Statements from animal owners that cause practitioners everywhere to celebrate the veterinary-client-patient relationship:
1. Ask: “Why didn’t you go to school to become a real doctor?
Vets love this one. The answer, of course, is that we’re not really all that smart. If we were smart, we would have been able to do the same amount of post-baccalaureate education as physicians, learn the same disciplines for multiple species, and treat patients who can’t tell us where it hurts… oh, wait…
2. Lead off the history with “Well, I tried the acupuncturist, the chiropractor, the (in the case of horse owners) farrier, my neighbor, and the Internet, but he doesn’t seem to be getting any better, so I thought I’d give you a try. I don’t know what you’re going to be able to do.”
This is a great ice-breaker. It lets us know that you place a high value on marketing, little value on data, and that your poor animal has been running around with this condition long enough that any treatment we offer has a much lower chance of success. Fun! Who doesn’t love a challenge?
3. Begin the telephone call by saying (preferably in an hysterical, demanding shriek), "My regular vet is Dr. So-and-So, but he’s out of town. I’ve tried every other vet in the area, but no one can see me until tomorrow, so you have to send someone out here RIGHT NOW!"
This special relationship catalyst fills us with warmth and a longing for your presence. Who doesn’t want to be told that he or she was the last resort? Who doesn’t look forward to a drive across the countryside with the promise of a screaming client at the end of the trip? I’ll jump in the truck right away…
4. Call at 10pm with an “emergency” that you’ve been watching deteriorate all day. Your best bet is to say, “Well, I noticed that he didn’t eat his breakfast, but I figured he’d come out of it, but now it’s getting late and I want to go to bed, so I guess you’d better come out here.”
Yes, of course, you’re absolutely right. He might have come out of it on his own, and, really, I do my best work in the dark, an hour past my bedtime. Fifteen bonus points for the addition of rain. Twenty bonus points if you don’t have lights in your barn. Five more bonus points if you don’t have a barn.
5. When you call with #4, please, please be sure to complain about the after-hours fee.
You are absolutely right. It is a treat and a privilege for me to climb out of my warm bed, to leave my family or my dinner table, to drive out into the darkness to see the animal that you have allowed to writhe in pain all day. I should pay you for the treat.
6. Be more concerned with your animal’s “emotional comfort” than with my safety.
Again, you are absolutely right. Fluffy, Muffy, Spike, Buck, or Bossy should not feel restrained or threatened or have to deal with any of that nasty (and expensive) sedation or those horrible muzzles. A veterinarian should surely have the skills to protect his or her hands from gnashing teeth, to dodge flying hooves and half-ton bodies all while keeping his/her technical staff and all innocent bystanders safe. Your dog isn’t leash-trained? Your horse has never worn a halter or been touched in his life? Cattle chute – what cattle chute? No problem, we should absolutely be able to perform a thorough physical exam, diagnose a complex condition, and administer treatment without any inconvenience to you or to your beloved pet. Training and facilities are over-rated anyway…
7. While we’re talking training, please look for a medical answer to your animal’s every behavioral problem.
Yes, it’s almost certainly hormonal, or back pain, or something in the diet. Certainly, a shot, an implant, a pill will make your horse, dog, cat, pig, or wallaby behave. Yes, sedation is absolutely the best way to get a horse to trailer safely – never mind those balance issues, or the fun adrenaline-override, or the fact that you didn’t want me to sedate him last week in order to check his teeth. The problem can’t possibly be your inconsistent and freakishly passive handling. I’m sure your dog’s aggression has nothing to do with the fact that he never leaves the house and you reward every bad behavior. Your horse’s skittishness has nothing to do with the fact that you shriek and jerk every time he moves. Here, I’ve got a pill for that…
8. Tell me that you can’t possibly lose this animal, and then ask, “So what are you going to charge me to take a look at him? Really, just to look at him? Isn’t there something you can tell me over the phone?"
The corollary to this one is to let me get all the way through the exam, recommendations for diagnosis and treatment, and then tell me that you have no money, but that I “have to fix him.” Okay, my laying on of hands is a little rusty, but I’ll give it a shot. It will help the process if you make me feel guilty about charging to care for animals. I’m sure my kids don’t really need new shoes or clothes…
9. Tell me what a quack the vet down the street is.
I love listening to people rage about my colleagues. It’s not like professional ethics prevent me from criticizing a colleague in public, or as though I don’t know that if something goes wrong that I will be the next victim of your rumor mill. Go for it. Venom welcome.
10. Abuse the lay-staff, particularly the receptionists.
You are the most important person in the world, and the person answering the telephone should know all of your information without bothering you with pesky questions. Of course, you are the best client the practice has ever had; after all, you’ve been coming here for 20 years – never mind that we haven’t seen you for five. Yelling at the receptionist will certainly guarantee that you get your desired appointment time. And no, I will never hear about the way you treated the person on my end of the phone, and if I did, I’d applaud. After all, this is only the person who organizes my day, fills out my paperwork, finds my paperwork, enters transactions into the computer (ensuring that I get paid), runs the practice’s errands, makes the fax machine and photocopier do mysterious things, and otherwise provides a small measure of sanity in this world. What a bitch!
If you have followed all of these steps, you are well on your way to establishing a great working relationship – with your new veterinarian. I wish all of you the best of luck!