, is observed.

She said at night, in the operating room, they have new cages with shelves so cats can get up high.

When cats are in distress, such as cases of anaphylactic shock or a heart condition and can’t breathe, she said a mask can distress them more.

“We chose to purchase an oxygen door for the cage so we can fill it with oxygen and allow the cat to relax and breathe normally while getting oxygen therapy,” Ruest said.

Wayne Usiak, of New Mexico, a former Buffalo resident and the founder of BDA Architecture, which specializes in veterinarian hospitals, has done 700 veterinarian hospitals in 45 states and 11 countries since 1986. He said the United States is a “dog-focused culture.”

“We are seeing an awareness that we have to help cats too,” he said. “We recommended things we knew that could be helpful and make (the Lewiston Village Vet) a more cat-friendly practice. Cat owners are passionate about their pets.”

He said cats have such a high acuity in their senses that the pheromones given off by dogs are enough to upset them.

“Not only are they are afraid, but doctors can’t make accurate diagnoses,” he said. “The key is to get them calm, like their home.”

He said they put in the aquarium to get the cats’ minds focused on something else. The shelves and baskets allow the cats to find the spot where they are most comfortable.

Juan P. Angel, associate brand manager for Novartis, of Greensboro, N.C., said this is the first feline-friendly makeover the company has offered.

He said that about 1,000 clinics applied and whoever won had to make their practice more feline-friendly.

Ruest, who grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Albion, has been a veterinarian for the past 10 years. She is a graduate of Fredonia State College and the University of Florida College of Veterinarian Medicine. She opened her practice at 720 Cayuga St., the former Niagara Family Medicine offices, in January 2013. It took three months for the cat makeover.

She is active as a volunteer in several animal rescue groups, including Community Cats Alive of Western New York, a feral cat rescue program in Niagara County that traps, vaccinates and spays or neuters cats before releasing them back into their communities.

Ruest said part of the funds were used for surgical equipment.

“We are all working together to help reduce the cat population,” said Ruest.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com