Oct. 14, 2004 Cruz Bay Canines, Cats and Critters veterinarian Dr. Laura Palminteri and her husband, Joe Palminteri, saw a need. After several vacations on St. John, they noticed that the closest veterinarian was in Red Hook, St. Thomas.
"Everybody said 'boy, do we need a vet here,'" the veterinarian said.
The couple moved to St. John six years ago to open shop at Palm Plaza, located near the Westin Resort and Villas. After three years, they had so much business they expanded into an adjacent store.
Cruz Bay Canines, Cats and Critters now provides one-stop shopping for pet-related items. The shelves are stocked with pet food, kitty litter, bowls, toys and anything you could possibly need for your pet. The store also sells aquarium fish and all the accoutrements.
Pet care remains at the heart of the Palminteri's business. Dr. Laura, as she is affectionately known around St. John, is currently the only veterinarian on staff, but she's looking hard for some help. A handful of staff members rounds out the team.
Dr. Laura heads on Tuesdays to Tortola to care for that island's pets. She now has an office near the West End ferry terminal, but said when she first started practicing in Tortola, she used a piece of plywood as a table to care for pets.
The couple finds many challenges in running their business. It's expensive to ship dog food because it takes up so much space, and vaccines and medicines must remain chilled during transit.
They also try to balance work and family. Joe Palminteri, who handles the business aspects of Cruz Bay Canines, Cats and Critters, now works only two days a week so he can care for their two boys, Michael, 4, and Charlie, 2.
The Palminteris met when Dr. Laura, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, treated horses at Yonkers Raceway in New York City. Joe Palminteri trained them.
Joe Palminteri, 43, grew up in Garden City, N.Y. Dr. Laura, 39, was from a military family that spent most of its time on the East Coast.
Becoming a veterinarian was a natural for Dr. Laura.
"I always loved animals and wanted to be a vet when I was a kid," she said.
She said she's practicing a much higher quality of medicine that she originally thought would be possible because people who bring in their pets for care want what's best for their animals.
Cruz Bay Canines, Cats and Critters is a big supporter of the Animal Care Center of St. John. They provide all services at a discount, including spaying and neutering feral cats and dogs. Dr. Laura said thanks to this program the packs of stray dogs that wandered Cruz Bay are way down in number and the amount of feral cats is drastically reduced.
While cats and dogs make up most of their patient list, they do treat an occasional iguana, pelican, donkey and even a stray baby chick discovered in the Palm Plaza parking lot.
"And we have a good working relationship with the national park," Joe Palminteri said, referring to V.I. National Park.
Dr. Laura recently neutered a group of male donkeys at Caneel Bay Resort in a successful effort to stop their pesky behavior.
She said she finds her career very rewarding.
"I think we've made a difference being here," she said.
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