When Woody (my three-year-old pit bull-mix) was a tiny puppy, just another one in a litter of nine that I was fostering for my local shelter, he was always happy to receive medical attention (vaccines, deworming, and even neuter surgery!), as it came layered with happy attention from the shelter veterinary staff. He loves people, so it was all good.
Woody’s friendly, happy attitude about having a stranger greet and handle him in an intimate way survived all those visits, as well as many more visits to a regular veterinary hospital. Let’s see… there were at least one or two vaccine visits; one “dietary indiscretion” incident (he ate all the food I had set out for the 11 Great Dane foster puppies, after I had already fed him his dinner); the time he swallowed a friend’s dog’s mini-tennis ball; the staples he needed on his rear legs (slashed his wrists on something sharp in the grass, sliding for a ball); the time he tore a toenail (mostly) off; a foxtail visit or two; a weird bump on his face that required minor surgery to remove it… He’s been to the vet a lot! And until last year, he was always happy to trot into the hospital, hop onto the scale, be examined by anyone, and even go “into the back” for his staples or bandages or injection of “Let’s make you vomit!” medication.
And then he got sick with a gastrointestinal bug that left him seriously dehydrated, and I left him to be hospitalized overnight. I am certain they didn’t mistreat him in any way! But ever since I left him there that night, when I take him back to the vet now – most recently for a canine influenza vaccine – he is reluctant to enter the hospital, and he shivers and shakes in the waiting and exam rooms.
I’ve started trying to remediate this anxious response, stopping by the practice to just weigh him and feeding him tons of high-value treats in the minute or two that we are there. And, because scared and/or anxious dogs have the potential to bite, and I wouldn’t blame any veterinarian or veterinary staff member if they felt safer working on my big, muscular dog if he were wearing a muzzle, I also am going to start acclimating Woody to wearing one. I want it to be a familiar, reinforcing experience in case we ever need it, rather than an incredibly scary thing suddenly strapped to his face in a medical emergency.
But after working on the article in this issue about Fear Free veterinary practices (see page 6), I’m also going to encourage my vets to seek out Fear Free certification – and keep my eyes peeled for a Fear Free certified veterinary practice to switch to if need be. Because I think I am going to need a whole team of people to get Woody past his newfound apprehension about receiving medical care. And that is just no way to go through life – particularly if you are as accident-prone as my goofy Woody.