Jim and Terry Miele

Jake Blumenthal and Milton Horowitz

Warren Fredenfeld

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This story by Melinda Sherwood was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 7, 2000. All rights reserved.

At the Cat’s Castle, Even Dogs Have Their Day

E-mail: MelindaSherwood@princetoninfo.com

There is no shortage of architectural landmarks along

Alexander Road — the Carnegie complex, with its majestic lakes,

and the new SJP Commons, home of Pharmacia and Upjohn, are just some

of the corporate attractions here — but who would guess that one

of the most distinctive buildings of all caters not to humans, but

animals?

That classic-looking building on the corner of Roszel and Alexander

roads — the one with the stately columns, arched windows, and

rotunda — is no corporate headquarters. It’s the new Princeton

Animal Hospital and Carnegie Cat Clinic, owned by veterinarian couple

Jim and Terry Miele. On the left is the Princeton Animal Hospital,

which welcomes all pets, while the right is the Carnegie Cat Clinic,

Terry Miele’s strictly-for-cats practice, relocated from 332 Princeton-Hightstown

Road. Designed by William Fredenfeld, a Boston-based architect who

has built some 200 veterinary hospitals in the U.S., it rivals almost

any vet hospital in the country. When all is said and done, the Mieles

will have sunk nearly $2 million dollars into their dream hospital

— much of it in loans — proving that, even in a tech-driven

society, pets still have a place, and a pretty nice one at that.

"It’s not just a nice hospital, it’s an extremely nice hospital,"

says Jim Miele, showing off one of the hospitals more flamboyant features,

a killer office-wide stereo system. "I spend most of my life at

work, and a lot of my employees do too," says Miele. "So what

we wanted to do is make it a nice place to work, a fun place to work."

Some might say lavish. In the lobby, the floor looks as though it’s

been cut from green marble, and the reception desk and seating area

is all custom-made oak. In the waiting area, at TV and VCR plays educational

tapes to pet owners, who can adjust the volume from a personalized

speaker on the back of their seat.

Enter one of the five exam rooms and you find the latest

high-tech gadgets, custom cabinetry, and a computer workstation that

makes it possible for patients to be billed on the spot to avoid a

bottleneck at the front desk. Further back, there are separate hospital

wards for cats and dogs, each with 24-hour ICU capability, an Internet-ready

radiology room with X-ray and instant developer, an in-house pharmacy

and lab, and self-flushing "runs" with heated floors. Finally,

"his" and "hers" operating tables.

But the Mieles really roll out the red carpet for the pets that board

here: in the soon-to-be built cat hotel, owners can book their cats

an ocean-view suite or country-view suite; one looks out onto an aquarium,

the other into an aviary.

Nobody questions that veterinary medicine is a noble profession, beset

with its own challenges (the Mieles’ patients bark, scratch, and bite

after all), But does a veterinary hospital need to be a multi-million

dollar facility? And can two veterinarians with a lot of overhead

really give personalized pet care? "I think the population supports

the building," says Miele, "and we owe it to them to give

them the highest quality of service. There are two things a person

can do with their income — take it and run or reinvest it to continue

to improve."

Veterinarians in the Princeton area since 1988 and owners of three

practices, the Mieles view the new hospital as the culmination of

many years of hard work and scrimping. Not too long ago Jim and Terry

lived with their five kids (ranging in age from 4 to 17), numerous

pets, and au pair in a small, one-story rancher where the hospital

now sits. The family didn’t even have furniture. "Our whole life

has been delayed gratification — how do you think we got where

we were at?," asks Miele, whose family moved into a home in Pennington

three years ago. Small sacrifices, says Miele, when you have a job

you love. "It’s not a career, it’s a way of life," he says.

"You’re a doctor, and you are either dedicated to what you’re

doing or you’re an accountant working nine to five. My father and

mother were examples – they tried to give us whatever we needed."

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Jim and Terry Miele

Raised in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in a household without pets, Jim

Miele first learned about animals while working on a dairy farm and

attending Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. "I was constantly

read everything I could on wildlife," he says. "I just absolutely

loved it. I wanted to be a veterinarian so I could be around animals

all the time." The son of a foreman at the Electric Motor Repair

Company in Trenton, Miele says that if he hadn’t decided to be a veterinarian

he would most certainly be in wildlife management today.

After earning his BS in animal science, Class of 1977, Miele went

to Rutgers for a masters program in animal science. There he met Terry,

a native of Belleville, New Jersey who was completing a degree in

animal science at Cook College (Class of 1980). After Terry graduated,

the couple migrated to Ohio. Terry was working on her masters in etymology,

while Jim worked in a research lab at Ohio State’s veterinary school

and earned a masters in pathology. He earned a PhD in reproductive

physiology before even applying to vet school.

In 1982, Jim was accepted to veterinary school at Ohio State. Then

the unexpected — Terry became pregnant. Rather than withdrawing

from school, however, the Mieles stayed their course, in spite of

the fact that they weren’t making any money. "I had classmates

telling me I was being selfish by having a kid while in the school,"

he recalls. "I wasn’t going to let some other human being to tell

me how to live my life."

"If you have passion, it’s half the effort," says Miele who

draws much of his inspiration from "The Seven Keys to Successful

People," by Steven Covey and other self-improvement books. "To

me, success is so easy it’s ridiculous. All you have to do is believe

with absolute certainty that you can do this. Then you have to acquire

knowledge."

Serendipity landed the couple an opportunity to manage three apartment

buildings for $500 a month, rent free. When their first child, Theresa

(now 17 and a student at George Washington University) was born, "we

surrounded our apartment with babysitters," says Miele. Their

second daughter, Elizabeth, was born three years later, when Terry

was at the end of her sophomore year in veterinary school. "It

was a tough year," says Miele. "Terry was getting sick in

the back of class."

While Terry finished vet school, Jim moved back to New Jersey with

their two daughters and stayed with an aunt and uncle who lived in

Mercerville. His first few years after vet school he worked in the

Mercerville Animal Hospital.

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Jake Blumenthal and Milton Horowitz

In 1988, Dr. Jake Blumenthal, a partner at the Princeton Animal Hospital

on Route 1, died. His partner, Dr. Milton Horowitz, put the hospital

on the market for $215,000. Terry, who had just completed vet school,

and Jim had been thinking about buying a practice for some time. Borrowing

$15,000 from his father, Jim made a down payment of $30,000 on the

Route 1animal hospital. "It had some long-established clientele,

and my wife talked me into it," says Jim. "Without her, this

is not even possible."

In debt again, the Mieles figured they could make ends

meet by moving into the two-bedroom apartment above the Horowitzes,

who owned a house on the same lot as the hospital. Their third daughter,

Emily, was born shortly thereafter.

Then in 1991 the Mieles did something rash. They bought a primo piece

of land on the corner of Alexander Road and Roszel Road. The price

for that property would be astronomical today, but it wasn’t cheap

then either: $600,000. Miele says he overpaid for the property. "I

had people telling us we were foolish, and why would you do something

like that," he says. "I wanted that piece of property. It

is a risk — everything I own is leveraged, but if you want something

you just have to outbeat your competitor."

That year, the Mieles took out two heaping loans — one to pay

or the down payment on the property, another to pay their taxes —

and moved into the small ranch home at 726 Alexander Road. Terry converted

the second building on the property into her own business, the Carnegie

Cat Clinic. "Even though the land wasn’t worth it, the business

was generating income," says Miele. "Now it’s worth what we

paid for it finally. I don’t think we ever took a loss."

In 1996, the Mieles bought a third practice, the West-Windsor Plainsboro

Animal Hospital bought, and in 1997 they had their home razed to make

way for the hospital. They moved into a home in Pennington with their

five kids, cats, dogs, mice, gerbils and several reptiles. "Finally,

after ten years, we live in a house that fits our family," says

Miele.

Combined, the three practices have about 17,000 clients (human) on

the books, although all are not active. There are approximately eight

veterinarians for a total of 40 staff members who float between the

three practices.

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Warren Fredenfeld

VJ Scozzari and Sons broke ground on the Princeton Animal Hospital

in the early part of 1999. Well-known in the veterinary community

for building some 200 veterinary hospitals around the country, Boston-based

architect Warren Fredenfeld designed the hospital. Trained in architecture

at Syracuse (Class of 1970), he was the architect for the New England

Medical Center before he got his first crack at building a vet hospital

in Wakefield, Massachusetts, during the mid-1970s. "Back then,

veterinary hospitals were hardly ever designed," he says. "They

just kind of evolved in small homes and basements. From a design standpoint,

creating veterinary hospitals that actually rival human facilities

in stature is probably one of the most remarkable evolutions in recent

history."

After visiting several veterinary hospitals in the New England area,

Fredenfeld developed a design to address many of the issues specific

to animal hospitals, things such as odor, noise, and sanitation systems.

"I decided to investigate the whole veterinary profession and

to understand the successes and failures of other vet hospitals,"

he says. "There are certain kinds of outpatient and inpatient

circulation patterns that need to be worked out, and then there’s

the details of constructing a building to resist situations where

the clients urinate on the floor."

In fact, there is a proactive rather than reactive solution to that

problem, says Fredenfeld. As it happens, male dogs are partial to

urinating on right angles, and won’t lift their legs for a 45 degree

slope. Several portions of the new hospital are designed with that

in mind.

Other practical features of the hospital on Alexander Road include

self-flushing runs (large kennels where the dogs can move about) with

radiant heat built into the floor, quarantine rooms for animals with

transmittable diseases, and a bathing room designed to make cleaning

big and small animals a cinch. The building also has central vacuum

for cleaning up after hairballs and lingering fur.

The design of the building reflects its architectural surroundings.

"We try to design each hospital to be very much in harmony with

its neighborhood or environment," says Fredenfeld. "A project

in Florida would not look like one in Cape Cod. We looked at a lot

of architectural buildings in the Princeton area and tried to pick

up on the local architectural vernacular — the use of brick and

arches, for example."

The average animal hospital, says Fredenfeld, costs between $110 and

$160 square foot. The Mieles hospital is on the high-end of that scale,

he says. The custom cabinetry alone, says Miele, cost around $100,000,

while the floors, which are made of concrete and marmoleum (a material

made of bark, limestone, pin resin, oak, jute and linseed oil, reputed

to withstand time) cost another $80,000.

And the building isn’t even complete. The Mieles still need another

$300,000 to finish off the lower level, where there will be boarding

for cats, doctors’ suites, and conference rooms for staff. "The

whole way it’s built is luxurious," says Miele. "You can build

a building that looks nice but the craftsmanship is pressboard and

2 by 3s, and half-inch sheet rock instead of five-eighths, but we

did everything the highest scale. We built the shell, and put a lot

of the capability in, but the rest is easy to add now because we took

the time to do the superstructure right."

"Dr. Miele is an excellent doctor and people really want a great

facility for their pets," comments Fredenfeld. "He certainly

is a man who knows what he wants and he wants the very best —

I think that Dr. Miele is exceptional in that way. He doesn’t want

to settle for second best."

Some of the things Miele still hopes to add: a laser, ultrasound unit,

diagnostic imaging equipment, and endoscopes. The building is also

wired for closed-circuit TV, which will enable doctors to keep an

eye on pets from different parts of the hospital. "We didn’t start

up the building with every toy that we wanted," says Miele. "In

business, you set up your goals, and what can give you the most benefit

for your clients and patients, and then go from there."

Fortunately, pet medicine is a multi-million dollar business. A normal

visit to the vet — maybe once or twice a year — can cost $200.

If the animal is sick, it may be as much as $500.

Like in people medicine, advances have come rapidly in the past 10

to 20 years, thus hiking expectations. "People are asking me if

I can do laser surgery now, and we don’t have the money for a $10,000

unit," says Miele, whose typical procedures include spaying, neutering,

fixing broken legs, and removing kidneys or spleens.

There are more complicated procedures, however. Several years ago,

Miele saw a cat whose leg had been crushed in more than 12 pieces.

The cat owner pleaded against amputation. "Imagine someone taking

a hammer to the shaft of a turkey leg, cracking it all apart, and

then asking you to put it back together again," says Miele. "It

was like a jigsaw puzzle — I had to figure out where it all went."

After reconstructing the bone outside of the body, Miele wired each

fragment into place. The cat now moves about relatively unfettered.

The procedure cost about $750 at the time, says Miele, although today

it would be somewhere around $1,000. "We’re competitive with everyone

else," says Miele. "In fact, we’re hoping eventually to lower

our prices."

That people are willing to go into debt for their pets, says Fredenfeld,

is not so surprising. "Today, people’s pets are like their children,"

he says. "But while children grow up, move away, and the parents

only hear from them now and then, the pet is there for them every

night when they come home, never in a bad mood, always wagging its

tale and affectionate. Most people will go to any length to protect

the health and well-being of their family. In the U.S. the nuclear

family is not as strong as it is in Europe, and as the family tends

to dissipate, the pets take on a greater significance to their owners."

"Animals are pretty pure," says Miele. "You walk in the

home and they just unconditionally accept you. Pets are people’s family

members — they’re not chained up to the tree outside any more."

Pet owners are a demanding lot, however. They want more than just

the latest technology and posh waiting rooms — they want compassion.

One Carnegie Cat Clinic client recalls how Terry Miele, in her eighth

month of pregnancy, made a house call to put her dying cat to sleep

painlessly, and in the presence of family members.

With their multi-million dollar hospital, will the Mieles still be

accessible to their clients in the same personal, familial way? "I

think that’s part of what’s built our business — we’re a family

practice, not a corporate practice," says Jim Miele. "It’s

a real symphony of people that make it happen. Without some excellent

doctors and caring people who work for me, we can’t do the things

that we’re doing."

"It wasn’t that he wanted to build a Taj Mahal," says Fredenfeld.

"It’s that he wanted to build a facility that would provide state

of the art medicine in an environment that would make people feel

warm, comfortable, and at home, and that they were in a very special

place."

The hospital may be grandiose, but Miele claims his expectations are

still modest. He does not dwell on dreams of power or prestige, and

when it comes to money, his attitude is simple: What, me worry? "Money

to me is not something you take to bed with you," he says. "I

don’t live for it. It’s just a means for me to do what I need to have

done. I love my job, my wife loves her job, and the building allows

us to attract high quality staff and doctors, it lets them know that

we’re serious about what we do, and we equally attract high quality

clients."

Carnegie Cat Clinic, 726 Alexander Road, Princeton

08540. Terry J. Miele, veterinarian. 609-951-0400; fax, 609-520-9852.

Princeton Animal Hospital, 726 Alexander Road,

Princeton 08540. James A. Miele, veterinarian. 609-520-2000; fax,

609-520-9852.

Plainsboro-West Windsor Veterinary Hospital,

332 Princeton-Hightstown Road, West Windsor 08550. 609-799-3110;

fax, 609-897-0838.

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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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