How much easier it would be if vets had Dr. Dolittle’s ability to talk to the animals—when we took our pups in for a check-up, they could speak for themselves. Since that’s not the case, our dogs rely on us to act as their advocates in the exam room. In Dr. Nancy Kay’s ground-breaking book, Speaking for Spot, she provides us with the tools we need to do just that, relayed clearly and with gentle humor. We’re pleased to offer our readers a sample.
Here are 10 tried-and-true secrets to making every visit to your dog’s veterinarian exceptional for you and the entire office staff. They also directly benefit your dog’s health—and nothing is more important than that.
I: Thou shalt push thy veterinarian off her pedestal.
Much to my supervisor’s chagrin, I adamantly refuse to wear a white lab coat. I agree that it would keep my clothing clean and help me stand out as a doctor, but I shun it because I believe it hinders relaxed, open conversation with my clients. (I don’t think dogs are crazy about white coats either.) I’m referring to what is known as the “white coat intimidation factor,” a phenomenon that gives the doctor an air of authority and superiority. When she is on such a “pedestal,” two-way communication flounders. Medical advocacy requires active client participation, and a client who is intimidated does not feel comfortable voicing an opinion.
In most cases, the pedestal on which a veterinarian resides is a figment of the client’s imagination. I’m delighted that the profession is viewed favorably, but vets truly don’t deserve any extra helpings of adulation. So, before you arrive at the veterinary clinic, prepare yourself to “push” the vet off her pedestal. Remember, this is a simple mind-over-matter endeavor. And if your vet clings fast to her pedestal, consider choosing a different teammate!
II: Thou shalt be present.
A face-to-face conversation with your vet is invariably more valuable than connecting later via phone or email. Actually being there allows you to view X-rays and see how to administer medication. And don’t forget, given the choice, your dog would absolutely, positively want you to be by his side! So, do not ask your mother, your brother, your housekeeper, the kid next door or anyone else to pinch-hit for you. Unless you’ve had recent discussions with your veterinarian to arrange a procedure, if at all possible, avoid simply dropping your dog off at the veterinary hospital in the morning before you go to work or school. If this is truly necessary, consider arranging a discharge appointment, during which time you and your veterinarian can talk about your dog face-to-face.
When a dog is experiencing significant symptoms or is sick, it helps to have all the decision-makers present at the time of the office visit. If this is difficult to arrange, the person present should take notes, and even consider tape-recording the conversation with the vet. This is useful, since details inevitably get lost in translation—especially when traveling from spouse to spouse! Consider bringing the kids along (unless they will create a significant distraction), as they can be wonderfully uninhibited sources of information and keen observers of their dog’s habits.
Lastly, turn your cell phone off before entering the exam room. A client who answers a call while I am discussing her dog’s health isn’t truly “there” with me.
III: Thou shalt let the staff know if thy dog is aggressive.
All dogs are capable of unpredictable behavior. A savvy veterinary staff can usually peg an aggressive pooch within seconds of meeting him. Occasionally, one surprises us and bites—either a member of the staff or the client. Everyone feels terrible, but it’s made far worse when we learn that the client knew it could happen, but failed to warn us.
I clearly recall a nasty bite to my hand with no warning glare or growl to clue me in. As I stood by the sink washing my wound and muttering under my breath, the client had the audacity to inform me that the same thing had happened to the last veterinarian they had seen! I momentarily fantasized about biting her, but showed tremendous restraint.