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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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
08540. Terry J. Miele, veterinarian. 609-951-0400; fax, 609-520-9852.
Princeton 08540. James A. Miele, veterinarian. 609-520-2000; fax,
332 Princeton-Hightstown Road, West Windsor 08550. 609-799-3110;
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.