Larry LaRue

Want to adopt a cat? Buy a painting? You can do both at Tacoma animal hospital

Kittens would have been too easy, and Dr. Natalie Warren loves a good challenge.

More than eight years ago, Warren and her Tacoma practice — the Metropolitan Veterinary Hospital — forged an agreement with the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County.

“They give us their tough ones. They might be older cats, some might have chronic health issues,” Warren said. “Every cat we’ve taken has been adopted. Sometimes it might take a year, but they find homes.”

The total, so far, is 296 cats that the animal hospital has adopted out to permanent homes.

“We have time to work with them, socialize them, show them off,” said receptionist Alyssa McFarland. “We let them come out of their shell.”

And their cages.

“A lot of veterinarians have office cats. We don’t. We have five to six clinic cats (at a time), and we bond with them,” Warren said. “One of them, Shortcake, is just hanging out in our reception area.”

Sure enough, the shy, sweet Calico is curled up on a desk, near the portraits of two other cats.

That’s an appropriate background, because aside from a busy practice with 11 employees, Warren has also embraced the art community. The veterinarian, a woman who rides horses and a BMW motorcycle, does nothing half way.

“We’ve displayed art since we opened nine years ago,” Warren said. “We’ll have a reception to introduce the artist, and then their work will hang here for three months.”

Not all of the artwork features dogs and cats, but there must be an animal theme. Warren has embraced all mediums, from pen-and-ink to photography, from watercolors to oils.

One of the dozens of artists who have participated is Alexis St. John, whose work includes four charming children’s books, all of which she illustrated.

When St. John brought her dog in for an appointment, she took notice of what the hospital was doing with the cat adoptions and the art displays. And she thought of a way to promote both.

The result? Nat’s Cats, which anyone can follow on Facebook.

“People would watch the page even if they didn’t want to adopt,” St. John said. “It’s cute. Maybe they’d buy (greeting) cards, donate some money.”

No one appreciates what Warren and her veterinary team are doing more than the Humane Society.

“Natalie is the only vet in our area that takes cats, and she takes some special-needs cats,” said Marguerite Richmond, who handles fundraising, membership and marketing for the society.

“If those same cats were here, the public wouldn’t see them; they’d be in the veterinary area,” Richmond said. “(Warren) takes them, puts them in a great environment, and the staff there is wonderful to the cats. We love her.”

In addition to Nat’s Cats, the veterinary practice has created the Dandelion Fund.

“Whenever a patient dies, either here or at home, we put $5 in the fund,” McFarland said. “If we sell a piece of art, there’s a small commission that goes in. And we’ve asked artists if they’re open to donating a piece of art for the fund.”

What’s the fund for? Taking care of animals, of course.

“When money becomes an issue for a pet owner and stands in the way of their pet’s treatment, the Dandelion Fund comes in and we donate some of it,” McFarland said.

The art at the animal hospital is inexpensive. There are cards for $5, and paintings for no more than $50.

“I’ve bought art here,” Warren said, laughing. “And I’ve adopted a cat, too. For a while, this cat was like a dog, and would ride to work and home with me. Then it stopped wanting to come to work.”

On Feb. 4, the hospital will have its next reception, for artist Carol Meckling. It will throw in a pre-holiday offer for Valentine’s Day, as well.

Make a reservation early and you can get a photo taken with you and your pet. All proceeds go to the Dandelion Fund.

And if you don’t have a pet, Warren and her staff can show you five candidates before you take your coat off.

“If you adopt a cat here, we’ll even give you $25 off your next visit,” Warren said.