Editorial September 2001 Issue

Stick to Your Guns

You are your pet’s best advocate.

Bear with me for a minute; I’m actually going to tell you a cat story.

A couple of years ago, as I was packing for a business trip, my big tabby cat walked into the house holding his head tilted oddly sideways. Tigger purred as I carried him to the kitchen table for an examination. Was this simply a “Help! I’ve got tape stuck to my fur!” kind of problem? Or a trip-cancelling, “Quick! Rush him into surgery!” kind of thing?

It turned out to be something in the middle. Tigger had some sort of wound on the top of his head, and it had abscessed, making one ear and one side of his head swollen and sensitive. He needed veterinary care.

I called my local holistic veterinary practice, where Tigger had been seen for health checkups previously, but they were completely booked. So I called the closest veterinary clinic and was told I could bring the cat in right away. I had never been to this clinic before, but I didn’t anticipate any problem.

I had my first inkling that all was not going to go smoothly when the veterinary technician spent more time asking me about the cat’s vaccination history, dental-cleaning history, diet, and indoor/outdoor status than actually looking at the cat. But then the veterinarian came in and my fears eased. A warm and clearly competent practitioner, she quickly ascertained the extent of the damage, and outlined reasonable suggestions for treatment as she rubbed Tigger’s chest and chin, to his delight.

Then she reached for a clipboard. She asked me to look over and initial the list of charges that I would incur for this treatment while she went to get some antibiotics and other supplies. I was stunned to see a figure of more than $500 and a long list of proposed treatments. I looked more carefully at the form – it was a computer printout, prepared by the technician before the veterinarian entered the room – and it included recommendations for a number of vaccinations, a teeth-cleaning (to be scheduled for another day), and even post-teeth-cleaning antibiotics!

Suffice to say that we had a strained conversation when the vet returned to the room. She argued for the necessity of vaccinating the cat; I countered that I didn’t think he needed the boosters, and that, anyway, with his current infection, it was no time to be fooling with his immune system. And when I did allow that he probably did need his teeth cleaned, and that I’d be happy to bring him back at another time to have that done, she said triumphantly, “Then he’ll have to have the vaccinations; he can’t spend the day here without having them!”

The veterinarian clearly thought she was doing what she thought best for Tigger. But so was I. Initialing only the treatment for Tigger’s ear, I stuck to my guns. The room was very quiet as she worked on the cat, and she was short when I thanked her for her help.

I remembered this story as I listened to a friend on the phone recently. She described how condescending a veterinarian and his staff members became after she refused to allow a procedure for a test she didn’t think was necessary for her aged and rapidly declining dog. She didn’t think the information gained from the test would be worth the potential physical stress and damage it could cause – especially since the results of the test would not necessarily change the dog’s treatment! She was very hurt and angered by the staff’s lack of understanding of her decision.

It’s very difficult to stand up to an expert you are paying, whether it’s a vet, trainer, or breeder, and say you won’t take their advice. But sometimes you have to; not all experts are right, or know what’s best for your dog! And don’t get too upset about one of these encounters; just start looking for an expert whose theories and methods align better with yours. Trust me; there are plenty of them out there.

-by Nancy Kerns

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