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Don’t Blame Me For Your Fractious Pet!

Occupational hazards in veterinary medicine

I had a client last week that is perhaps the worst example of owner denial about the aggressive behavior of a pet that I have experienced in my 17 years of practice.  While it was the worst example, it most certainly was not an isolated experience where owners not only live in denial about their fractious, even dangerous pet, but somehow insinuate that it is somehow the fault of our handling of the pet that instigated the behavior.

In this particular instance, the patient was a Siberian Husky that the owner clearly had no control of as I watched her being literally dragged into the building by the dog (lucky for me, it was my first patient of the day and they were walking in just as I pulled up to work).  Once inside, the dog was so agitated and the owner lacked the ability to control the dog, that the techs ushered the client and patient right into an exam room to check her in there.

The dog was extremely sketchy the moment I entered the room, darting around and clearly not wanting to be anywhere near us.  Before even attempting anything with the dog, I suggested that the confined space of the exam room may feel threatening to the dog, so I advised that we go back into the more spacious treatment area.  Still, we could not get near the dog and any attempt resulted in him snapping and lunging at my techs.  We asked the owner if he would let her get a muzzle on the dog given his and she could not even come close to getting it on.

At this point, she stated to us, “I don’t understand, he has never acted like this before.  I don’t know what y’all are doing, but he has never been like this.”  Her tone was accusatory, clearly insinuating that somehow whatever it was that we were doing was provoking her normally precious angle into acting this way. I asked her (still calmly) what it was specifically that led to believe that somehow we brought out this behavior in her dog.  Her reply was, “I don’t know, it’s your job.”  At this point, I started to feel my blood pressure but still held my composure.

One of my very brave techs managed to restrain the patient and put him in a textbook restraint hold that maintains control while keeping the dog’s muzzle away from biting him and others, while another tech quickly applied a muzzle.  The tech who applied the muzzle also performed the blood draw for the heart worm screening that is part of the yearly visit.  Although he was neutralized, the dog still fought the restraining tech and carried on making the owner become even more agitated, at one point yelling at my tech drawing the blood, “Hurry up already!”

Unable to give a proper examination, I simply administered the immunizations the patient was due for and gave him back to his owner to remove the muzzle.  Although her behavior was unacceptable, especially her treatment of my techs risking their appendages to treat her dog, I still remained calm and suggested that for future visits, she call us ahead of time for sedation so that her dog will be calmer, the visit go smoother, and I can perhaps even administer an examination.  Her answer was, “I ain’t giving my dog no drugs because y’all can’t do your jobs.”

At this stage, my patience has run its course and I told her that it is not my job nor that of my techs to risk potentially disfiguring, even life threatening injury from her dog.  I showed her a large dog bite scar on my arm as an example of what happens when we do not take proper precautions with a fractious animal.  I further explained to her that the wound was so deep (the dog ripped had an area of skin off my forearm the size of a silver dollar) that when I wiggled my fingers I could see my tendons moving.   I told her that as unpleasant and painful as that injury was, I still considered myself lucky, as it is not uncommon for people to suffer life threatening bleeding, permanent nerve damage, and ears, lips and noses ripped off, even from dogs much smaller than hers.

I ended our conversation by letting this client know in no uncertain terms that her dog would be permitted in our building without sedation administered ahead of time.  I am a strong believer in courteous and patient customer service, especially when a pet is lashing out out of fear, stress, lack of proper training, or all of the above.  This can be very upsetting to the owner to see their pet in that kind of state.

Many clients may not have experience in dealing with situations like this and we should give them the benefit of the doubt to calmly explain what needs to be done to best work through the visit.  Most clients are understanding and work with us to make the best of a situation rather than blame us for it or expect us to have some kind of magical dog whisperer ability to calm the pet.

Every now and then, however, it is simply best to release a client to the competition.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , general partner of Grant Animal Clinic, and runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.  Dr. Welton fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.


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