What would we do without our veterinarians and vet techs?? Not to mention everyone else who helps us keep our companion animals as healthy as we can. This week I’m celebrating Veterinary Appreciation Day and I hope you’ll join me. I’ll admit to being a bit jaded at all the “special days” we hear about on a daily basis. (With the exception of Penguin Awareness Day on January 20th. I’m all in.) But acknowledging and thanking everyone at our vet and rehab clinics feels like exactly what I want to do right now.
I got a start by ordering some foodie gift packages for the two clinics that take care of my dogs and cats. I had planned to deliver them this week, but the packages came with the words OPEN IMMEDIATELY on the box, so they got delivered on Friday. Here’s a photo at the Spring Green Animal Hospital of everyone but our beloved veterinarian, Dr. John Dally, who wasn’t there that day.
So why did I take a box of food as a symbol of my appreciation? Because reinforcement is defined by the receiver, right? And when I asked everyone at the Mazomanie Animal Hospital (now the primary caretakers of my kitties, and owned by the same good people as Spring Green) what form of thanks they liked best, the answer was food! Well, of course, why wouldn’t it be? Needless to say, they got a box too.
Gifts like food, flowers and thank you cards are great, but perhaps “vet appreciation” is something we can all participate in during the entire year. Toward that end, I interviewed some veterinarians, vet techs and receptionists to ask how we clients could make their lives easier. Here are some of their responses for us to ponder.
BE PATIENT. We’re shocked, shocked!, aren’t we, that people are not always particularly patient. Ah my, our rising expectations for instant gratification never seem to cease. A request for patience and understanding was voiced by everyone I talked to. Dr. Ilene Segal (a blog reader who kindly agreed to be interviewed) told me that they had clients who arrived for their appointment, handed over the pet and then drove away to quick get a latte or donut from across the street. Patience, always in short supply, seems to be even rarer lately, and that impacts vet clinics too.
The pandemic has stressed clinics in other innumerable ways, from an increase in new pet owners to troubles with supply chains. Maggie and Skip’s vet, Dr. John Dally, said that everything takes just a little bit longer now. Preventative care appointments used to be available in one or two days, now it’s more like one to two weeks. Staff, like everyone else, has been dealing with lives turned upside down. Receptionists and vet techs can tell far too many stories about rude phone calls and impatient clients, and that’s true pandemic or not.
I am reminded of the advice from meditation teachers to “be a log.” This does not relate to lumping on the couch binge watching Mare of Easttown, (just saying), but to stay still and present in the moment before jumping in with a snappy comment. I am guessing that most of you, dear readers, are beatifically patient in most contexts, but I’m thinking that all of us, me included, can strive to be even more patient and understanding, no matter the context.
BE CLEAR Dr. Segal and I had a long talk about what clients want from their veterinarians, especially regarding their pet’s end of life. If you are ready to say goodbye to your beloved dog or cat, it’s okay to say so. If you want to move heaven and earth and keep trying, it’s okay to say that. Not surprisingly, Dr. Segal finds people struggling terribly over letting their dog go, but she reminds us that veterinarians know as well as anyone on earth that “everything dies.” What’s hard for veterinarians is trying to read between the lines about what people want. My own guess is that talking with our vets is one way for owners to decide what we want; I know that’s been true for me. Remember then that our vets often act both as medical professionals and counselors; not always an easy task.
There are many other times in which being clear will help your vet clinic help you. I know how frustrating it can be to get a clear picture from owners about what is going on and why someone is calling. As a behaviorist, my version was, for example, “He just goes crazy at the door!” Okay, I’ve got the picture of a highly aroused dog, but “crazy” could be “he spins around and then sprays urine 360 degrees,” or, “he leaps in the air and sinks his teeth into my visitors thigh.” I learned to say “Imagine watching video tape of the behavior and describe to me what you see.” (Of course, actual video tapes are ideal, but not always possible.)
Write it down. Write out, briefly, why you are calling for an appointment. It sounds simple, but it’s so easy to start with the history rather than the problem, while the person on the other end of the line is desperately trying to sort out what’s relevant and what’s not. If you don’t know the bottom line, then it’s hard to sort out a word salad. I can’t tell you how many people I talked to started with “Three years ago I got Chester, and he was fine we until adopted a another dog, but then we got a third dog, Martha, and that’s when the trouble began.” Okay, dog-dog aggression? No, it was actually all about the cat, but meanwhile my brain was smoking trying to figure out why they called in the first place.
So, example (regrettably, not made up): “Maggie is limping on her right foreleg. I’d like to bring her in to see Dr. John.” Everything else is in answer to their questions, (when did it start, etc.), which I’m happy to repeat to Maggie’s vet when she gets in to see him. That appointment brought up a question I asked Dr. Dally when interviewing him for this post: How do we owners sort out knowing whether to ask for an appointment, or wait and see? He suggested that we call the clinic, briefly describe what is concerning us, and be sure that our question was run by a vet or a vet tech, who has been trained in triage. I’ve actually called in the past and said “I think it’s probably fine, but I’m worried and I’d feel better if Dr. John could see ___name of pet here___.” No reason not to be upfront about it.
REINFORCE Ruth, one of my clinic’s most experienced and skilled veterinary technicians (along with Vicki–what would I do without you two?), told me that people often forget how much power their words have. I’m pretty sure that that goes both ways–criticisms and grumps can make it hard to get through the day, while thank you’s mean a lot. I am often astounded at how many people I run into who treat others as if they were objects. Thank you’s go a long, long way, and they are free. Please hand them out with abundance. Thank you!
UNDERSTAND BEHIND THE SCENES John Dally and I talked for a long time about the forces that are affecting veterinary medicine right now. Many of you know that veterinary clinics are increasingly being purchased by corporations. After the recession, Wall Street discovered that pets were relatively “recession proof,” and investments began to flow to corporations buying up vet clinics. In addition, fewer graduating veterinarians are interested in owning their own clinics, especially ones in rural areas. I don’t want to go too far off course here, but it’s helpful to know that your vet clinic might be undergoing substantial changes after being purchased by a corporation (like Banfield or VCA), or struggling to stay owned by the veterinarians within it. Older veterinarians have to decide how to proceed–do they close their practice when they retire, or do they sell to a corporation? Of course, there are costs and benefits to small clinics being bought out–prices for medicines and supplies can decrease because of the economy of scale, for example. But it also means, in some cases, that there is another layer between your pet’s health and decisions that are made to maintain it. For example, some corporations, I am told, have metrics, as in: you must do this many X tests per month.
It’s a complicated subject, but I bring it up because it’s a huge factor to many veterinarians right now, and understanding some of the pressures that they are under can help us be as patient and understanding as possible.
So, tell us about your veterinarians and vet clinic staff, and how you have or will thank them this week if you can manage it. I’ll be sending appreciation and gratitude to the Spring Green Animal Hospital, the Mazomanie Animal Hospital, Dr. Carrie Donahue at Full Circle Holistic Vet Care, Dr. Jodi Bearmen at AnShen Holistic Veterinary Care, and Courtney Arnoldy, physical therapist extraordinaire at UW-Madison. I’d also like to thank Dr. John Dally, Dr. Mark Baenen, Dr. Ilene Segal, veterinary technicians Ruth, Vicki, Codi, Rueben and a host of others for taking the time to talk to me about this issue. Time is everything, much more than money, so thank you!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Ah my. I’m glad I’m writing this today instead of last week, when the heat and humidity was horrific, when we got our new camper and had what can only be described as a Cluster F on our first trial run when it was 93 and too humid to breathe, when Maggie’s leg wasn’t improving, and she made sad eyes at me all day every day, and we were sick of not being able to walk into our own living room (so she doesn’t jump on, and then off, the couch), and we’re starting grass in a huge area in the worse possible weather ever and watering it, and my desperate garden trees and flowers who are starved for rain, non stop, and waiting for the water pump to die, and my foot hurts. . . and . . . and.
Okay, thank you. I’m done now.
Of course, there’s lots good in the world, and what is better than rhubarb/strawberry pie, with rhubarb from my garden and strawberries picked from a local patch last year and kept in the freezer? Yeah, it was yummy.
Here’s another wonderful thing: The salvia flowers are blooming like crazy, and they are a magnet for pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. I just watched a kaleidoscope of cabbage butterflies (is that not the best “group” name ever?) fluttering over and around the purple blossoms. Enchanting. (I do understand that the caterpillars are a pest to agriculture, but the butterflies are lovely to watch.)
The sheep are managing the weather as best they can. I’m glad that most of them are derived from North Africa breeds, and are relatively heat tolerant. I also don’t work them during the day, for their, Skip’s and my sake. There have been way too many super early mornings I’ve gone up the hill to work Skip before it got too hatefully hot. But the weather has improved immensely, so I’m thinking I can work Skip sometime after 7 AM or before 7 PM. (Please do not tell Maggie; as if she didn’t know what it meant when I put on my whistle.)
Here are the girls lounging in the shade mid day today. That’s Beyonce yawning on the right, I clearly woke her up from her nap. My apologies.
Most of the Iris are done blooming; we’re at a bit of a flower lull right now. This bunch of Iris (a celebration of Iris?) looked like it wasn’t going to bloom at all, and then surprised me just a few days ago by budding up. The blooms won’t last long, it’s still too hot, but I love their cheerful white and yellow colors.
That’s it for this week; time to go do some work at the office to keep the world turning, to work Skip, do Maggie’s exercises and try to catch up some in the garden. I look forward to hearing about your appreciation to your vet and clinic staff, or any stories you want to tell, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’d especially love to hear from those of you in the veterinary profession, chiming in about how we can make your life a little bit easier!