Furever Family 1

Dr. Kristy Hook inspects the ears of Quad-City Times reporter Jack Cullen's newly adopted cat, Zuke, during an exam Monday at Furever Family Veterinary Care Center in East Moline. Staff at the animal hospital, which opened in early September, follow a "fear-free" philosophy to help pets feel safe and comfortable before, during and after they receive medical care.

Dogs and cats are segregated in the waiting room to ease tensions at one of the newest vet clinics in the Quad-Cities.

On the feline-friendly side, signs advise owners to place their carrier atop a table instead of on the ground because “floors can be very scary to cats!”

“Floors smell funny and cats can see more, which for them is not usually a good thing,” said Dr. Kristy Hook, medical director at Furever Family Veterinary Care Center in East Moline.

The animal hospital, which opened in early September, follows a new and increasingly popular "fear-free" approach to veterinary care. It aims to eliminate anxiety triggers in the vet's office — white lab coats, harsh lights and slippery, cold exam tables — while adding comforting amenities.

On Monday, I brought my newly adopted cat to Furever Family, my first visit to the vet as a pet owner.

Within moments of entering the building, the receptionist, LeeAnn Olson, directed us to the proper space and tossed a pair of pingpong-ball-sized toys into my cat’s carrier. Each of the blue fuzz balls had been sprayed with Feliway, a calming agent that mimics the natural feline facial pheromone released by cats when they rub their cheeks against an object to mark a safe territory.

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Furever Family 2

Jars of toys and treats available to cat owners on the designated feline side of the waiting area at Furever Family Veterinary Care Center in East Moline. 

“You can tell she’s nervous,” Olson said, referring to my cowering cat, which my girlfriend and I believed was a female when we adopted it this past Saturday and named it Lacy.

In the pastel-colored exam room, Dr. Hook eventually determined otherwise, but it took a bit of coaxing. Our cat, which never had visited a vet before, hid behind a cat tree in the corner for several minutes. It showed numerous signs of fear, anxiety and stress, Hook said, pointing out its drool, dilated pupils and pinned-back ears. Its nervy symptoms made it an ideal candidate for fear-free care.

Hook sprayed herself with Feliway and turned on classical music "because cats really like that."

Shielding herself with a blanket, she grabbed the cat by its scruff, or loose skin on the back of its neck, and placed the swaddled animal on top of a heated table.

“She does have some parasites,” Hook said, inspecting the cat more closely. “Uh, oh, and I think you’re a boy.”

I responded in disbelief: "Truly?"

“We have all of our man parts back here,” Hook said. “You have a 6-month-old male.”

We later named him Zuke.

Following her surprise discovery, Hook managed to administer a vaccine to the cat and feed him a dewormer pill disguised in bacon-flavored easy cheese, among other treatments.

Each of the six staff members at Furever Family has undergone specialized training to help calm pets before, during and after they receive medical treatment. The fear-free movement began in Colorado and since has spread throughout the world. About 10,000 animal care providers, including four others in the Quad-City area, have secured fear-free certifications. 

The tactics they learned, Hook said, help them provide better care for people's pets. Specifically, she said, it is easier to draw blood from a relaxed animal and obtain more accurate results.

When an animal is scared, its glucose levels, for example, may spike, Hook explained.

"We don’t see that as much, so our glucose values are usually within normal limits," she said. "I know that doesn't mean a lot to an owner, but it's proof on a medical level that it's working."

By the end of the appointment, Zuke, short for zucchini, had stopped drooling and his eyes and ears returned to normal. The visible changes prompted Sam Church, a technician who assisted Hook during the examination, to share her hypothesis:

"It's the music," she whispered. 

Editor's note: Look for reporter Jack Cullen's Notes @ Noon Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at noon. He captures various sides of life in the Quad-Cities. Contact him at jcullen@qctimes.com or 563-383-2363.

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Jack Cullen uncovers different slices of life for the Quad-City Times. He previously covered the city of Bettendorf. When he's not reporting, Jack enjoys coaching tennis and exploring the outdoors.