"There it is; one of the ingredients of entrepreneurship."
Dr Kim is a world-renown cat veterinarian. She heads one of two dedicated cat-only practices in Sydney and is the only vet in Australia qualified in cat behaviour. Mindful that humans have changed the feline environment so much – “from solo desert-dwelling rodent hunter to City Gods and Goddesses” – she pursues excellence in feline care.
At University her initial passion was elephants (she used to help feed the travelling circus elephants) but Dr Kim began to focus on medicine and cats when she realized vets didn’t take them too seriously and answers she sought about cat behaviour were hard to come by.
An adventurer by nature and humorist at heart, Dr Kim has the welfare of her animals front and foremost. She leads with a “from the heart backed by science” approach to feline care and follows the principles of the American ‘Fear-Free Movement’ which aspires to minimise the terror animals feel when visiting vet clinics and under the care of their doctors. Dr Kim’s dedication to the wellbeing of cats has had her deliver seminar papers on feline behaviour at the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists and presenting regular ‘cat only’ seminars and webinars.
Information dissemination about cats and their behaviour is Dr Kim’s mission, and she has implemented ‘Feline-Friendly Care’ – an internet collation of all the information she has, knows and wants to share – so others can learn from that without having to reinvent the wheel. Cat Palace and Clinic homes kittens for adoption and provides a range of services including boarding, cat counselling and Café Purrfection – a unique self-service setting for people to come and connect with cats for all sorts of reasons.
Dr Kim loves working with cats, and she’s committed to teaching other vets and owners how to get the best out of a feline relationship, because, she says, “the cat is always going to try and get the best out of its relationship with you”.
Kim remembers a carefree childhood, where running barefoot through sugar cane fields with her siblings was a fond pastime. Her parents met and married in Canada who, on the way back to New Zealand, somehow ended up in Hawaii where they had three children and stayed for seven years.
“I was the the kid who brought the cats home, found a little scruffy kitten under the bush, all that sort of stuff. I even got ringworm when I was young, which turned out to be quite useful because I don’t get ringworm now. If you get ringworm when you’re young, you have full body immunity.”
The family eventually moved to Australia and Kim started her education at the local high school. Her mother then received an inheritance and she put it to good use by sending her children to private schools. Kim acknowledges this as having made a real difference for her.
From that time, she has taken opportunity as it arises, not waiting for things to come around a second time. And she has learned from older, successful people that it is the things you don’t do that you regret.
From the age of seven, Kim knew she wanted to be a vet. Supportive and helpful people encouraged her on her path by suggesting she undertake certain relevant options such as learning Latin at school. She listened to those tips and worked her way towards finishing her Vet Science degree, which she completed at age 25. With her sense of humour fully engaged, she says she’s been “winging it” ever since.
Elephants, horses and dogs were the main attraction in her early days, but Kim rather ashamedly confesses to having performed a behavioural experiment on an unsuspecting kitten she brought home at age 15 to see how the resident family cat would react. Appalled she even took photos that told the story, her understanding of the experimental outcomes were deep and complete. Perhaps unconsciously, subconsciously or even consciously (though she may not admit it), her focus on the wellbeing of cats may stem from the self-imposed trauma of this very experiment.
Kim concedes that cats still aren’t taken very seriously by vets and harkens back to her time at University when, with little written about them, it appeared to be the common perception that “a sick cat is a dead cat”! It may well have been a time of over-populated feral cats that created the general bias but, something about the species resonated with Kim, and she returned to the source to be their minder in a most unusual and endearing way.
Her interest was piqued when she moved to England to be involved with elephants, pigs and goats – all treated with equal intensity – and became much more interested in cats because she just didn’t seem to have answers on them. The challenge was on. Dr Kim narrowed her focus as her veterinary world opened up to cats, glorious cats!
Dr Kim has an incredible sense of humour and taste for adventure. Luckily husband John equals Kim’s fervour for the unknown. Married just prior to their overseas travels, John had only navigated a one month trial of cohabitation with a fully-fledged vet!
They travelled to England, to America and then to Zimbabwe, working there for six months. Afterwards, they drove around South Africa and found it fascinating. Dr Kim credits her passion for elephants as the enabler of the South African experience.
Risk taking. There it is; one of the ingredients of entrepreneurship. Were these calculated risks? Perhaps, but Dr Kim and John’s penchant for setting off on bicycles without enough money to cover return costs became almost a pleasurable routine. In fact Dr Kim used to call the process “staying ahead of the creditors” because whenever she got bored with a job, they didn’t just change jobs, they changed countries!
In the 1990s they returned to Australia to set up a cat clinic but the timing didn’t feel right. They returned to Zimbabwe, on to England and then further to America where they travelled in style in a 1966 Buick LeSabre on Route 66 from Cape Cod to L.A. With a six-week road trip to consider their future, Australia came up trumps despite original leanings towards opening a cat clinic in London.
Dr Kim had already managed a couple of businesses in England and both she and John knew that cashflow is king. They managed to save and also got a bank overdraft for $40,000. In 1994 that was a lot of money, however they knew the importance of having at least three years’ worth of survival money.
“We opened in August 1994, which makes us 21 years old this year. And, that’s 100 years in cat years. So, we’re celebrating 100 cat years.”
John was working as a builder at the time. The challenges were to find and fit out the commercial premises. Once found, the development plans received council permission in 10 days. Fortuitously for Dr Kim, John was able to do the fitout of the clinic and also act as evening receptionist after a day’s building work elsewhere.
Dr Kim and her clinic were rolling and she breathed a sigh of relief when the first $100 appeared in the black on her Profit & Loss statement. It meant the concept of the clinic was working. What differentiated Chatswood Cat Palace and Clinic from other vet clinics was Kim’s ability to listen to her clients, to what they wanted.
With the insights gained from listening to her market, Kim modified her approach. She noticed that on the North Shore, there was a pent-up demand for high quality cat boarding and vet services. She provided it. She also saw a need for a lot of cat surgery – particularly for abscesses – and she serviced that need. Simultaneously, she began to focus on educating the owners on how to avoid a repetition.
Dr Kim has educated many of her clients in the importance of cat care. Her mission has been to make connections with the owners and to influence the welfare of the cat through the owner. By educating the owner, she knows the cat will end up at the clinic long before crisis point, meaning they have the potential to grow old. “From the heart backed by science” is the motto!
Believes animals have souls, Dr Kim aims to minimise their suffering. Fear of coming to the vet clinic can heighten stress levels and obstruct healing so she aims to reduce that fear and promote a sense of comfort & calm in the environment of the clinic.
In practice, there are a maximum of five staff at any time and they need to know every detail of the holistic approaches and procedures. It’s not an easy ask of anyone and members of staff can be either the clinic’s biggest assets or biggest liabilities. Dr Kim sees staff motivation as coming from within and she’s well aware that people go through life cycles. “They can be the perfect staff for a couple of years and then they’re not”, she says. “Their births, deaths, and marriages kick in”, and that’s something over which she has no control.
A tremendous effort is made in terms of training staff to get them engaged in the process of participating in the nurturing of the clients so they can look after the cat and that linkage can be quite exhausting.
“Cats matter” is Kim’s motto and this means employee respect for cats is paramount. She further advises her staff that “your cat matters to you”, and because cats have become so dependent on their owners, a holistic and nurturing approach is needed to manage the cat/owner/vet relationship. Staff retention and marketing are the biggest consumers of Kim’s energy but she needs to invest well here to maintain what she calls a healthy “ship of state”.
“Originally, I used to see a lot of broken cats and cats with abscesses and so forth. So, there was a lot of surgery. Now, people are more aware of looking after cats properly. I see almost no broken cats. That means when they’re better looked after, they get old. So, this has become a geriatric cat clinic.”
As one of just two dedicated cat-only vet clinics in Sydney and the only cat vet in Australia qualified in cat behaviour, Chatswood Cat Palace and Clinic has a few unique services to its practice. The Cat Adoption Centre, for example, homes out kittens on the North Shore from the Cat Protection Society (Newtown). Staff members spend time with the adopters making sure they are aware of the medical needs of the cat and educating them in cat behaviour.
There are boarding facilities and grooming services, and most uniquely there is a cat café – ‘Café Purrfection’ (P-U-R-R-FECTION). This is a free coffee, self- service café where people can come to ‘hang out’ with cats, get used to their behaviours, get over their fears of them and play with them if they can’t have one in the home. People come to connect with the cats for all sorts of reasons. It’s a peaceful environment where people tend to zone out in the company of cool cats.
Kim’s five-year plan is to become a more virtual vet – “not virtuous”, she chuckles – and being more hands-off. She wants to teach her skills to other vets – and cat owners – so they can learn how to get the best out of a cat relationship. “The more you understand cats the more you get out of them.”
Happy about the way business is ticking over, Kim has no immediate plans to expand or multiply the Cat Palace and Clinic business model, although as a solid integrated concept it can be multiplied in other places. Perhaps a business partner could take Cat Palace and Clinic to the next level? PURR-haps, PURR-haps, PURR-haps..
Success for Dr Kim is definitely seeing the Profit & Loss statements in the black and knowing she has some lifestyle security, but “money is only a scorecard”. The fact she loves her job and enjoys coming to work tops her list of things that make for a meaningful life. And, she knows she is making a real difference to the life of cats – and their owners.
Kim mentions Richard Branson as an inspiring figure she greatly respects. Not only does he appear to be “selling the sizzle” he has depth of brand and an approach to service which is the loving of the provision of that service. Dick Smith is another entrepreneur who appears to have a great time bringing people along with him.
- Make sure you’ve got enough money for a three-year survival plan buffer.
- Ask for help. You can’t do everything yourself and you certainly can’t do everything well yourself. A lot of people are really delighted to help you if you just ask them. When you do, ask them nicely.
- Understand that there is nearly always a way under or around, or over an obstacle, but it will cause you more pain than you imagined.
- “The only cat vet in Australia qualified in cat behaviour.”
- “Her focus on the wellbeing of cats may stem from the self-imposed trauma of this very experiment.”
- “We opened in August 1994, which makes us 21 years old this year. And, that’s 100 years in cat years. So, we’re celebrating 100 cat years.”
Dr Kim Kendall is a cat expert despite the fact that cats are not her favourite animal. Her love of elephants was simply deemed too impractical in suburban Sydney! Dr Kim established the first ever Cat Palace and Clinic in Sydney, specialising in cat veterinary services and providing psychological benefits for humans as well. She is the go-to person for any feline issues.