Dr. Lacie Lee created a thriving, upscale hospital and boarding resort with every detail carefully designed for its feline-only clientele.
At Cat Care Center of Baton Rouge, Lacie Lee, DVM, has crafted a world dedicated to feline veterinary care and feline-specific boarding.
Opening the center fulfilled a lifelong dream. For 16 years Lee worked in small animal practices as “the cat person,” but decided in 2018 to strike out on her own. After two years of research and a hard-won business loan, she opened Cat Care Center in December 2019, becoming the sole feline-only practice in Baton Rouge, La.
The practice is unabashedly upscale, with a growing clientele clamoring for her one-hour appointments and sold-out luxury boarding resort. The sleek facility has cat-friendly features throughout, such as dimmable lights, Feliway diffusers, soft music and TVs playing images of fish and birds.
Lee’s philosophy is to provide top-notch care and charge accordingly. For instance, her standard exams are a full hour and cost $76. “Many veterinarians would say you can’t be profitable with one-hour appointments, but we are currently operating with 48% net revenue,” she says. “Clients really value the one-on-one time where their cat is my sole focus, and we can really get to know the needs of that cat and perform diagnostics accordingly. We charge appropriately for our services, and we spend a lot of time educating so people understand the value.”
In fact, years ago, Lee raised fees by 5% to allow her to better cater to the top 20% of her clients, which generate more than 80% of the practice’s income. “What I learned is that I can’t see all the cats,” she says. “People who are price-shopping are not going to care about the 45 minutes you will spend explaining to them why their cat is vomiting and why we need to do an intestinal biopsy to get an accurate diagnosis for treatment. I pride our clinic on being a diagnostic and educational facility.”
Her quality-driven business model quickly proved successful. The practice was profitable after six months, reaching 18.4% profitability by the third quarter. Today they see 45 new clients each month. “We’re doing well, and I’m very grateful for that,” says Lee. “Cat Care Center is a piece of my soul. It’s part of my journey.”
Cat-Friendly All the Way
In 2018, Lee found someone with a plot of land who loved her vision so much he custom-built the facility for her, then rented her the space. She incorporated key feline-friendly design principles such as a freestanding floor-to-ceiling wall separating the treatment and ICU areas. Cages are side by side, flush against a wall, and the doors have frosted glass on the bottom, which makes cats feel protected.
Exams, too, are geared for feline comfort. Every team member is certified with the International Society of Feline Medicine, and the practice has American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Cat Friendly Practice gold-level certification, with standards similar to Fear Free. “Cat Friendly takes it a step further for the cat,” says Lee.
The hospital is 100% scruff-free, and everyone is trained to use feline-friendly handling techniques with gentle touch. “If we get a warning scratch, we’ll back off for a bit or recommend sedation if needed,” says Lee. “But we rarely get bitten, because we read the cat’s body language. We have learned to recognize a cat that’s going to bite. You back off. We’re very careful.”
Lee examines the cat from the side, avoiding direct eye contact, with the cat facing the owner. If shots are needed, she uses a tiny 25-gauge needle that most cats don’t even notice, while a technician distracts the cat with treats. All clients receive detailed explanations and education from Lee and her team. “I believe at every cat appointment you must cover behavioral, nutritional and medical,” says Lee. “We really need that whole hour.”
Lee cherishes that ability to make her own choices as an independent practice owner. “Someone could walk in and say, ‘There are too many expensive incidentals—you could save so much money.’ Yes, but that’s not what I’m going for,” she says. “I love what I do, and I feel we’re making a difference for the cats and the people who come here. For me, that’s what this place is about.”