Claudia McFadden is not your average veterinarian.
She's a rare breed: A medical oncologist veterinarian, the only one in the Charlotte area who specializes in animals with cancer.
Although it is an up-and-coming career option, only 5 percent of veterinarians practice specialized medicine.
McFadden, 36, has been married to her husband, Bryan, for five years. She is an animal lover who started volunteering at a veterinary clinic when she was 11. McFadden's mom, Barbara Walter, claims that when she was nine months pregnant with McFadden, she was rescuing some cats from the road when she went into labor, so McFadden's love for animals was meant to be.
The McFaddens, who live in Balmoral Park, have two German shepherds and six cats, all rescues. She found two of her cats while training for a marathon. Her two German shepherds are both "tripods" - dogs with only three legs.
Galloping through the yard, her dogs Moose and Jack are a throng of fur and legs. Moose lost his leg when a horse kicked him. The owners relinquished him, but the McFaddens funded his surgery and decided to keep him.
Jack became a member of the family when a police officer and client of McFadden's called to see if McFadden knew someone who would be interested in caring for Jack. . Jack had been hit by a car, and his leg had to be amputated.
McFadden is a graduate of the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech, and she completed an internship in Florida and her oncology residency at Colorado State University. All in all, she has had 13 years of schooling.
Today she works for Carolina Veterinary Specialists, whose Charlotte facility is off Tryon Street just south of Interstate 485. The organization treats "companion pets" and all of its business starts as a referral from general practice veterinarians in the area.
"Our goal when we treat animals with cancer is to prolong their life, while continuing to have a normal quality of life," said McFadden.
She conducts the initial consultation and determines the appropriate treatment. Her practice offers advanced diagnostics so owners can make a more informed decision on how, or if, they should treat the cancer.
Treatment could mean chemotherapy, surgery or radiation. The practice does not currently offer radiation therapy, but that will change in April with the opening of a new office in Stallings.
Chemotherapy can be a quick, relatively simple solution, and the side effects usually are not severe for animals.
"Chemotherapy is toxic, so it should be administered by people who have special training, for both the safety of the personnel and the animal," said McFadden.
McFadden usually puts in a 60-hour work week, going in at 7 a.m. and leaving at 9 p.m. Many of the evening hours are spent on the phone, helping owners make treatment decisions, understand diagnostic results or cope with a terminal diagnosis.
"Cancer is an emotional diagnosis for the owner," she said. "The animal is often their best friend and owners want to honor that bond by doing everything they can, but they don't want to do too much and cause suffering."
Like all doctors, McFadden advises, listens and consoles. Animals and people quickly sense she will perform these functions with a gentle demeanor and compassionate heart.
In addition to working 60-hour weeks, running marathons and baking desserts, McFadden and her husband have established Murray's Fund, a foundation at her practice that helps owners in financial need cover the cost of cancer therapy.