Perhaps Kim Kees was a natural to become a veterinarian. After all, her grandfather was an old-school vet in Oklahoma who treated cows and horses, along with dogs and cats that also ran around the farms he visited.
But at age 13, upon the advice of her father, Kees began working in her hometown Sallisaw Veterinary Clinic and found out she did have a genuine passion for helping four-legged creatures. That set her on a path to gaining the knowledge and skills and degrees required in college, followed by various jobs at clinics in Oklahoma and, eventually, in Savannah, Ga., before landing in Columbus in 2004.
After stints at a handful of animals hospitals and clinics, Kees, who now lives in the Midland area of Columbus, came to All Cats Clinic at 6320 Bradley Park Drive as a “relief” veterinarian filling in when needed. After the nearly three-decade-old clinic’s founder, Dr. Dennis Young, retired and sold his practice to Dr. Scott McDermott, a veterinarian who owns Weems Road Animal Hospital, she was hired fulltime last June at All Cats.
“This position presented itself. It was unexpected,” said Kees, 44. “I was very honored that Dr. Young, this great doctor of cats, would even recommend me for the position. But I’ve always looked up to his medical knowledge. He’s spent 25 years with cats. You just learn a lot. And I still learn from him. He’ll pop in here and say some random thing and I’m like: Oh, my god. That’s another thing about this profession is you’re never going to know everything. You’re always learning and I like that, personally.”
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Kees recently at All Cats Clinic to discuss her job, what it’s like to work with cats only, and to get an idea of the skills that those who are considering a veterinary career should think about acquiring to be good at it. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. So you knew early in life that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
A. Yeah, there was no other choice for me. I had people early on telling me no, no, trying to talk me out of it, veterinarians, in fact. ... That’s because as a veterinarian, despite what people think, we do not make a ton of money, especially with all of the schooling you go through. If you take our salaries and put them up next to a physician, it’s a huge difference. But I’m comfortable and not complaining and very happy to have a job.
Q. Others wanted you to go to a medical school to treat humans?
A. They sure did, but the interest just wasn’t there for me.
Q. It takes a calling to be a veterinarian?
A. It does take a calling, yes, and it takes huge dedication because you’ve got to go through all of that schooling. But for me, the passion’s there. I feel like this was my true calling and it it’s a gift for me, and it’s just my affinity for animals.
Q. Your road to Columbus came through Savannah. Did you ever think you would be in the Deep South?
A. Not really. I always wanted to be on the East Coast. I thought I would be a little more north or in Florida.
Q. People do like the Savannah area?
A. I did, I liked it. But I like the people here better than there. It’s more of a melting pot here, I guess.
Q. Is this the first all-cats facility you’ve worked at?
A. It is the first all cats I’ve worked at. In fact, there are very few all-cat clinics in the nation. Our clients, a good bit of them, come here for that very reason. They don’t want to have to deal with the dogs and the smells and barking. The dogs usually heighten the cat’s anxiety. When you come in here, it’s quiet, and I love that about this.
Q. The barking alone would be pretty tough for cats, I would think?
A. They’re anxious enough in here, but it does take that component out of it. It makes it more simple. Most of our clients are extremely loyal. Plus this is all we do. I’ve always had an affinity for cats, even at other practices I worked. The staff was like: Oh, go get Dr. Kees, she’s going to look at all the cats. And that’s because I like them.
Q. Although it’s hard sometimes to tell if a cat likes you, if they give you the brush off, so to speak?
A. That can be true. (laughs) But we have kind of a way of doing things here, and Dr. Young set it up. He’s a wonderful veterinarian. I feel blessed to even follow in his footsteps. I always say I try to fill his shoes, but that’s not possible. I’m trying to kind of create my own niche here and keep it at the standard of care that he offered.
Q. Does he ever come back into the office?
A. Oh, yeah, he peeks in all the time. In fact, he was in here today … and I was out last week with the flu and he graciously came in (to substitute for her). He said, I’m there, I’ve got you.
Q. How many cats do you see in a week’s time?
A. We’re not a high-volume clinic, meaning we don’t just crank them through. This is a very high-quality practice. We take time and focus on the individual health of each animal and try to dig and find out exactly what’s going on. Cats are extremely difficult from a medical standpoint, which is the challenge even more so than dogs. (A human patient) can tell you stuff, but with dogs and cats you have to use your instincts and you have to listen to the owners, and you have to have good examination skills. With cats, it’s even more so.
Q. Why is that?
A. Cats can be more challenging because they hide disease more so than a dog does. They’re very cryptic sometimes. That’s why I listen to the owners so much because they’re very intimate with their cats. They know their cats. We may not necessarily figure it out immediately, but usually they’re on to something. That little change can actually be something big going on behind the scenes. It’s very challenging. Obviously, people have to be willing to do diagnostics, which costs money. But we’re about getting to the root of problems and not just throwing stuff at it. That’s the standard of care that I’ve always liked to do.
Q. You’re here five days a week?
A. Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 5.
Q. And I guess you get to see all kinds of cats?
A. Oh, yeah. In fact, we had some Bengals in here yesterday. They were beautiful. That’s something I don’t have a lot of experience with, individual breeds. Most of them are just your domestic cats.
Q. Is there a typical day for you?
A. Today has kind of been average. Very commonly we don’t get a lunch. We just order and go get something. But we see appointments from 9 until about 11 and then we start doing procedures, which are generally surgeries. We get drop-offs because cats need sedation, because they don’t tolerate us pulling blood and doing things that they don’t like. We would rather just sedate them than fighting with them because we’re not going to win, and it’s not worth the battle. So it’s much easier and less stressful for the cat to just sleep through it. That goes until we finish, and then our appointments start back around 2 o’clock.
Q. You do have occasional emergencies come in?
A. Oh, yeah. One of them we saw … it came in with an eye lesion. We X-rayed it yesterday and it had gotten shot through the eye. It looks like it may be a .22 (caliber bullet). I’m not a ballistics person, but it’s definitely not a BB and not bigger than a .22. It actually went through the eye and is lodged in the face, the jaw.
Q. What do you do for that?
A. You usually leave the shrapnel unless it’s causing a problem. But the eye, I think we’re planning to take it.
Q. What kind of variety do you see with illnesses and injuries?
A. We see a lot of cat fights, bite wounds, abscesses and stuff in your younger outdoor cats. A lot of respiratory tract infections. We see a lot of kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease in your older cats, it’s extremely common … and lymphoma and heart disease.
Q. I see you have all kinds of foods on the shelves here that help with illnesses?
A. Cats can get urinary tract disease and with that we can usually manage them with medication and food. There are so many things worth doing diagnostics on because they’ve now got more aids to manage things. We may never be able to fix it, but we can manage it and make the animal more comfortable and healthier.
Q. Including the diets?
A. Exactly. The foods are amazing now. It’s a science in and of itself. Those are sometimes better than medication. Like with kidney problems, there’s no medication that equals a kidney diet, and just the way the minerals and everything are regulated. I’ll use food all the time, because it can slow down the progression of kidney disease. Or like with diabetes, it helps keep their glucose a little more steady so you don’t get the peaks and valleys, which helps with insulin control. There are lots of inflammatory bowel issues that they get that we can manage through. There are food allergies, the skin breaks out, so we have hypoallergenic food.
Q. Have you ever had emotional moments?
A. All the time. I cry all the time because I get emotionally invested in it, too. I’m a very empathetic person to begin with, so that allows me to cry … When you get to the point that you have to put one to sleep, and there’s just nothing else that can be done, it’s a gift that we can give this animal. It’s hard. But it’s something we can provide so that the animal doesn’t have to suffer.
Q. Do you find cat people are different than dog people?
A. Yes, they are. I think that the relationship between a cat and it’s owner, I wouldn’t say is more intimate, but it’s just different … because cats are so independent.
Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of being a veterinarian, particularly in an all-cat environment?
A. To me, it’s the depth of hiding of disease that they do. That’s the challenge. I’ve worked with dogs and cats both, and dogs are easier to read and figure out. They’re more open with their symptoms, almost like they have feelings. They tell you more.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. Just trying to provide the help or answers or improvement to the owner. To me, I try to have a good relationship with the owners, too. I’m a people person, anyway. A lot of people get into veterinary medicine saying: Well, I don’t have to deal with people. That’s not true. That’s who you deal with. They’re ones you have to speak to, the ones you have to listen to, the ones who pay the bill. They’re all over it. So I try to learn the people. That’s why I like to listen to them about what they’ve got to say about their animals because, for the most part, they can give you (sound) feedback.
Q. To help you figure out the problem?
A. Right. So patience is the key, and you’ve got to keep working at it, because a lot of times you don’t get an answer right away. It’s not immediate gratification. Most of the time it’s not.
Q. For someone considering a veterinary career, what advice can you give?
A. Like my dad said when I was 13: Well, you like animals? You think you want to be a vet? Let’s go see how you do at the vet clinic. So I went and started volunteering on Saturdays. You can’t really do that anymore because of employee laws and insurance and all that. But I loved it. So I think that by itself will weed out a whole bunch of people, because it’s gross. There’s some nasty stuff that we smell and touch and see. So for a lot of people, that just weeds them out immediately.
Q. So get experience if you can?
A. Yes. Go to PAWS and clean up poop. Just get in it. You’ve got to be around it to see if it’s something that you like. I had people in my veterinary class that had never even had a job in a vet clinic … So I hope that they were good. I don’t know. Just because you can pass classes and that kind of stuff doesn’t mean that you’re going to be good at it.
Q. What are good skills you need?
A. Communication is huge. That’s probably the most important thing. To me, if you have a passion for something, I don’t know if it’s necessary, but it sure is a nice bonus. That’s true for any job. If you have a passion for it, you’re generally going to stand out a little more than the next guy who doesn’t care.
Q. Sounds like you also need to be curious?
A. Yes, and some people aren’t. If you don’t have that curiosity and love of learning and just taking it in, I just don’t think you’re going to get as good of care as someone who is passionate about learning new stuff.
Dr. Kim Kees
Hometown: Sallisaw, Okla.
Current residence: Midland area
Education: 1991 graduate of Sallisaw High School; earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., in 1996; earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., in 2000
Previous jobs: Worked at Timbers Veterinary Clinic in Tahlequah, Okla., through undergraduate school; worked at several hospitals during veterinary school during summers and on breaks in the Tulsa, Okla., area; after graduating from veterinary school, practiced small animal medicine and surgery at Acadia Veterinary Hospital in Tulsa; moved to Savannah, Ga., and practiced small animal medicine and surgery for two years at Richmond Hill Animal Hospital; then moved to Columbus in 2004, where she has worked at Animal Health Center, Cataula Veterinary Hospital, Benning Animal Hospital and Fur Buds After Hours Veterinary Clinic. In 2015, she began doing relief veterinary services at All Cats Clinic, River Road Animal Clinic, Summerville Animal Hospital, Macon Road Veterinary Clini, and Animal General Hospital
Family: She has two daughters, 13 and 10 years old, and they have two family dogs, Fletcher and Leroy
Leisure time: Enjoys spending time outside and going to the lake, hiking, listening to music, watching movies, and watching her kids during sports and other events