Monday, July 23, 2012

It shouldn't be this hard

It shouldn't be this hard to find a vet that meshes with our beliefs and commitment to the physical, mental, and emotional care of our dog.  Yet somehow this seems to be a challenge.  We switched practices last year and while the new veterinarians are fantastic, the staff is less than pleasant and it has become a real challenge as of late. 

More often than not our vet ran at least 20-40 minutes late for every appointment.  While I don't care about a wait if someone tells me, I also have to keep Abby's best interests in mind.  That timing of an extra 20-40 minutes waiting in the lobby is the difference between Abby being able to tolerate her appointments and the services the staff will provide, and her becoming a pacing and panting wreck who looks to bolt at every opportunity. 

Most recently we have tried to take a proactive approach to her appointments.  I came to the realization that it is my job in life to try to alleviate Abby's fears, and if I cannot do that I must do everything I can to limit her exposure to those fears and give her coping strategies that set her up for success.  We do that presently with a whole host of things.  We ask Abby to wait at a door while we open it and look outside to make sure the coast is clear and we avoid an ambush.  We limit her exposure to other dogs, and only when she expresses genuine interest and calm posturing do we briefly allow contact.  Why is the vet different?  The answer is that it shouldn't be. 

I don't know about you, but every dog I have ever owned has been afraid of the vet and displayed this in a wide variety of behaviors.  Some have paced or panted, some have whined, and some have even growled at anyone appearing in scrubs or a lab coat.  And when you really think about it, is it any wonder they're scared?  Think of how you would feel if you were brought someplace where people spoke in a language you didn't understand, and tried to touch you right away?  Maybe you liked being pet on the head, or maybe you didn't, but either way it quickly becomes a process of doing strange things to you.  Sounds terrible, right?  And then imagine how you would feel the next time you went back and it was exactly the same.  No wonder dogs are scared of the vet! 

Throughout Abby's entire GI issues of last year, I grew convinced that I needed to be an advocate in her health.  But most recently I've realized I need to be her voice in advocating for emotional and mental well being.  There are several components to that.  The first thing I tried to do was to go to the vet for things other than appointments where she would just go and get treats.  I realized the first time I went to do this that I had an uphill battle with this one.  The vet is sandwiched between landscaping and construction companies, and at any point in the day there are a wide variety of sounds that are deeply unsettling to her.  Clearly treating her even for just getting to the parking lot was going to be the way to go and it would go very slowly from there. 

The second thing comes with respect to the waiting times in the lobby.  Although we do a lot of mat work where Abby has a mat we throw down and she knows she can relax there, that only goes so far in stressful situations.  In light of the delays of our vet, I spoke with the office staff about taking a proactive approach to this wait time.  I could not rely on them to adequately communicate any delays the office experienced, and even if they had communicated those delays I had limited ways to deal with this.  I decided that if I had any hope of helping Abby not to become distressed waiting for her appointment, I needed to check in without her present.  Sometimes this is realistic if my husband comes to an appointment with us, and one person remains in the car while the other person goes in.  But sometimes he can't be at every appointment and I am by myself.  I typically try to avoid leaving my dog in the car even for something as quick as this.  So I spoke with someone in the office about being able to call from the parking lot and check in for our appointment.  If the staff had her exam room ready I would head right in.  If not they could either wave to me from the window or call me back on my cell phone when her exam room was ready and I would head right in.  I tried this approach on a couple of occasions and it worked fairly well depending on who was on staff that day.  That is until my husband tried to bring our girl for a vaccine. 

Now admittedly, Abby is sometimes vaccine reactive.  Not only is she missing fur where her Rabies vaccine was administered, but she once got violently ill after receiving her Lepto and Lyme vaccines.  Now we break these vaccines up, and we also administer a Benadryl injection before she receives these vaccines.  After massive confusion regarding checking in from the parking lot, and waiting to be seen for the injection, my poor husband and Abby had to wait a long time for the vaccine, and wait to check out.  It was that appointment that hubby said he was done with this vet. 

The more I thought about the requests we've made of our current vet, the more I realized that I wasn't asking for a lot.  I was asking for my vet to become a partner with me in making sure that my dog's anxiety over her visit was lessened.  Can you imagine if you were a parent with a child who was afraid of the dentist, and your dentist insisted on strapping down your child in a chair each time they went in?  No parent would tolerate that, and no owner should allow their veterinarian to contribute to their pet's fears. 

Your vet and their staff should be approachable.  They should not only value the relationship they have with you, but the relationship that they build with your pet.  Not only should these offices be willing to work with you on some of these requests, they should encourage you and empower you to do these things if for no other reason than selfishly wanting these appointments go smoothly and quickly for them. 

It is quite apparent that the current staff is not on board with some of these requests, and unfortunately our ability to be patient and work through some of these growing pains is rather limited given how much Abby's fears paralyze her when they occur.  Given some of these problems and limitations, we have chosen to seek out another veterinarian.  Although we asked for some recommendations from people, read feedback on Yelp and even emailed users privately to ask questions, inevitably we had a recommendation that we just couldn't pass up. 

One of Abby's favorite things about going to the first veterinarian was the staff.  Unfortunately during her time there the majority of them left.  However, her favorite Vet Tech is working at a hospital that is about half an hour from the house.  At first I was concerned with it being out of the way, but then I realized that closer and convenient for me doesn't always mean that it is the best choice for Abby.  I called and spoke with the Office Manager, who gave me a tour of the facility, and I was so impressed by her warmth.  She answered all of the questions I had, was excited to help us give Abby a fresh start, and truly made an effort to let me know that if we went there they would want to get to know our pet.  During the tour of the hospital I could see that the setup was great.  The exam rooms had a window on the door so you could see out before leaving to make sure the coast was clear and you wouldn't be faced with a dog immediately upon exiting.  The waiting area was huge and had a center divider that allowed for some privacy while you were waiting in case you need separation. 

We brought Abby for the first time on Saturday and she was so excited to be able to sniff the entire place, and even more excited to see her old friend.  We are really excited for this next chapter in Abby's care, and we truly feel that we have found people who not only understand our commitment to our pet, but want to work with us to make sure that we can make her appointments as stress-free as possible.  


  1. I don't think my first try posted. If it did, I apologize for the duplication.
    First off, thanks for your suggestion in the comments on my blog. We might try it.
    Re: your vet blog on Abby - She is so lucky to have two people who understand their commitment to her and who love her for who she is.
    When we first moved to the Burlington, VT area, I took Simba to a vet in Shelburne a couple of times. The care was okay, but he really seemed to have dollar signs in his eyes every time we saw him. I felt uncomfortable about him, so we switched vets. We found one who is a mobile vet clinic and comes to our home. This costs a little more, but is well worth it. It's a lot less stressful on the animals, especially Belle. She's in a familiar setting, her home, and doesn't have to deal with strange people and animals around her. She's still afraid of the vet, but he and his assistant are very patient with her and understand her challenges. Usually by the time they are ready to leave, Belle will allow the assistant, a woman, to pat her. She seems to be more afraid of men than women. If this new vet doesn't work out (and I hope he/she does), you might see if there is a mobile vet in your area who will come to the house. Hugs to you, Bill and Abby from the Harringtons, both two-and-four-footed.

  2. It is so wonderful that you were able to find a vet that works for Belle. So many people underestimate the relationship between a pet and a vet and just presume that the anxiety is normal. It doesn't have to be that way! But I feel pretty confident about the new vet based on the tour that we did as long as either the staff remains the same, or they continue to hire good people. We're going to continue to bring Abby there every opportunity that we have so we can just simply treat her for doing there and really build up a positive experience for her, and we'll continue to do so even after her wellness exam in September.